Some people just love trucks, some people love owning their own trucks and customizing them, and some love the trucking industry and the people involved in it. And then there is Eric Griffith – a driver at Freres Engineered Wood Products out of Lyons, OR. Undoubtedly, he probably loves all that other stuff, too, but what he really loves is driving a truck. He loves being out there on the open road, in a clean truck, and watching the sun come up. It really doesn’t get much simpler than that!
It’s not often we feature a company-owned fleet truck and its driver, but Eric (52) is pretty special and has a sterling reputation in the Pacific Northwest, and the Freres family (and company) is pretty special, too. In business for over 100 years, Freres is a multi-generational family-owned lumber operation. Eric has been a driver for Freres for 27 years now and still looks forward to going to work every day. And even though the company has three full time people that do nothing but wash trucks, Eric still does all his own washing, at least once a week.
Born and raised in Lyons, OR (the same little town where Freres is headquartered), Eric and his younger brother Craig grew up riding along with their dad Danny, who was both a company driver and an owner operator, over the years. Eric’s grandfather Bill also did some trucking. Migrating west from Oklahoma, Bill Griffith and his wife Betty settled in central California, and Bill began hauling produce down to the markets in Los Angeles in the 1950s. After doing that for a while, he switched over to the paving business, and never looked back. In the mid-1960s, he relocated his family (which included Eric’s dad) to the Willamette Valley of Oregon, where they still reside today.
Graduating from high school in 1969, Eric’s dad Danny married his mom Ginger that same year, and Eric was born shortly thereafter in 1971. And, over 50 years later, these two are still married! After high school, Danny got into the paving business, but not long after that he began trucking. Working for a company that hauled doors and windows in vans, driving an older Mack conventional with a Mercury sleeper, Danny ran throughout the Pacific Northwest. A few years later, he went to DH Trucking in Lyons, OR and began running a cabover Freightliner truck and trailer (this was a big step up), hauling lumber to Salt Lake City and Denver.
After Eric was born in 1971, his dad did not want to be out on the road as much, so in 1972 he took a driving job at Freres Lumber. He did that until about 1989, when he got the bug to buy his own truck and be an owner operator. Starting with a dump truck, he eventually pulled the box and went back to DH Trucking, pulling a flatbed, but this time as an owner operator. Over the next 25 years or so, Danny had some cool trucks, including a 1980 Kenworth W900A, a 1978 Extended Hood W900A with a Cummins KTA engine, a 1994 Peterbilt 379, and a 2000 W900L Kenworth, which he sold in 2015. Going back to Freres for about five years to finish off his trucking career, Danny retired in 2020.
Going out on the road with their dad every chance they could, Eric and his brother Craig loved riding in the trucks. Tagging along with their dad on the weekends to the Freres yard, Eric and Craig would walk down the line of rigs, open the doors, and just dream about driving them one day. Eric graduated in 1989 (from the same school his dad graduated from) and then went to work at a local farm as the irrigation manager. While there he got to drive a few trucks in the fields and to the local cannery. Although he still had no CDL, nobody needed to teach him how to drive, he just figured it out on his own.
Working at the farm for about a year, Eric got the chance to go work with his grandfather at the paving company. While there, he learned to drive the equipment, including the big paving machine. A couple years later, when Eric was 20, he and his grandfather got the opportunity to go work in Alaska. Starting in Haines, AK and doing paving work at an airport, they later went northwest to Nome, AK (near the Bering Sea and just across the water from Russia) where Eric drove a huge dump truck for a gold mining operation. Removing the “overburden” (top dirt) and hauling it away until they reached the gold-laden “paydirt” below, which was taken to be sifted through in search of the gold, Eric was in Alaska for about a year (he turned 21 while he was there) before returning to Oregon.
Upon his return to Oregon, Eric finally got his CDL and then went to work at the company his dad worked with for all those years – DH Trucking. Hired as a company driver at DH in 1992, his dad was there as an owner operator, so the two of them kind of worked together for a while. In August 1996, Eric left DH Trucking and started his driving career at Freres Lumber, where he remains today. He typically hauls Freres wood products (veneers) from their mill in Lyons down to southern Oregon to various plywood manufacturing plants, and then reloads at other nearby mills, hauling those products back up, then heads back to the yard to get ready for the next day. It might not sound like a lot, but Eric has rolled millions of miles on the trucks he has driven over the years at Freres.
For most of the 27 years Eric has been at Freres, the fleet has been all Kenworth trucks. Only lately, since new trucks are harder to get, have they bought a few Peterbilt 567s, but they are still in the test and see phase. Having all the trucks in your fleet basically the same (mostly Kenworth T680s and T880s) makes stocking parts and maintenance a lot easier. When Eric first got hired, they put him in an older, slightly worn out, single stack Kenworth T800, which he drove for about a year, then he got a newer one, which he drove until 2004 and put half a million miles on. In 2004 he got his first brand-new truck – another Kenworth T800 (Truck #78), which he drove for ten years and put a million miles on. Then, in 2014, he got his next new truck – a 2014 Kenworth T680 (Truck #124), and drove it for eight years, spinning 800,000 miles on the odometer.
In January of this year (2023) Eric got his next and current brand-new truck – the 2023 Kenworth T880 Limited Edition (Truck #156) seen on our cover and centerfold this month and on these pages. All the trucks are painted the same colors – Medium Red Metallic with white, tan, gold, orange, and red accents – and Eric’s is no exception. Powered by a 500-hp Cummins X15 hooked to a 13-speed and 3.42 rears, the daycab tractor features stripes and pinstriping that is similar on all their trucks. Interesting fact: the door logos and truck numbers are vinyl, but they are hand-painted vinyl. I did not even know that was a thing! Apparently, it makes the logos and truck numbers look hand painted (which they are), but they are easy to remove when it comes time to sell the truck.
Some of the extras Eric’s truck has includes smooth steps, six-inch Dynaflex pipes with flattop tips, a chrome swan, a semi-custom front bumper with square ends and no extra holes, and plenty of added lights. The truck also has stainless drop panels with extra lights, a RoadWorks visor, a ProTech polished deck plate, storage box and chain hanger, Hogebuilt stainless half-fenders, and a custom all-silver KW emblem on the front. Most of the accessories for the trucks in the fleet are purchased through our friends at Schott Parts & Accessories in Salem, OR. The shop at Freres does most of the work on their trucks, but Eric has been known to do a few things on his own, as well.
Freres can trace their roots back to the hills above the Little North Fork of the North Santiam River, where, in 1922, Freres family patriarch T.G. Freres had a small, portable timber cutting operation. What began 100+ years ago as one man with his two horses, Charlie and Trixie, has since grown into Oregon’s premier producer of veneer and engineered wood products.
Starting out as Freres Lumber in 1922, they traded in their gang mill for a lathe in 1963 and didn’t look back. Since then, Freres has focused on producing high-quality veneer-based products. Today, operating multiple locations, their companies include Freres Engineered Wood, Freres Timber, and Evergreen BioPower LLC. They are committed to not only providing good jobs, but careers and wages that support families, and are proud to employ nearly 500 individuals in the North Santiam Canyon. With three generations currently working to ensure that the company will last another 100 years, their employees are their family, as well – and they treat them as such.
As one of the largest privately-owned, independent wood products manufacturers on the West Coast, Freres has a history of being mindful about its environmental impact and observing sustainable management practices throughout its operations. Being innovative is in their DNA. In 2007 they built a cogeneration facility that burns woody waste material with no other beneficial use to generate electricity and heat. This facility generates enough electricity annually to supply 5,000 households, while also providing heat for the mill. In 2017, Freres developed and now makes what could possibly be the most significant new mass timber product in the world – Mass Ply Panels (MPP).
Mass Ply products are new and patented, veneer-based, engineered wood products that provide superior performance characteristics over mass timber products such as CLT, Glulam beams, and solid sawn lumber. The foundational building block of each Mass Ply Product is Freres Structural Composite Lumber, which consists of multiple layers of density-graded Douglas Fir veneers. These veneers are glued and pressed in a variety of combinations and orientations, and finally joined together to create 1” layers called lamellas. Mass Ply products are forging new ground in mid-to-high rise construction, replacing steel and concrete in buildings up to 18 stories tall, and are exclusively patented by Freres in the United States.
The timber portion of their business is very impressive, as well, and a portion of their 50-truck fleet includes several log trucks. Born and raised among the trees, Freres does everything they can to protect them. Following the Oregon Forest Practices Act, they use scientifically supported methods to sustainably harvest and replant the Douglas Fir trees on their 17,000 acres of timberland. They are among the most responsible forest stewards in the country, resulting in a certification by the American Tree Farm System, as well as support from customers and local communities alike. Through commitment to stewardship and continued investment in innovative products and processes, Freres is proof that scientists, naturalists, and loggers can work together to invest in the future of our forests.
Another innovation that was recently added to the main facility in Lyons was a new crane, as seen in some of the pictures and the centerfold. This bright yellow behemoth, a Straight Track Woodyard Crane made by KoneCranes, can move east and west on the tracks it sits on, and north and south via the crane structure itself, and has a 35-ton capacity. It can pick up an entire load of logs off a truck and then set it down on the ground for sorting. Purchasing this piece of amazing equipment a few years ago, it actually set sail on a cargo ship, destined for the United States, from a port in Ukraine just one day before the Russian invasion began. Talk about a close call. One day later, and that crane might have still been sitting on the ship in port, waiting to leave that war-torn country.
Married to his wife Kassie for eleven years, she is a cancer survivor. Having beat breast cancer, Kassie was deemed “cancer free” a few years ago and can now lead a normal life. Kassie is a technician at a local medical clinic and does CT scans and x-rays. Eric was married previously for 15 years (1995-2010) and has two children from that marriage – a daughter Courtney (23) and a son Carter (19), who both still live nearby. Not surprising these days, neither of them are interested in trucks or trucking! When not out trucking, Eric enjoys attending Oregon State football games and cheering his beloved orange and black Beavers on to victory.
Remember that younger brother mentioned earlier? Eric’s brother Craig drove for Freres for a few years and then migrated into the office, dispatching, and running the trucks. Today, he is basically Eric’s boss! But all is good. They get along great, and Eric gets no preferential treatment (in fact, it might just be the opposite). Because of their strong relationship, Eric often gets the lousy loads, because his brother knows he won’t complain about it. So, not only these two brothers, but also their dad, found good jobs at Freres over the years. Eric said only about 1,100 people live in Lyons, and probably 450 of them work right there at the Freres mill.
Wanting to acknowledge a few folks who helped him along the way, Eric says “thank you” to his dad, his brother, and his best friend Erich Schoen, who he met in 1995 while out trucking. And, most importantly, thanks to his wife Kassie for providing Eric with unending support and love. He also wanted to thank the entire Freres family, including Tyler, Kyle, and Rob Freres, for not only allowing him to have a great job for all these years driving a sweet rig, but for treating him like family, too. Like I stated before, Eric said he still loves going to work every day, even after 27 years, and that says a lot about this company and the Freres family. He also wanted to thank Valley Pressure Washing for helping him get his ride show-worthy and photo shoot ready.
Hitting the road every morning, hooked to his 2021 Western Elite inside frame A-train with a 40-foot semi and 20-foot pup, loaded with veneer, and watching the sun slowly rise is what it’s all about for Eric. Sitting in that driver’s seat and holding the steering wheel of a clean and shiny truck is what makes Eric’s heart beat faster and gets him up every morning. Because, for company driver Eric Griffith, it’s all about the love of trucking – and it definitely shows!