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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow TIMBER TRUCKERS LIGHT PARADE

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TIMBER TRUCKERS LIGHT PARADE

HOLIDAY PARADE: Gary Smith lets the drivers decide how to arrange the lights along the length of their trucks. (Baker City Herald/S.JOHN COLLINS).
HOLIDAY PARADE: Gary Smith lets the drivers decide how to arrange the lights along the length of their trucks. (Baker City Herald/S.JOHN COLLINS).

By Jayson Jacoby

For The Observer

BAKER CITY — Gary Smith has been a trucker since John F. Kennedy was president, so when the convoy lines up Saturday evening it's a cast-iron guarantee that everything on his two rigs will be ready.

Their 855-cubic-inch Cummins turbo-diesel engines will rumble with 500-horsepower, 5-miles-per-gallon authority, each cylinder capable of swallowing the entire engine from many an economy car.

Their 40-foot trailers will be loaded with tons of fresh-cut lumber, still smelling strongly of sap.

Their cute little strings of Christmas lights will twinkle in the twilight.

Obviously this is no typical interstate haul Smith is preparing for.

It's a parade.

An unusual one, to be sure, combining smoke-belching machines and quaintly blinking bulbs. But it's also one of Northeastern Oregon's most popular holiday traditions.

It's called the Timber Truckers Light Parade, and it will roll through downtown John Day tonight starting at 6.

The parade route begins at the Grant Western Lumber mill and concludes at the Grant County Fairgrounds.

The tradition started in 1993, and Smith's company has entered decorated trucks in the parade every year except 2001.

This year Smith, who has been in business in Baker City since 1960, will send two trucks on the journey that covers 160 miles round trip and crosses a trio of snowy, 5,000-foot-plus mountain passes.

All the driving and decorating makes for a 12-hour working weekend, but Smith, who's 64 and will drive one of the trucks this year, said the spirit of Christmas and community that pervades the parade route is a more than adequate return.

"It's a great event," Smith said. "It's a real morale booster for the industry. I think it's a very impressive parade."

He especially remembers the first event, and how surprised he was by the hordes of spectators who turned out in the chilly December evening to watch.

"You wouldn't think there'd be near that many people, especially in that area," Smith said. "I was flabbergasted that first time."

For a few years the parade did double duty, also serving as the company's annual Christmas party.

Besides the decorated trucks — as many as eight — they brought barbecues to cook hamburgers and hot dogs, and set up a big canvas tent for shelter.

"We invited all the employees' families and made it quite an event," said Mike Smith, Gary's son and business partner.

Smith figures each truck will need about 1,500 lights, give or take a string or two.

That's a bunch of bulbs.

"And I've got to check 'em all," he said, pointing to half a dozen plastic tubs. Each tub contains several freezer bags, and each bag holds a string of 100 lights.

It's a scene likely to provoke a nervous shudder in any homeowner who ever tussled with a tangle of Christmas lights.

For the Smith Trucking crew, most, if not all, of the work is compressed into parade day. Here's today's: If they haven't already scrubbed down the rigs, they'll get to that time-consuming task early.

"They have to be steam-cleaned head to toe, truck and trailer," Gary Smith said. "Then we hope it doesn't rain or snow on the way over."

The two-truck caravan will leave Baker City about 10 a.m. — early enough to stop by the Prairie Wood Products mill in Prairie City, where they'll take on the load of lumber that serves as raw material for the crew's decorative ideas.

Once they get to John Day the hard work starts.

The truckers have gas-powered electrical generators to set up. Extension cords to wind between stacks of lumber. Dozens of strings of lights to attach by whatever method seems to work best given the vagaries of wind and weather.

"We take a lot of duct tape, staples, wire," Mike Smith said.

Parade organizers announce a different theme each year, but Gary said he leaves the creative decisions to others. "I give the guys a whole bunch of lights and let them do their thing," he said.

Over the years his workers have supplemented the basic light show with such things as Christmas trees and stars. One year, when the theme was "Gifts From the Forest," they transformed the stacks of lumber into wrapped Christmas presents, complete with what Gary remembers as the biggest bows he's ever seen.

Of course, after the festivities are finished the drivers have to dismantle everything they spent hours setting up.

"The lights tend to get pretty wadded up," Gary Smith said. "If they get too bad I just pitch 'em."

JUST THE FACTS:

What: Timber Truckers Light Parade

When: 6 tonight

Where: Downtown John Day

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