Oregon Trucking Makes Dream Come True for Local High School Student

High school student Danny Simili and log truck driver Leesha Carson. After a safety briefing at our Snow Peak tree farm in Oregon, Danny accompanied Leesha to a landing site. The ride-along was a dream come true for the teen.

Last spring, Jeff Mehlschau, Western Regeneration team lead, spoke on a panel about careers in natural resources to high school students. It was one of many recruiting efforts Jeff takes part in, but this particular event opened the door to a unique opportunity for Danny Simili, then an 11th grader at Santiam Christian High School in Adair, Oregon.

After the panel, Danny introduced himself to Jeff and explained that he had wanted to drive log trucks for almost as long as he could remember. He’d been inspired to pursue the career by his grandfather, who had been a long-haul truck driver. Danny mentioned how he played trucking video games to hone his skills and build his knowledge.

Jeff was impressed with the teen. So when Danny asked if we allowed log truck ride-alongs, Jeff promised to investigate and get back to Danny and his parents, explaining that safety would be our top consideration.

Image of Danny Simili, shovel loader Rick Phillips and Leesha Carson in front of a loaded log truck.

Danny, shovel loader Rick Phillips and Leesha in front of the loaded log truck, which then made its way to our Santiam lumber mill.


Jeff reached out to Doug Mays, director of Harvest and Transportation for Western Timberlands, who brought in Erik Wilson, Washington transportation manager, who had worked on revising our ride-along policy in 2021.

“We’re very proud of our drivers and want to show them off to adults interested in joining their ranks,” Erik says. “Our newly updated policy was created for that purpose. Ride-alongs aren’t something we do for just anyone, and we certainly hadn’t designed the program to accommodate a high school student.”

But Jeff, Doug and Erik were determined to find a way to make an exception for Danny. So, in consultation with Legal, Human Resources and local Timberlands and Woods Products team members, they developed a plan, incorporated input and received approval to move forward.

As part of the planning work, Rob Martin, Oregon trucking supervisor, met with Danny and his father in person ahead of time.

“We discussed much more than log trucks,” Rob says. “I talked about Weyerhaeuser and our businesses, history and values. I also spent a good deal of time explaining our safety culture, environmental commitment and support for our communities.”

As the three discussed how a ride-along might work, Rob suggested doing a log-to-lumber tour.

“I worked at our Santiam mill for 13 years and thought it might be educational to follow the logs from the truck through the mill,” Rob says. “Everyone agreed.”

Image of Danny and Leesha observing logs being unloaded at the Santiam mill.

Danny and Leesha observe logs being unloaded at our Santiam mill. Danny said this was one of his favorite parts of the day.


Rob picked Danny up on a Thursday in early August and took him to our Snow Peak tree farm office to meet Leesha Carson, company log truck driver, for a full safety briefing.

After that orientation, Danny then hopped in the passenger seat of Leesha’s six-axel Kenworth, and they drove to an active landing site to load the truck with logs.

“I got the truck washed and cleaned up for Danny,” Leesha says. “I wanted to make a good impression on a young person with so much drive and self-motivation.”

Leesha says that, like Danny, as soon as she had decided to drive, she was resolved to take the necessary steps to make it happen.

“I was working four jobs to make ends meet and support my family,” she says. “Then, one day just over six years ago, I saw an older woman driving a truck, and I told myself, ‘I could do that.’”

Within months, Leesha had obtained a permit and medical card and was working a single job as a trainee for a local company driving dump trunks. After nine months, she began driving log trucks. Three years ago, she was recruited to drive for Weyerhaeuser.

“The biggest difference driving log trucks is the weight; they’re much heavier,” Leesha says. “And, of course, backing up is harder since the trailer is so long. That’s something Danny really took an interest in.”

Image of Leesha and Danny getting a tour of the Santiam mill from George Virtue, Santiam operations manager.

Leesha and Danny get a tour of the Santiam mill from George Virtue, Santiam operations manager, right..


In fact, Danny was enthralled by nearly everything. He asked about shifting and gears and lockers and all sorts of things many teens wouldn’t know much about.

“It was like he had driven a truck without having driven a truck,” Leesha says. “He was such a pleasure to have around.”

At the job site, Danny watched a company-operated logging shovel collect logs from a hillside for the processor, which cut the logs to mill-specified sort lengths and grades. Danny sat in Rob’s pickup as Leesha’s truck was loaded with logs for our Santiam lumber mill. Then he rejoined her in the cab for the trip down the mountain to the mill.

“He had even more technical questions about driving with a load,” Leesha says. “But we also talked about careers, dreams and aspirations. I told him how I love my job and the people. Of course, there are hard days, but doing something you like makes all the difference. I have two sons, both older than him, and I talked to him like I talk to them.”

At the mill, Danny watched as the truck was unloaded. He and Leesha, who also toured the mill for the first time, were impressed with the automation, precision and speed at which a log is turned into lumber.

“It was pretty mind-blowing to realize a log delivered in the morning can be shipped out as lumber by the end of the day,” Leesha says.

Image of George, Danny, Leesha and Rob Martin enjoying the sunshine in front of the Santiam lumber mill.

George, Danny, Leesha and Rob Martin enjoy the sunshine in front of our Santiam lumber mill.


By the end of the day, Danny was even more motivated to work as a driver in our industry — after he finishes high school this spring. He’s stayed in touch with our team and has an open offer from them to answer questions and provide any career advice he might want.

“We told him, ‘Anything you need, don’t be afraid to reach out,’” Rob says. “Above all else, we want to inspire him to succeed and make his dream come true.”