Catholic Sentinel/Ed Langlois
Dick Zimbrick, 79, spent a life in logging and cherishes the experience. He and his brother used a small tractor early on in their business. The machine is now displayed atop a stump in Zimbrick’s yard.
Catholic Sentinel/Ed Langlois
Dick Zimbrick, 79, spent a life in logging and cherishes the experience. He and his brother used a small tractor early on in their business. The machine is now displayed atop a stump in Zimbrick’s yard.

WILLAMINA — Dick Zimbrick began logging at 13 in the hills just above Rowell Creek, using hand saws and a team of horses.  
At 79, he has a quirky back and half a thumb. He skipped college to provide for his family. He’s powered through diabetes, prostate cancer and gall bladder surgery. In the 1980s, activist vandals stole a Zimbrick Logging truck and shoved it over a cliff.

“If I had a choice, I don’t think I’d do anything different,” Zimbrick says, rubbing a powerful hand over his gray crew cut.  

Working in the woods was joy for this powerfully-built man, a member of St. Michael Church in Grand Ronde for six decades.

His forbears had headed west from Wisconsin. Among them was Matt, Zimbrick’s father, who made a living logging and brought his two sons into that hardscrabble life. The mother left the family when Dick and Roy were toddlers.

After logging with horses for years, Matt and his boys converted a 1920 Chevy into a little tractor. They lived in a two-bedroom house with no plumbing, no refrigerator and no furnace.

Money was tight. Each boy had two shirts and two pairs of pants. “You had better take care of them,” Zimbrick says. “You wouldn’t get others.” For his school photos, he had to borrow a tie because he didn’t own one.   

His father was an understanding man. But if one boy got in trouble, he corrected both, just to make sure everyone got the message.

As his sons got into high school, Matt found work at a local sawmill so he had time to watch his boys play sports.

At 16, when Zimbrick received his driver’s license, he got his first log truck. He hauled timber after school, on the weekends and through the summer.

It was 1954 when Zimbrick, a strong young man, married Violet, daughter of a Grand Ronde chief.

His father was not a church-goer, but Violet wanted her husband to become Catholic. “I figured it wasn’t going to hurt me,” Zimbrick says. He took lessons at St. Michael and liked them so much that he introduced his dad to the priest. The two older men hit it off.

After their father retired and then died at age 57, Dick and Roy started their own logging business.

Before long, a bulldog of a man from the finance company called them in and said, “You know, boys, you are broke.” Zimbrick squared up and said, “But we’re not done.” The loan officer liked the spunk and helped keep the business afloat.  

Zimbrick Logging would thrive, at one point employing 40 to 50 workers and maintaing a fleet of 20 log trucks.

He liked delivering logs to local Willamina Lumber, later Hampton. The small, local mill was dependable and faithful. He disliked working with bigger corporate mills, which often paid late. He characterizes competition with other loggers as “tooth and claw.”

Sometimes, the low-bidders would go to a site and take out the easy-to-get trees and then skedaddle. On occasion, lumber companies would call Zimbrick to go in and finish the job and do it right.  

One of his saddest memories: the death of a young worker who collapsed in the woods, apparently not in shape for the demanding work. As logs trucks do, a couple have rolled over with Zimbrick drivers at the wheel, but no serious injuries.   

By the mid-1980s, regulations tightened and logging in the Northwest became controversial. Activist vandals broke windows and ruined gear.   

The brothers had equipment for big logs but by the 1990s, mills were shifting to smaller logs. The brothers always made sure their workers got paid, but sometimes could not pay themselves.

In Oregon, timber production went from an annual peak in 1968 of 9.7 billion board feet to around 4 billion board feet per year by the mid-1990s.      

Zimbrick sold his share of the business to Roy and then retired 15 years ago.

But he won’t stay out of the woods. He owns plenty of acreage in the area and logs it here and there with his own tractor. Zimbrick  sold 200 acres of farmland to the Grand Ronde Tribe, part of which now houses Spirit Mountain Casino.

“Farming was down the tube. Logging was down the tube. The casino is one of greatest things to happen to this community,” he says.

He and Violet had three children and welcomed one foster son.
They are now proud grandparents of eight and great-grandparents of 13.

Their large yard is a child’s paradise, with playhouse, tree house, merry-go-round, a pony and an old tractor to sit on. With the Littlejohn family, Zimbrick built a communal swimming pool for children in the canyon. It’s heated with solar panels.

“I know people who don’t have kids or grandkids,” Zimbrick says.
“I feel sorry for them. That’s one of the best parts of my life.”

Along with family, Zimbrick calls becoming Catholic one of the best things he’s ever done.

“I gave me a good view in life,” he says.