Doug Niemi and Jake Brake: Friends for 40 Years

Doug Niemi seems like the kind of guy who can drive anything, haul anything, and probably fix anything. He’s been trucking his whole life, 40 years on the road and in the bush. Old school. As old as school gets.

Not surprisingly, he has a long and strong relationship with Jacobs Engine Brakes.

Born and raised in the Temiskaming Shores area of northeastern Ontario, six hours north of Toronto, he’s still based there. In the small town of Haileybury, to be exact, though these days his operation – D. Niemi Trucking -- is at work in the forest near Morin village a little north of there. It’s strictly logging now, having dispensed with his highway operation hauling lumber back in 2007.

Niemi bought his first truck at the tender age of 19 and grew from there. At one point he had 40 trucks on the highway and 10 in the bush, 38 of which were his, the rest owner-operators. Nowadays his business is more compact, and simpler – he owns 14 trucks and employs two sub-contractors – but he has 52 employees overall. There’s a lot of machinery aside from the trucks, such as tree-fellers and bunchers -- all told, 115 machines with engines.

“We’re a ‘stump to dump’ logging operation, meaning we build the road, maintain the road, cut the trees, and truck the wood to the mill,” Niemi says. “We do everything from the stump to the mill. We’re usually at least 30 to 40 km into the bush, and the rest is highway to the mill. So we’re a little bit of both on- and off-road. And we’re always local. We never go too far from home, never more than about 200 km from home at the most.”

A key to the operation is his wife, Kelly, who manages the office and much more – namely feeding all the employees at the bush camp. That’s a little village in itself, with a couple of bunkhouses, a fully equipped garage, and a kitchen where everybody eats for free.

“The guys have homemade meals throughout the week,” she says. “We provide suppers and lunches for them every day, and there’s always coffee and snacks. They’re family. I can’t really say that there’s anyone up there losing weight,” she says with a chuckle.

Always a Jake Brake

Doug Niemi

Niemi is a Kenworth man and always has been.

“I’ve been dealing with the guys at Timmins Kenworth for a long time,” he says. “I bought my first truck there in 1983 or 84. I’ve got mostly Kenworths, with a couple of Western Stars that were all I could get at the time I needed a couple. All my Kenworths are W900Bs, with a heavy logging spec. Mostly Cummins-powered with a couple of PACCARs. The two Western Stars have Detroit Diesel engines.”

To be more specific, he chooses 565-hp /2050-lb-ft X15 Cummins engines with 18-speed transmissions, 16,000- and 46,000-lb axles, and double frames.

“We automatically spec Jake Brakes,” Niemi says. “They’re essential for sure, and they definitely make the job easier. The terrain is hilly and rough. And keep in mind, there’s no engineer building our roads. We’ve got a guy laying them out and then a guy with a bulldozer and excavator who builds them. Two weeks later we’re hauling 45 tons of logs over top.”

Once out of the forest and on the way to the mills, the road – Highway 560 -- isn’t all that much better. It’s a very minor highway all the way, on which the snow ploughs only come three days after the snow falls. And up there it’s serious snow, not cute little flurries.

The Jake Brake Advantage

Niemi Logging OperationJacobs says an engine brake can extend the life of foundation brakes by two to three times, and Niemi buys that notion.

“It saves maintenance on the brakes, saves them from getting hot because you don’t have to use your brakes as often,” he explains. “In the bush it makes a big difference, because you’d be on your brakes steady in the hilly stuff we face. The Jake helps hold the truck back. It prolongs the life of our brake shoes and drums. And in the sandy parts, the more you use the brakes the bigger the chance of getting sand in your drums. That wears them out a lot faster but the Jake helps prevent that because you just don’t use your brakes as often. On the highway it’s not as bad because you don’t get the sand. But we’re on gravel roads and sandy roads all the time, and the sand rolls up between the drum and the shoe and it’s just like having sandpaper in there.”

Has he ever experienced any performance issues with Jacobs?

“I don’t think we’ve done any servicing for a while now,” he says, “like it’s been seven or eight years since we had to rebuild a Jake Brake.  Back then you could fix it in three quarters of a day with a decent mechanic. And it wouldn’t happen until the truck was three or four years old. It just wasn’t a big deal.”

Could his drivers live without a Jake Brake?

Niemi responds with an emphatic “No, not with what we do. It’s something the drivers expect, something they rely on. There’d be a very large complaint if they got in a truck and there wasn’t a Jake in it. Questions would arise!”