Tanker truck driver keeps rural life rolling
Story and photos by Drew Myron
Though his work nearly killed him, Brett Kaseberg still loves his job.
Brett is a one-man show delivering thousands of gallons of fuel to farms, businesses and gas stations in remote areas along rural routes. He drives up to 250 miles a day, filling tanks all over Wasco, Sherman and parts of Hood River counties.
Brett’s job is crucial in rural places where fuel is hard to come by. For long stretches of road, motorists won’t find a gas station. Farmers depend on fuel to operate their trucks, tractors and critical equipment.
In a single day, Brett rolls through a route that takes him as far north as Goldendale, Washington, and as far south as Shaniko. He provides fuel for 6 stations in rural Wasco County, leaving drivers and farmers grateful for the supply that fuels their lives.
“My goal is to never have anyone out of product,” Brett says.
In 2020, his busiest year, he delivered 1.5 million gallons of fuel.
Brett drives a giant. Standing 10 feet tall and 40 feet long, his tanker truck holds 5,000 gallons of fuel. Even so, he navigates the powerful beast with grace.
“This thing handles better than my Ford pickup,” he says with a laugh.
There’s nothing easy or routine about driving an enormous truck full of fuel. Liquid freight can make the truck difficult to navigate, and hauling gasoline is especially dangerous because a wreck or spill could create an explosion. Transporting hazardous material requires a cool head and steady hand.
Brett started hauling gas in 1993. Driving big rigs and semis, he has tallied 2 million miles. He currently works for Ed Staub and Sons.
“I have six years of college, but I like driving truck,” says Brett, an Oregon State University graduate. “I like helping the farmers have fuel for harvest. I like the independence and the freedom. Yeah, it’s a little dangerous, and people think you’re crazy. But you have to respect the load, not fear it.”
Brett’s respect for the load—and for life—has deepened after 2 separate accidents nearly took his life.
In 2021, Brett was filling his tanker truck as he had done thousands of time before. This time, the diesel exploded.
Engulfed in flames, Brett suffered severe burns to his hands and face and temporarily lost hearing. Miraculously, he says, the fire spared his lungs, due in part to his heavy sweatshirt and that just moments earlier he had turned away from the pump.
Brett was treated at Legacy Emanuel Burn Center in Portland. One month later, he was back at work. Review of the incident showed the fire was caused by static electricity that had built up and ignited.
“It took two weeks for the smell of diesel to go away,” Brett says. “It’s the first time I faced my mortality.”
He faced death again in October 2022.
While filling a customer’s tank, Brett fell from the platform and tumbled 8 feet. Feeling a bit sore, he brushed himself off and continued his day. Three weeks later, an intense pain in his ribs revealed a more serious situation: a collapsed lung. The damage was extensive and the situation dire.
Until then, Brett had been a healthy, fit, active man. For 30 years, he was a referee for local school sports, and served 6 years as president of the referee association. Now, he was near-death with lung damage, internal bleeding, infection, kidney malfunction and liver damage.
“The first two days, they were keeping him alive,” says Brett’s wife, Tina, who was at his side for the month he spent at the hospital. “We were told only 1 to 2% of people with these injuries survive.”
Once home, the recovery was slow. Brett had lost 44 pounds and was so weak he could only walk a few steps.
“It’s been a long journey to heal,” Tina says. “At first, he couldn’t get out of his chair, the pain was so intense.”
Family and friends pulled him through.
Brett and Tina live near Wasco in a farmhouse built in the 1880s by Brett’s great-great-grandparents. Brett, 58, is the fifth generation to live in the Kaseberg home. The couple have been married 30 years, and family—four daughters, a son, five grandchildren and a flurry of extended relatives—is anchor to their days.
“Our life is our kids,” Tina says. “Everything we do, we come as a crowd.”
Hearing of the crisis, family and friends flooded the couple with calls, texts and visits. Day by day, Brett grew stronger physically and emotionally.
“Brett is a fighter, a friend, a strong community member, a loving son and husband,” says K’Lynn Lane, a friend of the family.
Her words echo the feelings of many in the region.
“People said I should go to a therapist, after all that I’d been through, but my therapy was talking through it with friends who would visit,” Brett says. “It really helped.”
“Sherman County people show up, that’s how people are here,” she says.
3 months after coming home from the hospital, Brett was back at the wheel, delivering fuel.
“Brett’s a hell of a guy,” says Rod Woodside, owner of Richmond’s Service in Maupin.
When the small-town gas station buzzes with summer tourists, Brett makes 2 to 3 deliveries each week.
“He’s dependable,” Rod says. “He’ll bend over backward to help you out. He’s just a great guy, and he’s got a million friends.”
Investigations showed that Brett bears no fault for the accidents. Still, he remains aware of the job’s dangers.
“I’ve always been slow and careful, but now I slow down even more,” he says.
He is also more grateful for everyday moments.
“I never took life seriously, but now I laugh even more,” he says. “It’s better to be looking down at the grass than up at the roots.”