A need demands a solution
Truckstops haven't always been a part of America's transportation landscape. In the early days of trucking, drivers would stop for meals or just to take a break and have a cup of 'joe' or a cold drink at a diner or roadside service station large enough to park a rig.
The early trucks were dwarfs compared to todays metal monsters. The early models were straight trucks, without 5th wheels. It wasn't until the 1920s that the 5th wheel came about, making it possible for a tractor to hook to a trailer, forming a single unit. It didn't take a lot of room to accommodate the trucks of yesteryear, so they were an integral part of everyday highway life.
Rigs got bigger as the years passed and facilities to meet their specific needs arose. Many truckstops started out as single, family run operations where the parking was a bit more spacious, the coffee a lot more robust, and truckers congregated for food, relaxation, or just to 'chew the fat' and tell war stories of life on the road. The truckstops were very individualistic, reflecting the background and values of the owners.
The pace picks up
As trucking became more of a national necessity rather than a regional one, truckers needs changed along with the changing demands. Instead of most runs being local or regional day runs, truckers became highway gypsies, on the road for days or weeks at a time. Truckstops changed to meet the new requirements, installing rooms and showers for these drivers, almost always men, who now had to get their needs met on the road. The sleeping arrangements were bunk houses, one of which a driver could rent for a little cash to have someplace to sleep. Showers were communal affairs, no privacy, and one had to keep one eye cocked toward protecting your valuables.
A change for the better
Trucks kept changing, and with the invention of sleeper cabs and air conditioning the old bunk houses blew away like a Dust Bowl echo. No one much liked them, but they served a purpose, same as the communal showers. People then as now prefer privacy to sleep or care for their personal hygiene. Sleepers took care of privacy for sleeping and truckstops rose to the occasion, building individual showers with lockable doors for driver comfort and safety.
Truckers now may be local, regional, or long haul drivers. The long haulers rely most heavily on truckstops to meet their needs. Long haulers need food, drink, and fuel, same as the others. Their other needs include showers, mail/fax services, parts and repairs, ATM machines, convenience store items, and a myriad of other things needed for comfort and safety when on the road for extended periods.
The old school truckstops are dying away at an alarming pace. The new model is one of sleek, streamlined, impersonal Travel Centers which no longer cater to truckers, but instead seek to lure business from all parts of the traveling public. There was a time when a group of guys could homestead a table, drink coffee and 'shoot the breeze' for hours and no one got mad or put out about it. Those days are gone because trucking, along with every other facet of modern life, has accelerated, leaving little time for such socializing. The truckstop restaurant with the salty old gal who gave as good as she got and then some is a ghost. Nowadays, if a driver tried to kid with a waitress, she'd probably call the cops on him for sexual harassment.
Whitey's motorcycle shop
There are a few old school truckstops left out here on the blacktop, though. One I'd recommend is White's Truckstop, located on I-81 in Raphine, Virginia at exit #205. Whitey's Motorcycle Shop, its nickname among oldtimers, has a display of some vintage cycles, including an old Indian motorcycle. Inside the truckstop is a huge display of knives and firearms that Mr. White collected over many years. There are literally hundreds of items to be seen, many quite unique. There are other antique items to be seen as well as the gun and knife collection.
The truckstop offers a split restaurant area with a special truckers section behind closed doors, Inside you will find drivers and good food, a well lit comfortable atmosphere and friendly staff. On the wall are a collection of wildlife head mounts, including a wild boar and an entire alligator which is big enough to swallow my Aunt Nellie whole.
They have the usual truckstop amenities including a convenience store/deli area, gas and fuel, and a repair shop for tires and other maintainance needs. The pace isn't as rushed, the people are small town friendly, and it's a blast from the past. White's is like the drive in theaters of yesterday- there are still a few going, but the number is small and getting smaller each year.
Truckstop on steroids!
On the other side of the scale I'd recommend the Iowa-80 Truckstop, located at Walcott, Iowa. They bill themselves as the world's largest truckstop, and they aren't blowing smoke! They are a member of the T/A truckstop chain, but that doesn't keep them from having their own personal touch. They have a parts/chrome shop second to none I've ever seen. If you need it, Iowa-80 has it or they can get it for you. The convenience store is huge, like everything else is around Iowa-80 truckstop-except the prices! I was astounded at how reasonable most of the prices were in the parts/chrome shop.
Iowa-80 Truckstop also has an inhouse embroidery shop where you can buy a hat, jacket, or other article of clothing and have it custom personalized just the way you want it. There is another well stocked clothing store on premises for the driver's shopping needs. Iowa-80 features a sit down restaurant where you can enjoy the buffet or order from the menu in a large, comfortable dining area. They also feature a food court with several choices of fast fare for those on the move.
On the second floor they have a driver's den, laundry facility, barber shop, dentist office, and shower area with 24 individual showers available. Outside is the parking area with room for literally hundreds of big rigs. They have a repair shop, scales, and a truck wash all on site. Iowa 80 Truckstop manages somehow to be a mega-truckstop with oldtime values.
Truckstops in other lands
The truckstop is in some ways a very American fixture. In other countries there are few facilities dedicated to filling the needs of the trucking segment of the traveling public. America's wide open spaces and relatively modern cities enable a breed of big rig that isn't feasible in many other areas of the globe. In Europe the roads are more narrow, in many cases more curving, and the towns and citied are hundreds of years old, built long before the idea of a 75' long wagon was ever dreamt. Trucks are smaller than American big rigs to suit the terrain. There are some facilities which cater to truckers in Europe and Australia, and some of them I hear are quite astounding in the services they offer, but they are not as ubiquitous as on the American highway system.
As long as there are trucks, there will be truckstops. Everything changes and trucks and the people who serve their needs are no exception. I've been on the road since 1978 and I've seen a lot of things come and go, and some of them were good things that packed up and left town. The comraderie of truckers has all but evaporated. CB radio is the source of much of that loss of fellowship. Now, any looney-tune idiot can buy a CB and run off with diarrhea of the mouth while hiding out in his cab. From listening to the radio, you'd think all us drivers hate each other, and maybe we do. In the old days we depended on each other for help, for company, and for understanding. Why, you ask? The answer is, of course, because we had to. Often the only help available was another driver who had a spare fuel filter or an extra fan belt, and he'd be glad to help you out because he knew next week or next month he'd be the one broken down on the side of the road. Now, everyone depends on their cell phone. You tell me, who is the poorer for the change that's occurred?
Truckstops are the focal point of much of this negativity. It seems like any time you have a high density of truckers, the stupidity index zooms right off the graph. It saddens me to hear the profanity,and sheer stupidness that gets put out on the CB channels. I'm no Puritan, but I once heard a wise man say "Sometimes, the best thing to say is nothing a'tall." I figure he had something there and it's a shame a lot more people haven't heard what he had to say.