Home Away From Home – Sort ofMarch 27, 2017
Call them whatever you like – Highway Havens, Motorway Meccas, Travel Centers, Truck Plazas, or just plain Truck Stops. It’s all the same. They’re an important part of the vast pipeline that keeps the country supplied with just about everything we need. But truck stops are a far cry from what they were back when trucking was in its infancy.
In the early days of cross-country trucking, trucks were mechanically unreliable and weren’t able to haul big loads. During the 1920s most so-called truck stops were little more than repair shops. In time, some began to offer sandwiches and coffee to hungry drivers while they waited for repairs to be completed. With the exception of an occasional bunkhouse for weary drivers behind the repair garage, and the addition of a diner, the state of the American truck stop didn’t change much until after World War II.
As often happens when a country goes to war, necessity becomes the mother of invention. During World War II, reliable transportation to carry heavy cargo to battlefields and across the county to shipping ports was needed for the war effort. After the war, that same technology was applied to peacetime use. Companies like Kenworth, Mack, and Peterbuilt began producing trucks capable of pulling far heavier loads and delivering them across the country with a high rate of reliability.
The last hurdle to overcome in the growth of the trucking industry was the need for a fast and efficient interstate highway system. That came when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act of 1956. That was the birth of what is now a 47,000 mile network of freeways crisscrossing the country from border to border and coast to coast. That created the perfect environment for the birth of a new industry: the great American truck stop. Indeed, the truck stop has come a long way since the repair shops of the 1920s.
Today they play a pivotal role in keeping American cargo moving. Years ago, whatever necessities a truck driver needed had to be limited to what could be carried along in the cab of the truck. The modern truck stop has changed all that. Besides providing coffee, a hot meal, and some conversation, today’s truck plazas provide nearly everything our country’s road warriors need. Even the most basic truck stops provide showers and convenience stores selling everyday items like toiletries and snacks. But some of the truly full service Highway Plazas along interstate highways are more like small towns.
With acres of parking available for big rigs, these mega-malls of the motorway offer everything a highway weary driver could need. Some have barbershops, on-site dentists, movie theaters, chapels, and occasionally live entertainment. Willie Nelson once did a live outdoor concert at the Midway Truck Stop mega truck stop on I-70 in Missouri.
The truck stops of today have even become comfort and communication centers for truckers. To help drivers from having to let their big rigs idle and waste expensive fuel, many truck plazas offer electrical, heat and air conditioning hookups for their cab and sleeper units. In addition, most truck stops have Wi-Fi available so drivers can stay in touch with their family and trucking office during what can be weeks on the road.
The next time you’re on a road trip with friends or family and you pull into a highway stop to refuel, stretch your legs, or have a slice of pie, think about how important these businesses that dot our interstate highways are to the men and women who transport our nations cargo all day, all night and every day of the year. They offer them a place where they can get everything they need to get back on the road again. They’re the lifeblood or our interstate transportation system.