Truck Stops

I was recently reminded of how different the truck stops today are from the ones of yesteryear. Although I hardly feel qualified to make the comparisons, I am compelled to recall the differences I remember. To do this I have to go back to my childhood growing up in the small southern town of Bradford, Arkansas as the beginning of my story.

The earliest recollections I have of a truck stop would be in the early 60’s. The main road through the area was highway 67. At the time, it was the main road between Little Rock and St. Louis. On the north end of our little town, there was a restaurant that was known as “The Truck Stop”. I’m sure it had an official name but that tidbit is lost to history. As I recall, it had limited parking for trucks and some parking for a few cars.

The thing about truck stops of that era is that they were centered around the restaurant. Drivers would gather, eat and tell stories. There were few other services available at a truck stop of those times. Services were only found at the larger stops. In those days, a fuel stop and a truck stop were not necessarily the same thing. Our little truck stop was just a restaurant. It’s not really fair to say it was “just a truck stop”. Truck stops back then had the best food around. If you wanted to go out for a really good meal, you went to the truck stop. On a family trip, eat at a truck stop. That was before all the chain food establishments. A truck stop survived by being good and by word of mouth.

A fuel stop was quite different. In those days, a driver might try to fuel at places that gave out S&H Greenstamps or some other type of stamps. These stamps were the beginning of modern day bonus points. In those days you would save all your stamps and trade them for merchandise when you had enough. You would pick up a “gift book” to see what you could get with your stamps. These stamps were collected and put into small pamphlets that held a certain quantity of stamps commonly referred to as books. You would choose your item from the gift book and send in your books to purchase that item. On a side note, my sister saved up Top Value stamps from the grocery store to buy me my first aquarium.

At these truck stops, a driver might grab a good meal and catch a few hours of sleep and hit the road again. It seemed that there was always a rotating stock of trucks out front. Parking didn’t seem to be as much of a problem then.

In the 70’s, my father-in-law was a company driver. In his day, the stops were growing and starting to change. Every few days he would stop at a cheap motel and rent a room to get a shower but most other services were starting to become more common. In those days, it was nice to get a break from trying to sleep in an old cabover with no A/C. Relax for a night and hit it again.

Fast forward to the early 90’s when I started driving. There were quite a few more of the larger stops. They usually had fuel and a restaurant and some services such as showers, maybe a washer and dryer, and usually a TV room. Back then you made enough money to eat all your meals in a restaurant. There were no microwaves, inverters nor refrigerators for the most part. I had a plug in cooler that I used to keep a few sodas and maybe a sandwich in. I think that might have been the beginning of how we operate today.

In those times, you would go into the restaurants and usually find a “Professional Driver” section. It usually consisted of an area with a large table or several smaller tables. Many times there would be a bar style seating. Drivers would gather and talk about the experiences of the day or the past. As a young driver, I found these areas a place to learn from the older drivers. I had little to say to fit in with their conversations. It was a place that I could ask questions and gain from the wisdom of their experiences. Many of my early habits were formed by listening to these seasoned drivers. You would never go into a place like that and start running your mouth about what you could do without being able to back it up.

I also remember that there seemed to be a lot more respect for one another. If you needed help, someone was usually there to help you without asking. There was a greater sense of brotherhood. Truckers would even pull over on the side of the road to lend a hand if you broke down.

Today, we have “Travel Plazas”. Truckers no longer go inside and spend money to support an establishment. We buy fuel, park and eat in our trucks. Many have lost respect and throw their garbage and other things on the ground where they park and simply leave in the morning. We don’t go in and have those conversations that share so much information around the dinner tables anymore. The chain restaurants usually have booths that separate people rather than offering an environment to socialize. That is done in the TV room, if at all. Today, drivers simply don’t make enough money to be able to do those things and get ahead. As a result many truck stops have been forced to charge for parking.

I don’t want to suggest that we go back to the “good ol’ days” because driving truck in those days was considerably harder than it is today in many of respects. I’m just saying that as our industry has progressed, it has left some things behind that gave driving truck a much deeper meaning. I hope my recollections stir up many fond memories for you.

Fourth of July

Over the 4th of July holiday, I had some thoughts about trucking and our freedom. Now that I’m back to work and waiting at a shipper, I have a little time to recall some of those thoughts.

It started with the thoughts about patriotism and how blessed we are to have the opportunities that we have. Thoughts of freedom and what that means to each of us quickly followed. That’s when I started looking at my own situation. I’m a self employed independent truck driver. That’s when I realized that trucking is one of the ultimate expressions of what America stands for.

Our forefathers and the following generations fought to give us not just a country, but an opportunity to make our dreams come true. To allow us to achieve what ever our skills could afford and our ambitions would carry us to. America is about a place to make those things happen. Now, let’s apply those principals and ideals to trucking.

Trucking is truly an industry that will let you develop a skill and start the process of independence. Like many drivers today, I started in trucking because it was a job that was available to me. I needed to take care of my family. I had some skills that I brought to the table (as many do) to make me a good investment for training. That was the start of my life’s enduring career. It has been that American dream for me because it has provided the things that embody the very things our forefathers sought for the generations to come. Granted they could not have envisioned trucking as it is today, but they did envision our ability to produce with our talents and bring those things to market. They envisioned the free flow of commerce.

Trucking also is the ultimate expression of freedom in many respects as well. We are free to move throughout the entire United States at our will. There are rules to follow, otherwise it would be anarchy. We are free to choose what level of participation that suits us. We can go local or coast to coast. We can be an employee, private contractor, or independent. You can learn enough to simply operate the truck and no more or you can learn enough to be a very successful company owner. That choice is one that is sometimes decided by ambition, talent, or mentality. Other times, it is a situational choice. Either way, it is an expression of our freedom.

The quality of our job is always on display whether or not there is an understanding by others of what it takes to produce that quality. Quality still sells for a premium. There is higher value for higher quality. As we look at all of what is wrong in the world, we often fail to remember that here in America, we do have a say. We must first set our own standards high and live by them before we can expect it of others. Then we must find people of like mind and speak together. We must not be afraid to have these conversations with others to see if someone else has a better understanding of the problems. That is an educational process that is available to us all. The only enemy is a closed mind. We are free to dream, pursue, achieve, learn, prosper, fail, worship, or a number of other things. The choice is ours as to what we shall pass on to our descendants. Such is true in trucking as well. We have to stop looking at our differences and look at our common goals and take the tough and sometimes uncomfortable steps to work together in spite of the differences our freedom affords us. The strength of many can overcome the power of the few. We are the custodians of our industry and our country. We, as truckers, stand to be the most visible symbol of what it is to be Americans.