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Truck Stops: A Historical Perspective

Last week we reported on the 10 best truck stops in America, but that wasn’t the full story. Perhaps we should take a closer look at the history of these roadside staples. Truck stops can trace their roots farther back in time than the trucks that give them their name.

Before there was the sprawling travel center, there were truck stops. For more than 60 years these buildings have been providing food, fuel, and a place to rest for truck drivers and weary travelers alike.

The Early Times

Modern truck stops can trace their roots all the way back to the 19th Century, when stagecoach relay stations dotted the countryside, providing a resting point for travelers, coaches and horses. Commerce was coming into fruition across the newly settled America, and the relay station provided that crucial point for man, animal and freight to rest.

By the 1920s, gas-fueled vehicles were taking the place of wagons and coaches. In the late-1930s, a nascent trucking industry began to build itself as the backbone of American commerce. Americans were entering the age of the automobile. Suddenly those old stagecoach relay stations looked like a seriously viable business model.

It didn’t take long for small operation truck stops to sprout up, mainly as a means to provide a place to get diesel gas for large delivery trucks roaming long stretches of highway. World War II was heating up, interstate commerce was soaring, and the need for truck stops was never greater.

The focus on the truck driver would continue. Trucks engines of the time were primitive and unpredictable. Many truck stops were already starting to boast large service garages, restaurants and showers.

Even so, the majority of yesteryear’s truck stops didn’t even look like what we would consider a truck stop today. Some were in small, nondescript houses, while others were really nothing more than glorified gas stations with a large parking lot.

In the 1940s and early 50s truck stops were beginning to evolve away from the model of a simple gas or waystation for the casual traveler. In 1948 Fred Bosselman, truck driver and farmer, opened Bosselman & Eaton in Grand Island Nebraska. You may recognize the name because Bosselman Truck Plazas are still in operation today.

By 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower had signed the Federal Interstate Highway Act into law, which would result in over 41,000 miles of new interstate roads and highways being built across America. In one act of the pen, suddenly the truck stop business evolved to cater not just to the needs of truck drivers, but to the needs of everybody. This was when the truck stops of early years began to evolve into the huge travel centers of today.

The Modern Day

Once Americans started hitting the roads in droves, the first chains began to appear. In the beginning, many truck stops were operated by oil companies, such as Amoco and Skelly. It wasn’t long, however, before commercial demands were outstripping establishment supplies.

The small service centers that were more than capable when highway traffic was at a minimal could no longer meet the need. A quaint house on the side of the road no longer cut it.

As the needs of a nation grew, so did the size of the truck. The term 18-wheeler was coming into fruition. These were the rulers of the road and by the 1960s and 70s gigantic multi-acre truck stops began to appear across the country. This was also around the time the TravelCenters of America opened its first locations.

Over the next forty years the idea of a massively luxurious and well-appointed facility caught on, leading to what we have today. While a luxurious and well-appointed truck stop might not be at every point on the journey, today’s modern offerings are more than adequate.

Between huge convenience stores, a variety of facilities, magnificent views and unthinkable amenities like movie theaters and golf courses, wherever you are, a truck stop is just up the road.

The 10 Best Truck Stops in America

Truck stops are as ubiquitous to road travel as travel itself. If you’ve been on the road for hours and you’re yearning for something more than a shack in a dark parking lot, where do you go?

There are a countless number of unremarkable truck stops, useful for the basest of needs, but not much more. For those of you in the know, however, there’s a select few that meet the criteria for wonderful, useful and unique. Let’s take a closer look at the top ten best truck stops in America!

  • The Iowa 80 Truck Stop

Even people who don’t work in trucking have heard of the world’s largest truck stop, located just off of I-80, on exit 284 in Walcott, Iowa. This 100,000 square foot facility makes sure that if you need it, it’s there. Along with a huge selection of practical everyday items, the food court is a who’s who of fast and casual food chains.

There’s also a full movie theater, shower, laundromat and even church services. Brush up on your historical trivia by checking out the trucking museum. Next time you’re riding through Iowa, stop by and be one of the 5,000 people a day that pay a visit to the I-80 truck stop.

  • South of the Border

Despite the name, this truck stop is very much located north of the border. Just off of I-95 in Dillon, South Carolina, this truck stop is a food nirvana, with six different restaurants, from casual to steakhouse.

In one of the more interesting things to be found at a truck stop, South of the Border has the largest indoor reptile exhibit in the United States. And just in case you’re looking to have a little fun, an amusement park is next door, replete with a ferris wheel, carousel, bumper cars and arcade.

  • BUC-EE’S

This Texas staple has twenty-two locations across the state. They’re known for their large convenience stores with huge restrooms, lots of gas pumps and a deli.

The New Braunfels location even won the America’s Best Restroom Award in 2012. And it’s not just the bathroom that’s impressive, the store itself is 68,000 square feet, is stocked with 80 soda fountains and has a whopping 83 bathroom stalls.

  • Little America

When you arrive at Little America, you’ll wonder if you’ve actually arrived at the country club. Located off of the I-40, at exit 198, in Flagstaff, Arizona, this truck stop boasts a 500-acre hotel and golf course. Looking to unwind? Try their swimming pool or fitness center.

Oh, did we almost forget about the actual travel center? They’ve got a gas station and 24-hour convenience store stocked with a wide array of groceries, books, CDs and DVDs. Feed the beast by checking out their Little America Grill, which has a huge menu and is open daily until at least 10:30 pm.

  • Sapp Bros.

If you’re traveling on I-80 somewhere between Utah and Pennsylvania, you may see a Sapp Bros. Travel Center. With sixteen locations to back them up, Sapp Bros. offers a unique 24-hour roadside service.

At six of the locations you can find the Apple Barrel, their popular restaurant chain. The prices are reasonable and the American cuisine comes in hefty portions. It’s American comfort food at its finest.

  • Tamarack Tourist Information Center

Located off of Exit 45 where the I-77 and I-64 meet in Beckley, West Virginia, you’ll find the Tamarack Tourist Information center. Over half a million people stop at the center every year, and it’s not just for food or rest.

In addition to a large food court, it has a fine arts gallery, a theater that supports live performances, a conference center, and a large store selling all the essentials, plus some cool local products.

  • Jubitz Truck Stop and Travel Center

Surely you’ll want to say you’ve visited the “World’s Classiest Truck Stop,” according to the Travel Channel? Located just off of I-5 in Portland, Oregon, the Jubitz Truck Stop boasts a 100 room inn, a restaurant, convenience store and movie theater.

Want to park it and unwind? Visit the Ponderosa Lounge and try your hand at a game of pool or video poker. On the weekends you can indulge in a dance lesson or live music.

  • Bear Lake Rest Area and Overlook

If you asked the Travel Channel, they’d tell you that this rest stop, located off of route 89 in Bear Lake, Utah, has the best view of any rest top in the U.S. Judging by some of the pictures, they may be right.

There’s an overlook with a beautiful view of Bear Lake and the surrounding mountains. If you’re looking to get some exercise while viewing the splendors of nature check out their hiking trails.

  • Trails Travel Center

We couldn’t exactly leave out the truck stop that has the largest whiskey selection in southern Minnesota, now could we? Located off of I-35 in Albert Lea, Minnesota, Trail’s Travel Center boasts a restaurant and tavern with an extensive menu, reasonable prices and the aforementioned whiskey selection.

For those who are seeking a little entertainment while on the road, there’s also a movie theater, full wi-fi and church services.

  • R-Place Restaurant

And for our final entry, we give an honorable mention to a place that’s not quite your traditional truck stop. R-Place Restaurant, located in Morris, Illinois off the I-80 is a 24-hour restaurant that serves classic American cuisine and baked goods.

Oh, and did we mention the 2-pound hamburger? The challenge is to eat it within one hour without leaving your table. Could you do it?

Benefits of Keeping Pets on Long Distance Truck Driving

Trucking with pets can be a wonderful experience, especially when you’re emotionally attached to your pets. Driving for days on end can be very lonely and having your pet on the road with you helps to ease the loneliness. Any truck driver who takes their dog or cat on the road with them needs to make preparations before each trip to ensure that their pet will be comfortable and safe during the trip.

Leaving Pets in the Truck

Dogs in trucks generally force drivers to stop more often than they would stop on their own. This is a good thing for both the trucker and the dog because sitting for hours at a time is not healthy. If you’re trucking with pets, you will probably have to leave them alone in the truck occasionally, usually when you’re loading or unloading. Make sure you don’t leave your pet in the truck alone for a long period of time, especially if the temperature is extreme. Laws against idling may stop you from leaving your truck running to keep your pet comfortable, but leaving for more than 30 minutes should be avoided as much as possible.

Water and Food

Sometimes long distance truck driving doesn’t lend itself well to shopping for supplies, so it’s smart to have plenty of food and water with you in the truck all the time. Some truck stops sell dog food and all of the sell bottled water, so you will probably be able to pick up supplies if you end up being on the road longer than you planned or your dog eats more food than normal. You will also need to carry bags and a scoop to pick up after your dog.

Exercise

One of the biggest issues with dogs in trucks is that they often don’t get the exercise they need. Choosing a breed that isn’t overly active is a good idea and most people don’t recommend taking a puppy on the road because long distance truck driving is often unpredictable and you should know your dog’s habits before taking them on the road with you.

Each truck driver need exercise just as much as their dog does, so going for walks together is beneficial for both the dog and the owner. Some truck stops understand that trucking with dogs is very common, so they designate certain areas for walking your dog. It’s a good idea to ask if there’s a specific area for dogs if the area is not clearly marked. Staying in this area will keep you and your dog safe from being run over by other trucks and it minimizes the chances of other truckers accidentally stepping in dog droppings.

Repair Shops

When you’re long distance truck driving it is likely that you’ll have to stop at a repair shop occasionally. Some repair shops are very accommodating of truck drivers who are trucking with pets, while others will want you to keep your pet out of sight as much as possible. Calling ahead to ensure that your pet will be welcomed is a good idea.

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