Despite the numerous types of vehicles that have come into common use since the first automobile, it is upon the large semi tractor trailer that America still depends. Ever since the rise of the trucking industry took over from the railways, the American truck stop has been evolving to accommodate the thousands of men and women who spend most of their lives on the road.
The necessity and evolution of the average truck stop hinges on a few factors. Truckers are like the cowboys of yesterday, making lonely treks across the wilderness to brings goods from one city to another. The journey can be fatiguing, dull, and isolating. Truck stops began by providing the basics, but one flourishing industry has led to the expansion of another, so that the American truck stop now offers a place for these men and women to socialize, do laundry, bathe, eat, and relax.
During World War I, the railways, which had previously been responsible for transporting good across the country, became preoccupied with fulfilling the needs of the war effort. People had to find a new way to get civilian goods from place to place, and this is when the trucking industry really began to take shape. Likewise, Mom and Pop locations that saw to the needs of these truckers began popping up, especially in the 1920’s. These locations provided a trucker’s most basic needs in a fairly basic way. There was food, bathrooms, parking, and rooms full of bunks for sleeping.
By 1935, forty percent of America depended on truckers to transport items such as food and other goods. The vast increase in truckers on the road began clogging the nation’s highways, which led to the creation of the Federal Interstate Highway Act of 1956. This launched the creation of a national system of highways which would connect all parts of the country. As a result, the Mom and Pop truck stops began to disappear, no longer capable of fulfilling the needs of the vastly increased numbers of truckers taking goods across the country.
Oil companies took the lead in making truck stops after the old Mom and Pop shops began to fade, counting on the enormous revenue that the fuel needs of the trucking industry would bring. In 1964, Standard Oil opened the Iowa 80 Truckstop on the newly emerging Interstae 80, a horizonal artery that connected the West coast to the East. Beginning with only two gas pumps, three diesel pumps, parking for ten or so trucks, and a small store, it has since evolved to cover more than 225 acres. In 1984 a new owner began the expansion, adding the 30,000 square feet Trucker’s Store which has every imaginable thing a trucker could want for his rig. With truckers spending more and more of their lives on the road,the Iowa 80 makes life a bit more relaxing with a sixty seat theater, a barbershop, and a dentist in addition to fantastic bathroom facilities.
In 1968, America had approximately 2,000 truck stops. Today, they number more than 6,000 mega centers. Advances in environmental consciousness have led to technology like the Idle Air– a system to end the need for truckers to idle their rigs to power their air conditioner’s, heaters, and televisions– and on board generators which use the truck’s own fuel, but at a much slower rate. Bio Diesel has also begun to appear at a few truck stops, helping to put a dent in consumption of foreign oil.
These days, the average truck stop caters to all sorts of motorists, including the eighty percent of highway traffic that isn’t long-haul trucking. The comforts and amenities offered to the road weary have evolved well past a hot meal and a bunk, so that the century old lifestyle of the trucker is no longer such a lonely or spare one.
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