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This episode of the See America Podcast was written and hosted by Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue.
During the coronavirus pandemic, heroes of all stripes have emerged to keep our country healthy, fed, and supplied. Doctors, nurses, retail workers, delivery drivers, and all sorts of other essential workers deserve our respect and support in this difficult time. Perhaps one of the most overlooked groups of these heroes is truck drivers. Without truck drivers, we wouldn’t have most of the essential things we need to live on a daily basis. Travel restrictions, closed restaurants, closed bathrooms, extended hours, and all sorts of other factors have made their work all the more challenging during this time. Luckily, they can rely on Truck Stops to keep them fed, showered, and parked for the night.
This week, we’re spotlighting one such truck stop. But this is no ordinary gas station. It’s the Iowa 80 Truck Stop in Walcott, Iowa — The largest truck stop in the world.
The Iowa 80 Truck Stop:
You might be surprised to see us featuring a truckstop on this show but consider this. Iowa 80 currently serves 5,000 customers per day and has parking spaces for 900 tractor-trailers, 250 cars, and 20 buses. It has a 300-seat restaurant; a gift store, a massive showroom of truck parts and accessories, a dentist, a barbershop, a chiropractor, a workout room, laundry facilities, a 60-seat movie theatre, a trucker’s TV lounge, 24 private showers, a Food Court featuring Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut Express, Dairy Queen, Orange Julius or Caribou Coffee; a convenience store, a custom embroidery and vinyl shop, 42 gas islands, 16 diesel lanes, a 7-bay truck service center, a 3-bay truck wash, a CAT Scale, and a Pet Wash. If that’s not enough, there’s also the on-site Trucking Museum showcasing over 100 trucks from periods throughout the history of American trucking. The Iowa 80 Truck Stop is truly a destination unto its own.
History of The Iowa 80 Truck Stop:
As the U.S. government was building Interstate 80 — the 3,000-mile highway that would directly connect San Francisco with New York — Standard Oil regional manager Bill Moon was responsible for finding land and building truck stops along the new route.
Just west of the Iowa/Illinois border, Moon settled on a location for a stop to serve drivers near the half-way point between Chicago and Des Moines. Walcott, Iowa.
The Iowa 80 Truckstop began serving truckers out of a small white enamel building in 1964. It was surrounded by cornfields, it housed a modest truckers’ store, one lube bay, and a restaurant. Standard Oil tapped Moon to take over management a year later. By the time Interstate 80 was completed, thousands of truckers and travelers were stopping by Iowa 80 to fuel, grab a bite to eat and head on down the road.
In 1984, Standard Oil, which was now Amoco, decided to sell the facility. Bill Moon, who had now been managing the place for nearly 20 years, jumped at the chance to take it over. He and his wife Carolyn, leveraged everything they had, including borrowing money from friends, to purchase the truck stop.
Once the Moon Family owned Iowa 80, they were free to expand the building and add services as needed. “Bill just loved everything about trucks and trucking,” said Carolyn. “He loved to sit at the counter in the restaurant and talk to drivers about what would make their life easier if Iowa 80 had it. He truly enjoyed the truck stop business and all of the people he encountered.”
Iowa 80 Truckstop is in the middle of its 28th expansion and remodel: a $10 million project that ads 23,000 square feet to its already 100,000 square foot main building, new gas islands, a larger food court, and new traffic ways.
Long a dream of Bill Moon, the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum opened in July of 2008, showcases his passion for collecting antique trucks and other trucking memorabilia. The collection is open to the general public for free. Many rare and one-of-a-kind trucks are on display, and you can view short films about trucking history. Trucks and treasures dating back to 1910, including antique gas pumps, vintage signs and more.
Bill Moon died in 1992, but his legacy lives on, as the Iowa 80 Truck Stop is still rand by his family, along with several other truck stops across the country.
Some say the Iowa 80 Truckstop is like a small city, others have likened it to a Trucker’s Disneyland. Whatever you call it, it’s surely not to be missed.
Visiting The Iowa 80 Truck Stop:
The Iowa 80 Truckstop is qualified as the world’s largest by a few things. It sits on 225 acres, 75 of which are developed. The Retail building is nearly 100,000 square feet, it has the most truck parking, and it serves more customers per day than any other.
Each July, they host the annual Trucker’s Jamboree, a free event that’s been going on since 1979 to say thank you to the millions of truck drivers. The event features an Antique Truck Display, a truck beauty contest, a pork chop cookout, carnival games, trucker Olympics, fireworks, and over 175 exhibits. 45,000 drivers, their families, and local residents attend each year.
The world’s largest truck stop is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at Iowa exit 284 on Interstate 80. In fact, it hasn’t closed its doors once since opening day in 1964. The museum is open 9-5 most days in the summer and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays the rest of the year.
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