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The Big Road and a BIG Truckstop: Iowa 80
By Jeff Jensen, Editor
Dec 10, 2004, 18:48

Picture an America without a first class system of interstate highways. Life in this country would be far different.
 
People would be crowded into more densely packed inner cities, intercity travel would occur less often and be more cumbersome; freight charges would be higher and, as a consequence, so would prices.

Some history
The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways is in place and and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2006.  It must surely be one of the best investments a nation ever made.

On June 29, 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid-Highway Act of 1956, which authorized the interstate highway system (later formally named the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways).

The Act authorized 41,000 miles of high quality highways that were to tie the nation together. Later, congressional action increased the length to 42,500 miles and required super-highway standards for all interstate highways.

The states were soon underway with construction. As time passed, it became clear that the goal of system completion by 1975 would not be achieved.  By 1980, 40,000 miles were complete. While some segments remain to be completed, more than 42,700 miles of interstate highways are now open to traffic.

The interstate highway system serves virtually all of the nation's large urban areas and serves 49 states (all but Alaska). Despite this broad expanse, the interstate highway system represents just over one percent of the nation's road network.

Of course, trucks and the interstates were a natural fit.  After decades of being forced to travel on secondary roads, usually through towns, villages and cities with the accompanying traffic, long-haul trucks were finally free to put it into the wind. 

A roadside business
But, with the increase in travel distances, the trucker’s need for rest and refueling could not wait for the next city or fleet-owned terminal. Diesel pumps, maintenace facilities, bed and bath facilities (rudimentary at best) defined the truckstop of the 1950s.

Oil companies witnessed the rise in truck hauling during the 1950s and in the 1960s began building their own stops. A decade later, there were 700 truckstops, both company and independent along the interstates.

The business of serving the highway traveler — four-wheeler and 18-wheeler alike — has changed dramatically from it's humble beginnings as a fuel and burger stop into a billion-dollar industry that is dominated by a few very high rollers.

Industry analysts put the truckstops into three categories:

*The superchains - Flying J, TravelCenters of America, Petro, etc., operate more than 740 locations that qualify as travel centers or travel plazas.
 
*Regional convenience store chains, identified as  C-store/gasoline operations (Coastal Mart, Sheetz and others) that have converted into travel centers to increase sales.
 
*Independent operators who own truck stops — some as franchisees — plus multiple-unit operators with up to 10 locations.
 
The superchains have assumed a dominant position in the industry. They sell 83% of all over-the-road diesel, and they are dedicated to increasing that percentage.
 
The big chains continued growth and dominance seem inevitable. And just as the corner grocery store cannot compete with a Wal-Mart Supercenter, the smaller independent truck stops face a serious challenge when in competition with the superchains.

Also, the customer mix will continue to move increasingly toward the four-wheeler side of the ledger. In fact, some upscale travel centers are already garnering greater profits from the non-trucker trade.  Flying J has taken the undisputed lead in serving the RV trade by providing dedicated fuel islands and parking spaces and this trend is bound to flourish in the future.

There are some highly successful alternatives to the superchain model, however.  A handful of extremely prosperous independents have chosen to remain loyal to the trucking market segment that helped them succeed.  In some cases, they have allied themselves with major chains, yet have maintained their independence.

The Iowa 80 Group is one example of the entrepreneurial spirit and innovative style that have kept this enterprise going strong for over 40 years.

Fast Food Court
Beginnings
In 1964, Standard Oil built and opened a truck stop in Walcott, Iowa to take advantage of Interstate 80, which was still under construction.

This brings us to a man named Bill Moon.

"As they were building I-80, my father was responsible for finding land and building truck stops for Standard,'' says Mr. Moon's daughter, Delia Meier. Moon had always wanted to work for himself, and in September 1965, he convinced Standard Oil to let him run the truck stop at the Walcott interchange.

Like many of the truckstops in existence at the time, Iowa 80 was a modest affair, contained in a small white enamel building, surrounded by cornfields that only took up a fraction of what it does today. It housed a small truckers store, a one lube bay and a restaurant.

Under Mr. Moon's keen management, the truckstop began to grow and in 1984, Bill Moon purchased the truckstop from Amoco, that like the industry itself, has been a flurry of activity and expansion ever since.

Now that it was theirs, the Moon family was able to remodel, update and expand the restaurant and truckers store. The shop bays were closed to build state of the art private showers and a driver's area, both of which were very rare in a truckstop at this time.

In 1989, Iowa 80 added a new store that's famous for the 1918 Oldsmobile displayed above the cashier island.

Three years later, in 1992, Iowa 80 Truckstop expanded its fuel center and became a Truckstops of America franchisee. This move gave Iowa 80 the opportunity to associate with a nationally recognized name, while at the same time, maintaining its independence.

Truckstops of America would also serve as a connection to the trucking fleets that had grown over the years. And one year later, 1992, Iowa 80 opened its TA Service Center.  It was in that same year that that Mr. Bill Moon passed away.

The Moon family - Ms. Meier, Senior Vice President, her older brother Will Moon, President, and their mother, Carolyn Moon, Chairman and AS400 computer programmer - still control the site, but it's hardly recognizable as the offspring of that original business. A small city has developed on the sprawling 75-acre facility, now christened  "The World's Largest Truck Stop."

The Iowa 80 truckstop has been profiled many times in both the mainstream press and in trucking publications.  It was also selected as one of the "World's Best Truckstops" in a Discovery Channel television program this past year.

"Amoco gave us the designation of the world's largest truck stop," says Ms. Meier.  "And we made sure it was bigger than the others before we built the new 52,000-square-foot building in 1994. We wanted to build something so incredible that drivers couldn't pass it up.''

Iowa 80 Kitchen
There's parking for 800 trucks on those 75 acres, and it's estimated that the truck stop has some 5,000 truckers and drivers visit it on a daily basis.  As one might expect, it takes a sizeable staff to maintain a facility this size; Heather Debaillie, marketing manager of the Iowa 80 Group says, "At Iowa 80, we currently have 450 employees and we'll add another 15 with our expansion."

Still growing
As this article was nearing completion, an Iowa 80 press release announced a multi-million dollar expansion and remodeling job of its main building.
 
A 17,000-square-foot addition to the trucker store will bring total square footage of Iowa 80's main building to more than 67,000, ensuring that the facility will retain the title of "World's Largest Truckstop".

The new SuperTrucks Center, will boast a glass elevator to take drivers to the second floor. Several full-size tractors and tractor-trailers will display new interior and exterior chrome and stainless products as well as lights so drivers can see how the illumination looks when installed on a truck.  A staff of truck accessories experts will be on hand to assist drivers with customizing their trucks.

The vinyl graphics shop, custom t-shirt shop and embroidery center will move into the new addition so drivers can see designs come to life. 
  
The most unique feature will be a semi-tractor on a rotating floor that will be seen through giant glass windows on the northeast corner of the building.

Heather Debaillie states that the addition should be completed by the Fall of 2005.

She adds that the Iowa 80 Kitchen restaurant was just remodeled in May of this year and the rest of the building's interior will be refurbished in 2005.

Some of the "attractions" of the Iowa 80 megaplex include:

*Iowa 80 Kitchen, a 350-seat restaurant with a 50-foot long salad bar.  There is also a 60-seat banquet room. 

This restaurant is operated by the Peel family who have partnered with the Moon family since 1964, the opening of the truck stop.  Both the truckstop and the restaurant are managed by the second generation of the respective families.

*Fast food franchises - Wendy's and Dairy Queen (a third food franchise will be added at the time of the remodeling).

*23 private showers 

*Driver's Den Lounge (complete with leather chairs and fireplace). A trucker's movie theater with 80 seats that runs films 24 hours a day.

Trucker's Warehouse Store features a collection of chrome accessories. In addition, Heather says one can find, "Books, DVD's, CB's, cell phone accessories, apparel and cleaners, along with the chrome stacks and bumpers."

*Travel Convenience Store located at the fuel island

*Truck Service Center - 7 bays offering minor repairs, oil changes, tires, wheel alignments and an installation bay for those accessories purchased in the Trucker's Warehouse.

*2 Game Rooms

*On-site Barbers and a Dentist

*Business center to make copies and send faxes

Service Center
"We have a whole section of business supplies for drivers, such as logbooks, trip reports and other types of paperwork," says Heather DeBaillie.  "It's just like an office supply store with everything you need to run an office."

Perhaps the most common business-related service provided at truck stops is phones, and DeBaillie says, "We have phones in the restaurant, the food court and upstairs there's a whole bank of phones with a writing area for when drivers want to do paperwork."
 
A touch of the past
Even though the museum is not entirely completed, Iowa 80's newest attraction is now open for tours by appointment. The new museum will celebrate its grand opening in Summer 2005.

Iowa 80’s Trucking Hall of Fame will be 21,600 square feet (with room to grow) and able to display 27 trucks at one time with room for storage of other trucks that are not currently being displayed.

The museum will also include a gift shop and a sidewalk leading from the truck parking lot to the museum providing easy access for professional drivers. Iowa 80 also plans to have a full-time restoration expert on staff allowing visitors to view truck restorations in progress.

"My father loved trucks and trucking," says Delia Moon Meier. "Over the years he collected several antique trucks, antique toy trucks and other trucking memorabilia. This is going to be a great way for us to share that with others interested in trucking and its history."

Even though Bill Moon passed away in 1992, The Moon Family continues to add to the collection, which now consists of over 100 trucks and trailers. The collection will be the main source for museum; displaying everything from a 1910 Avery to a 1961 B-61 Mack.

Trucker's Warehouse Store
Other interesting trucks include the first Mack AC ever produced; a 1924 White wrecker featured in the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes"; a rare half-cab Kenworth; a 1912 Saurer - the only remaining American built Saurer and a 1934 GMC truck and trailer that was purchased from the original owner’s family; just to name a few.

In addition to the antique trucks, the museum will feature old signs, gas pumps and engines along with other truckstop and trucking artifacts.

 
Walcott Truckers Jamboree
This trucking party just celebrated its 25th anniversary this past summer.  Since it’s inception in 1979, the Walcott Truckers Jamboree has been honoring America’s Truckers.  Iowa 80's management says that it’s their way of saying “thank you” to the millions of truck drivers that deliver the goods across North America.

The 2004 Jamboree saw 30,000 people in attendance ffor the two-day event with free admission, free parking.  There were over 200 exhibits, a Super Truck contest, a Trucker Olympics, and a pet contest.

Heather DeBaillie says, "We had a cookout for the Super Truck contestants the night before the event.  We had kids' games, and an antique truck display with 250 trucks displayed this year.  In addition to the porkchop cookout (the 2004 Jamboree saw 10,000 pork chops served), we had carnival games, live country music and 'extra surprises.'"

A weighty issue
Even if you've never been to the Iowa 80 truck stop, chances are you've rolled across a Bill Moon product.  Company founder and developer Moon installed the first totally automated full length platform scale in South Holland, Illinois in 1977.

For the first time, drivers could weigh their entire truck and trailer at once. Since then, CAT Scale has grown to the largest truck scale network in the world, with over 925 locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Truckomat Wash
Iowa 80 Group, Inc.
To manage the various components of the Moon family's business Iowa 80 Group was created and is headquartered in Walcott.  Iowa 80 Group also owns two Petro Stopping Center franchises in Oak Grove, Missouri and Joplin, Missouri.

In addition to the three truckstops, Iowa 80 Group is also the parent company of Truckomat, Inc. Truckomat truck washes are located 11 locations in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

When asked what new plans are in the works for the Walcott facility, marketing manager DeBaillie says with a smile, "Well, we own another two hundred acres here..."



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