As long as there have been travelers, there have been places for travelers to stop, rest and refuel. At their core, today’s truck stops are not too different from the stagecoach relay stations that peppered the Old West. Weary travelers could get a meal, stretch their legs and let the horses rest before continuing on. In the 20th century, truck stops became an invaluable resource for America’s trucking companies, giving their drivers a home away from home and making longhaul possible.
America’s first truck stops began to appear in the late 1920’s. Dixie Trucker’s Home, located on Route 66, has been officially recognized as America’s oldest truck stop. Originally just a sandwich counter inside of a mechanic’s shop, it eventually grew to include a full-service restaurant, sleeping cabins for truck drivers, and exercise pens for cattle.
Like the original Dixie Trucker’s Home, many of these first truck stops were run out of the homes and small businesses of entrepreneurial Americans who lived and worked along prominent trucking routes.
The American trucking industry entered its heyday during 1940’s and 50’s. As trucks switched to diesel-fueled engines, truck stops became invaluable as the only reliable source of diesel fuel. Trucking companies exploded after President Eisenhower signed the Federal Interstate Highway Act in 1956, adding 41,000 miles to the US highway system. Truck stops became more regulated and adapted in order to cater to the needs of long-haul truck drivers, offering everything from showers to hot meals.
The advent of trucks with comfortable sleeper cabins, plentiful food options and limits on a driver’s hours of service have changed the way modern drivers view truck stops (many of which are now called “travel plazas” to appeal to all motorists). Nevertheless, they played an integral role in the development of our industry and continue to do so, breaking up long drives with a place to rest and refuel.