Missing ‘mom and pop’ truck stops

March-April 2020

Dave Sweetman

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One of the biggest changes to the trucker’s world, besides the trucks themselves, are truck stops. Most of them now have been reformed, narrowed down and shaped to meet the needs of the modern-day driver. At least that is what they would like us to believe.

Renamed “travel plazas,” a great many cater to the tourist, and truck drivers seem to be an afterthought. So much so that many of the new plazas are designed to get you in, get your fuel, some greasy fried chicken or a processed burger, and get out. Parking is mostly set up for a momentary visit, or the best spots cost $14-18. Many of the familiar places have done away with a sit-down restaurant and feature fast food with few healthy options. I’m not a fan. So, I can wax nostalgic about the good old days and the mom-and-pop places most of us miss very much.

On old Route 40 in Bear, Del., there was a little joint called Peggy’s Truck Stop (Chicken Shack). There were a couple of fuel islands where Clay would fuel your truck, check the fluids and tires, do your windows and park it for you, all while you enjoyed the “fine dining.” For $4 you got one half of a fried chicken on bread and coffee. There was a big, old furry dog who would wander through, and all the drivers would pet the dog. He was also the greasiest dog you could imagine because of all the driver’s greasy fingers. Saved on napkins, I guess. Peggy was usually running the kitchen and was also the enforcer for any arguments that got out of hand. The sight of her wielding the baseball bat was usually all it took. Problem solved.

On the New Jersey-New York state line on old Route 17 was Pal’s Diner.

One of the old Silk City stainless steel diners, they had a menu to rival a fancy restaurant. It was a favorite for guys coming off the thruway or back from New England. The veal parm could rival my Mom’s, and the pastry selection was excellent. It closed many years ago, the diner was hauled off, and a major chain took over the property. I’m not a fan of mystery sausage of unknown vintage spinning on the rotisserie, so I no longer stop.

Another long gone favorite was the Green Shingle up on I-90 along the lake near Erie, Pa. It made the long ride from Cleveland to Buffalo better, and it didn’t take much to get snowed in there. A great restaurant with friendly service, so it was a shocker when it went under. The buildings are still there, but it’s a ghost town.

A long-ago chain was Mid-Continent, prominent in the south. Pop in for fuel, the island jockeys would fuel up and check all vitals and wash your truck. And you’d get a free meal that was pretty darn good. What happened to that practice? I recall being at the West Memphis stop near the I-40/55 split. Ominous clouds and a bad storm approaching, the employees were going to every truck warning drivers of a tornado. I chose to make a run for it. The next day, the news showed the whole truck stop had been leveled by a twister.

I still think of that every time I roll by.

Another of my Mid-Continent stops was in Jackson, Miss., which was in the same location where the Petro is now. I had a cabover Kenworth Aerodyne and was in the back sound asleep when someone starts banging on my door. I look out the driver’s side window, and there is a guy kneeling in a rowboat, looking in my window. That was a shocker at 1 a.m. The whole parking lot was flooded, and the water was up to the top of my fuel tanks and this guy is banging away like crazy, yelling, “Ya’ll got to move. The levy done broke.” I was the only truck in the lot. Dodging floating logs, I made my way out. The next day, I went to the local truck dealer and had the gear oil changed in the transmission and rears. The levy done broke. Why me, Lord?

There are still a few mom-and-pops that I love and frequent as often as I can. Dysart’s, near Bangor, Maine, is fantastic. Best lobster rolls ever (along with everything else). The Stage Stop in Boise, Idaho, can teach everyone else how to run a facility. Jubitz, Portland, Ore., of course has always been a fave. Jennie’s Diner, east of Lancaster, Pa., on old U.S. 30 has been a regular stop of mine since the ’70s. (Now it is Route 30 Diner.) Big Boy’s, south of Kenly, N.C., off I-95. There are still some out there, but it can be a challenge to stay away from the mystery sausage. LL