Truck stop pioneer leaves a lasting legacy

February 1, 2022

Ryan Witkowski


The man considered to be the father of the modern truck stop has died. James “Jack” Cardwell died on Jan. 23 at the age of 89.

Cardwell’s Petro truck stop, the first self-service truck stop in the United States, opened in 1975 in El Paso, Texas. By 2007 – when Cardwell sold the majority of his company to Westlake, Ohio-based TravelCenters of Americas – he had built the company to 69 truck stops spanning 33 states.

Petro revolutionized the truck stop by adding amenities such as showers for truckers, more dining options, and a general store designed to meet the needs of truckers.

Following the sale of Petro in 2007, Caldwell reflected on his company’s success.

“We understand drivers and understand what they need,” Cardwell said to El Paso Inc. “We treated them with respect and dignity, and let them know we appreciated their business. And they’d want to come back and see us. That was basically our strategy.”

Cardwell was born March 1, 1932, in Poplar Bluff, Mo. He moved to El Paso while serving in the U.S. Army from 1952-54. From then on, Cardwell was a constant in the El Paso business community, receiving the El Paso Community Spirit Award from El Paso Inc. in 2007 for his philanthropic work in the area.

In 2007, he established the Cardwell Family Foundation, a supporting organization of the El Paso Community Foundation, to continue his philanthropic endeavors in the El Paso region.

TravelCenters of America CEO Jon Pertchik said they will continue to run their locations with the same focus Cardwell did for many years.

“We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Jack Cardwell. He was a true advocate for drivers and we are honored to continue his legacy of ensuring professional drivers have a home away from home while on the road,” Pertchik said. “We have many team members who had the pleasure of working for Jack. They are truly mourning his loss, as he was a compassionate, highly respected and family-oriented leader. We offer gratitude to him for playing a major role in what our 50-year-old company is today, and we extend our thoughts and prayers to his entire family.”

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