Large, multi-service truckstops – where a driver can fuel up, take a private shower, grab a bite to eat, shop in the convenience store, have the truck repaired or serviced and rent a hotel room if desired – are today’s standard for the trucking industry. Most also offer ATMs, fax machines, Internet service and truck washes. Others are on the cutting edge with food courts featuring fast-food franchises, delis, movie theaters, medical clinics, nightclubs and even casinos.
But there are some few seasoned drivers around who can remember when truckstops were far different, especially when you go back more than a quarter of a century.
Many of those roadside establishments sported a diesel pump or two and usually a small eatery. Some had large bunkrooms where a hand could grab a few winks for as little as $1.50. This was at a time when privacy and security weren’t major concerns and drivers came and went throughout the night in these barrack-style rooms. Some facilities had showers or washrooms – most of the time with the same communal atmosphere as the bunkrooms.
Today, most truckers wouldn’t dream of bunking down with strangers only a few feet away from themselves and their personal belongings. Or how about asking the fellow you’re practically bumping elbows with in the shower for a bar of soap?
Phil Saunders, founder of the Truckstops of America, (which later became TravelCenters of America) says several factors from the late 1950s through the 1970s played a part in transforming the truckstop industry. “When the interstate system opened up, it shortened drivers’ routes,” Saunders says.
He says that an increase in the number of motels opening along the new interstates, and trucks being sold with sleeper cabs influenced truckstops to upgrade sleeping accommodations. “Another thing that happened was truckers became more financially fit and started buying more things on the road,” Saunders says.
The formation of NATSO, the trade association representing truckstop and travel plaza owners and operators, in 1960 also spawned changes in the industry. NATSO, which founded Truckers News in 1977, set forth service standards for its member truckstops to better the industry.
Truckstops began offering more services to take advantage of the drivers’ changing lifestyle and their increased spending power. Truckstop owners often went directly to the drivers to solicit ideas for additional services. “My dad was great at sitting at the counter and talking to drivers about services and issues,” says Fred Jubitz, whose late father Moe Jubitz founded Jubitz Truck Stop (now Jubitz Travel Center) in Portland, Ore. “He would never introduce himself. It was his own marketing tool.”
As more small independent establishments consolidated and gave way to a growing number of chain truckstops, competition drove more changes in the industry. Saunders says before the 1960s, truckers were the major purchasing agents at truckstops as they often negotiated price for fuel and repairs. “Slowly during the ’70s the trucking companies took control of purchasing,” he says. “For the truckstops, it put pressure on profit margins on things like fuel.”
Today’s truckstops are much larger than their predecessors and offer a wide range of products and services.
The fierce competition forced truckstop owners to look for ways to increase profit margins. The answer was found in additional profit centers that appealed to both the trucker
and the motoring public. Most of the major truckstops evolved into travel plazas.
“Today, it’s a very mature industry that quickly consolidated,” Saunders says. “A few years ago a big chain was 30 locations. Big today it’s 150 truckstops.”
There are still plenty of independent truckstops that cater to today’s truckers. According to NATSO, independents make up about 40 percent of the truckstop industry.
Many of the establishments have all the services and amenities offered by the large chains. And some have gone the extra mile to encourage traffic to go the extra mile to get there.
Jubitz Travel Center sits 3/4 of a mile off Interstate 5 in Portland. But its founder was innovative. Moe Jubitz often erected themed billboards along major highways hundreds of miles away that either reported the exact number of miles to his truckstop or boasted “king-sized” services for “kings of the road.” From 1975-79, he also gave away thousands of Jubitz mud flaps with directions to the truckstop, and he installed them for free.
Creativity, and satisfying the needs of truckers as well as the public, has played a huge role in the growth of Jubitz, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The Jubitz family started a load board, which later become DAT Services before being sold recently to TransCore. The truckstop also was designated as an official visitors information center for the state of Oregon.
Fred Jubitz, who shares co-president duties with his brother Al Jubitz, says while the truckstop relies on both the public and trucking, they remain sensitive to the needs of truckers. “We are very cognizant of the fact that there are a lot of drivers who don’t want to stand in line behind tourists at the cash register,” he says. “We’re set up so that a driver can get in, get fuel, get something to eat without having to deal with motorists if he doesn’t want to. We try to keep both traffics happy.”
Jubitz, which covers approximately 25 acres and offers numerous amenities including a “Top of the Stop” drivers lounge, a mini-theater, Jacuzzi tubs, a tire retread center, a two-story motel, medical services and a nightclub, still considers itself a mom-and-pop establishment. “We consider ourselves a destination resort for truckers,” Fred Jubitz says. “We work on trying to spoil the driver. We’re not the biggest. Our goal is to be the best.”
White’s Truck Stop in Raphine, Va., works hard at keeping a family-run atmosphere for its trucking patrons, according to general manager Gary Pilgreen. The truckstop was started 31 years ago by Pilgreen’s father-in-law, David White, one of the original founders of NATSO.
In addition to its many trucking services, the truckstop boasts a unique décor that reflects the lifestyle of its owners and drivers. Inside the walls of the various facilities are gun and knife collections, trophy game and fish, vintage motorcycles and antiques.
For years, David White and his late wife, Margaret “Peggy” White, lived at the truckstop motel before moving to their own place out back. During the holidays, Peggy White would brighten the truckstop with seasonal decorations as well showcasing her antique doll collection and other items of yesteryear.
“Our truckstop is a throwback to the old days,” says Pilgreen. “We have kept the mom-and-pop flavor. We have separate facilities for truckers and travelers. Truckers like the fact that we treat them special.”
Pilgreen says the ever-changing truckstop industry is more challenging today, but appreciative customers make it worthwhile. “We still have some of the same people coming since we opened,” Pilgreen says. “A lot of the retired drivers still come by. We try to maintain a clean friendly atmosphere that drivers appreciate. We can’t afford to have an attitude that service doesn’t matter because there’s always another driver coming in. It’s not like Las Vegas where they’re not worried about service because there’s always another plane coming in. We cater to the truck drivers.”