“I’m in the wrong line of business,” says independent owner-operator Howard Salmon, speaking after an experience Wednesday night at the Speedway location on Deep Springs Rd. in Dandridge, Tenn., at I-40 and directly across Deep Springs from a Love’s truck stop, full at midnight when Salmon pulled off the freeway headed east on a run.
“There were several trucks parked out there,” he says of the Speedway. “I pulled into the entrance area and pulled to the side,” careful not to block a set of dumpsters there. When he got a knock on the door three hours later, he was greeted by a tow-truck operator with Malone’s Wrecker Service who’d already hooked his heavy-duty wrecker to Salmon’s Kenworth and offered a way out of the $650 fee that would be assessed if he was towed from the location.
“You can give us $300 cash,” Salmon says the operator told him.
Salmon, it turns out, was not the only such truck in the lot there that night getting this kind of treatment.
The tow operator told Salmon, too, that he was not the first such trucker forced to move in such a manner that night, hence his thought about being in the wrong line of business. “They probably made $1,800 to $2,000 that night” cash money, he says.
Malone’s Wrecker Service owner Lynn Malone says he understands the parking issues truckers face today, yet Speedway contracts with his company for this purpose. Hooking to the truck while the driver is asleep is just how they do it. “A lot of these places they won’t let you park – it’s not right,” he says, “but we’re not going to go out there for nothing.”
Salmon says he saw no-parking signs right around the fuel islands. According to Malone, he apparently missed others. Malone says there are as many as a dozen signs — No parking anytime … will be towed at owner’s expense by Malone’s Wrecker Service — all around the property placed there at the request of the Speedway location ownership, who calls Malone when they have a problem with trucks parked there.
“They call us” when the need arises, Malone says. “It’s not every night — sometimes you might go a week or two without a call. Sometimes you might get called every two or three days.”
Salmon and no doubt many others see the practice of hooking to the truck while the operator sleeps, before even an attempt at notification by management at the fuel stop or the tow operator, as basic extortion, but local authorities told Salmon the existence of a contract between the stop and Malone in this area makes such a practice completely legal. “There’s nothing they can do it about,” Salmon says he was told by a local officer, after the officer agreed the practice is, at its essence, extortion.
Should it be legal? That’s just the question we explored last week with Michigan-based small fleet owner Leander Richmond, who believes targeted, nationally-applicable legislation is necessary to prevent this practice without at least an attempt to notify the driver in the vehicle before holding the vehicle hostage for cash payment. If you missed the Overdrive Radio episode with Richmond, you can find it here.
“There should be a law against sneaking up to a guy in the middle of the night,” Salmon says. “Give the guy a chance to move the vehicle, then be towed. This is just plain wrong. You’d think that the management would come out and tell you that you can’t park there.”
Know, however, that there’s a reason Speedway did their deal with Malone’s Wrecker Service. As I spoke with Lynn Malone this morning, he got the Speedway location owner on the phone. The owner said they used to do just that — give the driver fair warning and, as Malone’s tow drivers do there to this day after they’ve got their money, point haulers back across I-40 to the former site of a TA where property owners don’t seem to care if truckers utilize the lot. (That’s exactly where Howard Salmon ended up in the wee hours of Thursday morning.)
In the late night hours, though, there’s minimal staff operating the Speedway, and one unfortunate incident put them all over the edge on interacting with truckers attempting to park overnight there. Let’s just say it involved a bag of excrement thrown at a member of the staff.
“I get it that parking is tough” for drivers, Lynn Malone adds, “but they ought to respect that lot” by not parking long-term there, given signage in place.
Though it might well go without saying, meanwhile, at other locations, if there’s signage anywhere and/or it’s unclear whether longer-term parking is kosher, it can’t hurt to ask staff on location for the reality.