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Addison Kliewer, Oklahoman
The Iowa 80 might not be a typical tourist attraction, but for truck drivers nationwide, it’s their own version of Disneyland – home to eight restaurants, a museum, a gift shop, a movie theater, and equipment designed to meet almost all the needs of those delivering goods nationwide.
The sprawling operation serves 5,500 per day and boasts of being the largest truck stop in the world.
In Oklahoma City, used cars are sold at what was once itself billed as the largest truck stop along a stretch of Interstate 35 that is home to Frontier City and a collection of large warehouses. Truckers Village, the Derby gas station, had 12 acres, 57 pumps, a 100-seat 24-hour restaurant, bedrooms and a driver’s lounge.
Located along the Northeast Expressway, then part of Route 66, now I-35, the operation quickly spread to the opposite side of the street as the city struggled to deal with crashes resulting from drivers making left turns in the roadhouse.
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Maybe not the biggest, but one of the best
The truck stop was chosen as one of the country’s 50 best by a 1988 Chevron Oil survey, based on cleanliness and quality. At the Town Talk Diner, visitors were seated in booths, each with its own jukebox. Those who frequented the restaurant included the night owls and early morning outdoor enthusiasts starting their day.
It might never be sure if it was the tallest in the world, but those who remember it agree that it was second to none in Oklahoma City, if not the entire state.
Steve Davis frequented the truck stop while working for Red Rock Petroleum. When opened, the panel was topped with a model of a semi-trailer with neon wheels that appeared to move when lit at night.
âIt was a very busy place,â Davis said. âIt was at a time when there was no limited access on the highway. You can park at the truck stop from I-35. You didn’t have to find a ramp and find an access road. There were no curbs by the side of the road. The setback was barely gravel. There were all kinds of broken glass, bits of chrome from all the accidents.
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The truck stop opened when drivers were able to turn 18 level crossings along the stretch of the northeast motorway between NW 122 and Wilshire Boulevard. After a few years of accidents, traffic engineers reduced the openings to six.
âThere were people trying to cross the freeway on foot,â Davis said. âThat’s what ultimately prompted the Department of Transportation to restrict access – that and Frontier City (amusement park). You would have devastated families trying to transform in these places. ”
Back then, Davis said, it was common to hear various companies claiming to be the biggest in the world.
âIt wasn’t as big as some places in Illinois for sure,â Davis said. âBut for food and convenience, it was a good community to hang out at the time. It was well lit, they had all kinds of truck service you wanted – tires, diesel mechanics – and it was very busy. ”
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Mr. Brown and Mr. Brown – no relationship – ran the business
Joe Emerson was 17 when he spent his summer working at Truckers Village in 1982. At that time, there was no doubt the world was home to even bigger truck stops, but he kept busy.
âThe restaurant remained packed,â Emerson said. âThe burgers were pretty darn good. They had a gift shop and I worked there 7-7, five days a week.
Most of the truck drivers were “good guys,” Emerson said, and they all wanted to talk after spending hours on the road.
âA truck driver came over, he came once, twice a week, and he asked if he wanted to do a run in Kansas City with him,â Emerson said. “I asked my parents, and they didn’t think it was a good idea at all.”
The business was owned by Barney Brown and managed by Jerry Brown. They weren’t related, but that didn’t stop Davis and others from joking about them.
âWe would tease Jerry Brown about Barney Brown and vice versa,â Davis said. âNeither of them particularly liked him.
Both were former soldiers. Davis remembers Barney Brown speaking in a nasal voice, wearing cropped bifocal glasses and waving to people, saying “How are you there, hoss?”
The men did not always get along.
âI was there once in the 1970s doing maintenance work, and they had an argument,â Davis said. “Jerry went crazier than hell against Barney Brown and chased him around Barney’s red 1969 Mach I Mustang that he had always parked there.”
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It was Jerry Brown who defended the addition of a chapel to the roadhouse and the construction of a chapel at the top of a swimming pool. It hosted preachers and politicians, including then-Senator Don Nickles, in a room dedicated to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Jerry Brown ran two unsuccessful gubernatorial campaigns from the truck stop, but then ended up working at a car dealership after a deal to own a new trucker village at NW 122 ended in a legal battle with its partners.
By then, the days of the truck stop were numbered. Little remains of the roadhouse on the west side of the highway remain, while mid-century modern buildings on the east side remain where used cars are sold.
âIt was going well and then towards the end it all started to work on a self-serve basis,â Davis said. “It was the beginning of the end for main gas stations owned by an independent man who owned or leased their station and bought gasoline at a discount from suppliers.”
Editor-in-Chief Steve Lackmeyer is a 31-year-old journalist, columnist, and author who covers downtown Oklahoma City, related urban development and economics for The Oklahoma. Contact him at [email protected] Please support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a subscription today at Subscribe.oklahoman.com.