On the outskirts of small-town Iowa, the makings of civilization roll by, 18 wheels at a time.
That might mean a tarp-covered load of lumber. Flatbed of steel beams. Double-decker of new SUVs. Lowboy with construction equipment. Refrigerated truck of vegetables. Livestock trailer with Holsteins. One tanker of gasoline, another of milk.
The divergent yet compatible, impromptu caravan of semitrailers seems ongoing at the Interstate 80 truck stop in Walcott, Iowa, billed as the largest in the world. That’s “largest” as in number of parking spaces (900 for trucks), employees (500), acreage (225) and building size (around 123,000 square feet), said Heather DeBaillie of the Iowa 80 Group, which owns the complex.
The truck stop is halfway between New York City and San Francisco, along the nation’s second-longest interstate highway (I-80 is roughly 2,900 miles long and 200 miles shorter than I-90).
The business has not closed since opening in 1964. It is beyond what you’d expect and averages 5,000 customers per day.
Where else can you buy hood ornaments, mud flaps, toys, jewelry, wall décor and leather boots in one swoop? A specialty is custom-made work – embroidery, laser engravings, business cards, truck lettering – made while you wait, or ready upon your return trip.
The truck stop’s interior is big enough to show off the latest in truck accessories, sometimes dressing up already colorful trailers and truck cabs. Permanent fixtures include the Blue Ox (equipped for long, heavy hauls) and the Corn Patch Cadillac (a Peterbilt cab in canary yellow).
“We have no way to get these out until we expand again,” DeBaillie said, of what is parked indoors. “They were put in here before windows were put on the building.”
Flashier is the wall of 572 lights, so drivers can see what each kind of light-emitting diode will look like when illuminated. Other décor is big on Americana: Murals celebrate patriotism, Iowa, the interstate.
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