By Bill Hudgins
Although some drivers give thanks every night that they don’t run out West, my friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe loves that vast swath of America between St. Louis and California. And he always wangles a West Coast gig in July so he can stop by the Walcott Truckers Jamboree at the Iowa 80 Truck Stop.
I vote with him on running out West. Yes, developers everywhere are plowing under fields and sowing split-levels and micro-mansions like kudzu. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take too many miles into the prairies and plains before barren tracts with names like Cottonwood Hills falter under the sheer immensity of the Western sky.
Run anywhere east of the Mississippi, or along its western banks, and you hunch your shoulders against the onslaught of other trucks, cars, buildings, malls and subdivisions. Cross the Big Muddy and soon you start to relax. There’s room
here – no reason to tuck your elbows close to your sides for fear of bumping someone.
Roll down the window. As the long ribbon spools out ahead on a pleasant summer’s night, there’s no need to run the A/C to keep out the noxious sounds and aromas of our crowded East Coast.
Remember those early days behind the wheel of your first car with your arm hung over the side, just cruising? If you were lucky, the road crew had just refinished a stretch of pavement and as you hit it, the tires hummed an octave higher and it felt almost like flying, so smooth was that virgin asphalt.
This is why you started hankering for bigger wheels and longer roads, and why all truckers at heart really are just itchy-footed kids with ink-damp licenses.
I hadn’t been much of anywhere last year, so when Rufus said he was heading up to Iowa for the 2006 Walcott Jamboree and then over to the Shaky Side, I grabbed my Dopp kit and hopped in.
Inspired by his success in 2006 at the Mid-America Trucking Show in the Alabama Chrome Division, Rufus had loaded a half-pallet of spanking new silver duct tape in his trailer.
As I plugged in my iPod and dialed in the Red Simpson-Red Sovine-Merle/Willie/Waylon playlist, he pointed his vintage Cornbinder toward Iowa 80.
If you have never been to the Iowa 80, you have missed a real treat. The world’s largest truck stop – unless you count the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago or most of Metro Atlanta – Iowa 80 is a trucker’s paradise.
Set in the middle of soybean and cornfields, with parking for more than 800 rigs, Iowa 80 boasts an enormous chrome shop, a barbershop, a separate complex for truck servicing and washing, and the granddaddy of CAT Scales.
The restaurant has its own bakery, and while all the servers are wonderful, we old hands always try to get one of Teka’s tables. There’s a trucking museum, where many of the antique vehicles owned by the family-run business reside for most of the year before coming out for the Jamboree.
The truck show draws dozens of working rigs. Everything takes place wreathed in fragrant smoke from the non-stop pork chop barbecuing. Meanwhile, envious drivers on 80 – too busy to stop – serenade the show with their air horns as they blow past.
Rufus dropped me off at a car rental joint so I’d have some wheels – I was planning a fast trip north to Dyersville and the “Field of Dreams” movie site on Friday morning – and then hurried off in a cloud of exhaust to wrap the Cornbinder in a fresh layer of duct tape.
Thursday was “judging day.” Rufus drew a lot of curious stares, and a few soreheads muttered that he had some frayed edges. Still, he made the trophy dash on Friday afternoon to claim first place in this brand-new division.
It would have been fun to linger, but most of the entrants had loads waiting or already onboard. We clambered back into the Cornbinder and, with a farewell serenade of air horns, edged through the throng and onto the westbound entrance ramp.
Within minutes, we were chasing the sunset, with just a dusting of early stars overhead and the occasional yellow firefly light from scattered farmhouses winking on, then off, as we glided past.
Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often.
Bill Hudgins may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.