By Bob Martin
OOIDA life member
Does anybody remember Bill Kiefer’s Truck Stop in Edinburg, TX, back in the 1960s? That’s kinda where I got my start in the trucking business. In 1963, I ended up spending the winter there. I was a winter Texan before they invented it. I’ve met a lot of characters in my 45 years on the road and few impressed me more than Bill Kiefer. The truck stop was more of the same, fuel, cafe, tire shop and so on, but Bill was a one-off original. It’s fuzzy after all the years, but I don’t remember ever being bored around there.
Bill’s seventh or eighth wife ran a beer joint out back. That added to the excitement, but Bill was all about his drivers/customers.
That was in the Rio Grande Valley, and produce and produce trucks were the name of the game. Drivers would call Bill and say they were headed for the valley to load, and they were broke. Bill would wire them fuel money – whether he knew them or not – and when they got there, he’d feed them until they got a load and an advance. Guess where they cashed that advance check? I’ll bet he didn’t get stiffed very often, and the fierce loyalty of the others would more than make up for it.
After that winter I didn’t see Bill again for about 30 years or so. It was at his last truck stop in Toyah, TX. He was in his 80s then and didn’t remember me, but that didn’t stop me from asking: “Bill, how did you survive eight wives?”
Does anybody remember the ride from south Texas to Arizona in 1963? Did you go via Laredo, Del Rio to Fort Stockton or Van Horn or get on I-10 at San Antonio?
Probably both. I enjoyed the ride back then and do now. Like most of the other interstates, I-10 was far from finished. Lots of two-lane roads between finished sections.
How about the Border Truck Stop in El Paso? What happened there stayed there; probably a good thing that any kind of random testing hadn’t been thought of yet. Remember New Mexico, at the port of entry, where they “sticked” your fuel tanks with a yardstick and – guessing at the amount of fuel you had on board – taxed you accordingly? And the Arizona Port of Entry at San Simon where some drivers would park, go in, mingle, maybe stamp the logbook and leave without ever buying a permit? Back then they called it buying your way across.
Anybody remember the Triple T Truck Stop in Tucson, AZ, as a landmark? Still same great atmosphere as 45 years ago.
Remember the cattle haulers’ feed, water and rest stops? You still can see where a couple were around Benson, AZ. And don’t forget the Roadrunner Truck Stop in Phoenix.
Does anybody remember a driver who didn’t carry a Styrofoam-insulated water jug? Everyone carried one, and every time you climbed out of your truck the jug came with you to refill with ice. Air conditioning? Motels? Whatzatt?
Does anybody remember when the younger truck drivers hung with the old guys, listened to what they had to say and asked for their advice and help? Being a senior myself, I can tell you that ain’t happening much anymore. When I was 21 and getting my feet in the early 1960s, I know I hung out with the old-timers. The reasons were pretty simple. One, they were my heroes and I wanted to (that was my truck driving school) and two, there didn’t seem to be many drivers my age out there to hang around with. Back then, it was who did you know to help you get in the business. Sometimes now I wonder who do I have to know to get out of the business.
I remember the “old guys” who had been out there probably 30 years when I came along, telling stories like what it was like in L.A. before the freeways were built. They told of team drivers coming out from downtown and having to change drivers before they got out of the city – which didn’t have the sprawl that it does now. Can anyone imagine what it would be like to run the surface streets from the produce market at 5th and Alameda out to, say, Banning? Some of those earlier dudes had the added excitement of rolling down mountain passes like El Cajon, The Grapevine, Tehachapi, etc. with vacuum brakes.
I’m looking too far back now; it’s making me nervous just thinking about it. LL