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‘World’s Largest Truck Stop’ marks 60 years on I-80

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‘World’s Largest Truck Stop’ marks 60 years on I-80


The Iowa 80 Truckstop, which was started in Walcott in 1964, is celebrating 60 years in business. An annual truckers’ jamboree, drawing tens of thousands, starts today. (Katelyn Metzger/Quad City Times)
The Iowa 80 Truckstop, which was started in Walcott in 1964, is celebrating 60 years in business. An annual truckers’ jamboree, drawing tens of thousands, starts today. (Katelyn Metzger/Quad City Times)

Walcott is home to the “World’s Largest Truckstop”, but it could be argued the truck stop is home to Walcott.

Before the Moon family came to town, Walcott was little more than farmland with an interstate being built near it. Not until a site selector from Kansas City arrived did things begin to change.

The legend of the truck stop begins with Bill Moon, a man who had a vision before there was much of a town to build one in.

“As they were building the interstate system, he was siting Standard Oil truck stops,” said his daughter, Delia Meier, senior vice president of the Iowa 80 Group Inc. that now owns and operates the truck stop and its affiliate businesses. “In the Midwest, he site selected and built them in the ’60s and this one opened in May of ’64.”

Moon called it the Iowa 80 Truckstop. The couple who operated the stop lived in a trailer and intended for the business to be their retirement plan — but the stop became much busier than expected.


Chad Miller of Allenwood, Penn., wins in the tire roll event of the Trucker Olympics during the Trucker Jamboree on July 14, 2022, at the “World's Largest Truckstop” in Walcott. The annual jamboree runs this year today through Saturday. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
Chad Miller of Allenwood, Penn., wins in the tire roll event of the Trucker Olympics during the Trucker Jamboree on July 14, 2022, at the “World’s Largest Truckstop” in Walcott. The annual jamboree runs this year today through Saturday. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

The following year, Moon and his wife, Carolyn, bought the stop themselves and moved their family from Kansas City to Walcott.

Construction on the Interstate 80 Mississippi River Bridge, which connects LeClaire in Iowa to Rapids City in Illinois, was still underway then. The I-80 bridge ultimately was completed in 1967, directing traffic right through Walcott.

“Every year that went by, there would be more of 80 done, and of course that made traffic better and more consistent,” Meier said.

With a higher traffic count came a higher demand for amenities. The restaurant that started with 25 counter seats was expanded. Next came two bays for tire service, a wrecker branch, a scale to weigh the trucks and a tire-repair shop. A store followed, stocked with oil, windshield wipers and other items typically carried at gas stations, Meier said. Before long, that began to include hats, belts, jeans and boots and other items associated with truckers.

“Over the years we just kept expanding, and now we’re carrying truck parts, things to fix up your truck, clothing and gifts,” she said.

The demand for gifts is what helped jump start the moniker of the “World’s Largest Truck Stop” that Iowa 80 is known for today. In the 1980s, the station sold fuel and was advertised as the world’s largest Amoco station.

During her summers off from college, Meier worked in the store and heard from customers looking for something that read “world’s largest truck stop.” At the time, they had no idea if that was true.


The Iowa 80 Truckstop says it is the largest truck stop in the world. (Katelyn Metzger/Quad City Times)
The Iowa 80 Truckstop says it is the largest truck stop in the world. (Katelyn Metzger/Quad City Times)

“I just held onto that and said, ‘Are we?'” she said. “We started looking around, and my dad traveled all the time to truck stops, was part of the association and said, ‘Yeah. We are the world’s largest truck stop.”

The group also owns truck stops in Joplin, Mo., and Kenly, N.C. “They’re probably the second and the third largest,” Meier said.

With the new nickname secured, more and more people flocked to the truck stop. It not only became a novelty stop for people on road trips, but word spread about it being an oasis for drivers who needed a one-stop destination while traveling.

In 1997, the Iowa 80 Group adapted to drivers’ needs yet again and developed a catalog business where drivers could order parts carried in the store and pick them up on the way.

“We would take orders in the morning on the phone or open the mail and then run downstairs to the store to pack the order. That was the afternoon,” she said. “In 2000, we decided to make it a business and not just an ancillary part of the store.”

That has turned into Iowa80.com, an online superstore for trucking parts and accessories. The business has grown so much a new distribution center was opened in January to support it.

The expansions lent themselves to not just physical items, but amenities as well. On the Iowa 80 campus are private showers that come free with the purchase of fuel; a laundromat, chapel, movie and TV room, exercise room, dentist, chiropractor and barbershop.


Inside the truckstop are several chain restaurants along with Iowa 80 Kitchen, which is open 24 hours a day. (Katelyn Metzger/Quad City Times)
Inside the truckstop are several chain restaurants along with Iowa 80 Kitchen, which is open 24 hours a day. (Katelyn Metzger/Quad City Times)

As the decades went by, the truck stop continued to grow under Moon’s leadership. Following his death in 1992, the growth continued as his family worked hard to follow the plan he laid out.

“It took us probably 10 years to finish the plan that he had,” Meier said. “If your projects can keep going for 10 years not because nobody’s working on them but because we’re working hard on them, I don’t know a better visionary story than that.”

One of those ideas was a museum.

“My dad was collecting the trucks and the toys and he wanted to build a museum so he could putter around in it in his retirement,” Meier said. Eventually, the museum came to fruition.


 The Iowa 80 Trucking Museum restores and preserves antique trucks. (Katelyn Metzger/Quad City Times)
The Iowa 80 Trucking Museum restores and preserves antique trucks. (Katelyn Metzger/Quad City Times)

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays, with free admission every day.

Finding new reasons for people to stop on their drives is a theme for the Iowa 80 Group. In 1994, another big addition to the growing empire came to town: fast food. While the restaurant continued to thrive, truckers felt pressure from their companies to not spend as much time at stops and get back on the road as fast as possible.

“What was happening in the trucking industry is there was more and more pressure on productivity, so they didn’t have time to eat at a restaurant and get a full meal,” she said.

Wendy’s was the first to join the complex and eventually Taco Bell did, too. Drivers have a group of fifth-graders to thank for that.

“I was teaching Junior Achievement and the kids are 11 years old and were talking about the truck stop. They’ve all been here of course and they love Wendy’s and this and that and one class in particular said, ‘You need a Taco Bell,'” she said with a laugh. “It was really that class that got me thinking about it.”

Dairy Queen/Orange Julius, Chester’s Chicken, Pizza Hut, Blimpie and Caribou Coffee & Einstein Bros. Bagels are now there as well.

Several years ago the laws changed that required truckers to take a break after 10 hours. Because most are paid by the mile, they prefer to drive the entire time and stop only when absolutely necessary.

“Once their day starts, nothing stops it. So it puts that pressure on their meal time and their stops,” Meier said. “Everything has to be more efficient and faster because time is money.”

The store at the truck stop started stocking fresh fruit, premade sandwiches, salads and microwaveable foods. Most drivers have a refrigerator and microwave in their vehicles, she said, and can make or store food on the go.

With the mandated breaks coming into play, the Iowa Group started thinking about how it could better serve drivers staying overnight.

“If you have a big, mandated break, make sure you’re at Iowa 80 because there’s a lot of things to do,” she said. “There’s a lot of shopping, we can do your service work, we can wash your truck, we can wash your dog. We’re adding a dog park right now.”

The truck stop still is family owned and operated. But there are plenty of others working there as well, with nearly 500 employees.

General Manager Mike Hutchinson, for one, started working at Iowa 80 at 14 years old as a truck washer. Now, he runs the place.

The appreciation within Iowa 80 reaches beyond the walls and extends to both the community and the customers, Meier said. Since 1979, the truck stop has hosted the Walcott Truckers Jamboree.

Last year, the jamboree had 46,654 drivers, family members and locals in attendance. Visitors came from almost 30 states and two Canadian provinces to display their trucks.

This year, the jamboree takes place today through Saturday and includes a truck beauty contest, where visitors can take a look into trucks and see the alterations drivers have done over the years. A pork chop cookout with bands, trucking Olympics and a dog contest round it all out.


Trucker Jeff Vargas pulls an antique cement truck July 14, 2022, during the truck pull event of the Trucker Olympics during the Trucker Jamboree  at “the World's Largest Truckstop” in Walcott. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
Trucker Jeff Vargas pulls an antique cement truck July 14, 2022, during the truck pull event of the Trucker Olympics during the Trucker Jamboree at “the World’s Largest Truckstop” in Walcott. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

“It’s just a time to have fun, for drivers to show their families what trucking is all about and for the general public to come and see what trucking is all about,” Meier said. “That’s how it started is as an appreciation event, and that’s what it is.”

Walcott Truckers Jamboree schedule

Admission to the Walcott Truckers Jamboree is free. The event, held at the truck stop off Exit 284 on Interstate 80 in Walcott, is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Today

  • 10 a.m.: Festivities begin, judging starts for Super Truck Beauty Contest
  • 11 a.m.: Iowa Pork Chop Cook-Out opens
  • 1:30 p.m.: Trucker Olympics (near main stage)
  • 5 p.m.: Royale Lynn (main stage)
  • 7 p.m.: Matt Stell (main stage)
  • 9 p.m.: Super Truck Beauty Contest Lights at Night Competition judging, fireworks display

Friday

  • 10 a.m.: Festivities begin
  • 10:30 a.m.: Trucker’s Best Friend Pet Contest (main stage)
  • 11 a.m.: Iowa Pork Chop Cook-Out opens
  • 11:30 a.m.: Trucker Olympics (near main stage)
  • 2:30 p.m.: 60th anniversary celebration (Super Truck Show Room)
  • 5 p.m.: Shane Profitt (main stage)
  • 7 p.m.: BlackHawk (main stage)
  • 9 p.m.: Fireworks

Saturday

  • 9 a.m.: Festivities open
  • 11 a.m.: Iowa Pork Chop Cook-Out opens
  • 11 a.m.: Trucker Olympics
  • 1 p.m.: Dani Lynn Howe & Band (main stage)
  • 3 p.m.: Super Truck Beauty Contest Awards (main stage)
  • 4 p.m.: Antique Truck Plaque Presentation (main stage)

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