Truck drivers’ sunlit hours are strenuous odysseys voyaging from one big-box retailer to another. This behind-the-wheel lifestyle sometimes creates difficulty in performing everyday activities most people take for granted, including seeing a dentist or getting a haircut. However, drivers of 18-wheelers can do these things—and so much more—at Iowa 80, billed as The World’s Largest Truck Stop, in Walcott, Iowa.
Founded by Bill Moon in 1964, this family-operated business is located directly off I-80, a main artery that runs from New Jersey to California. Offering 900 parking spots that accommodate larger vehicles, the stop also has extra fuel pumps, a movie theater, and a trucking museum. Operating like a small town, the Iowa 80 truck stop provides daily essentials catered to diesel-burning professionals, including a barber shop, chiropractor, dentist, and church services. While it’s dedicated to truckers, Iowa 80 is open 24 hours a day to any traveler looking to use the restroom, laundry facility, workout room, private showers, and other amenities.
Every July, Iowa 80 hosts the biggest gathering of truck drivers in the country. Since 1979, the Walcott Truckers Jamboree has celebrated these behind-the-scenes essential workers. The devotion of professional drivers often goes unnoticed and underappreciated, but at the 3-day festival, their careers are celebrated with events such as the Trucker Olympics, a super truck beauty contest, a pork-chop cookout, live country music, and a firework grand finale.
Here are a few of the long-haulers and their big rigs that showed up to this summer’s Walcott Truckers Jamboree.
On the Eastern edge of Iowa, The World’s Largest Truck Stop welcomes everyone, but has a special entrance for truck drivers.
A bare-handed strong pull of a 13,000-pound vintage concrete mixer is one of the main events at the Trucker Olympics. During the Jamboree, anyone with a commercial driver’s license is encouraged to compete for prizes in challenges like a tire roll, strap-winding competition, and coffee cup relay.
Known as the “Cowboy of the Road,” Marcel Pontbriand finds liberty while hauling freight. An orphan at age 14, he went into ice-road trucking in Northern Canada to provide for himself. Years later, he became a long-haul driver with his custom Western-themed 1989 Peterbilt 379. Together, they have driven more than 5 million highway miles. Pontbriand handcrafted all of the truck’s Wild West details, including a miniature saloon in his sleeping area.
Michael Harper, the owner-operator of a dry freight truck, has delivered to all of the lower 48 states since his career started nearly 40 years ago. He takes his granddaughter Kyra along for sightseeing on his summer routes, although he says he’s still content even when she isn’t with him. “I have been doing this for a long time, and the loneliness has faded,” Harper says. “It’s not a job; it’s a lifestyle.”
The motto of The Goose, a 1996 Freightliner Classic XL, is “In God We Truck.” It’s driven by husband-and-wife team Daniel and Phyllis Snow, who haul dry freight across the country. Their custom sleeper is like a mini air-conditioned apartment with a full bathroom, flat-screen televisions, and a kitchen with spice racks. The Snows continually work on improving the look of their truck by adding more green lights and details.
Jenice Turner is a heavy-haul, over-the-road truck driver transporting oversized loads that require an escort in the front and the back. She says trucking is a thrill and emphasizes the need to be careful and go slow when using chains and carrying 45,000 pounds. “We don’t rush anything we do,” Turner says. “I don’t want to break a nail.”
Hannah Ryan is the owner-operator of a W900L Kenworth refrigerator truck and transports goods like meat and ice cream. Her vehicle has two 150-gallon tanks that she fills daily. Iowa 80 offers free shower vouchers when you buy 50 gallons of fuel. “This lifestyle is hard, but we keep families going,” Ryan says. “It’s worth it helping people.”
Amber Petty and her rescue companion Gator drive a dry freight 579 Peterbilt across 48 states, transporting everything from dog food to shoes. Petty was a former 911 dispatcher and has been driving for 2 years. She aspires to be an owner-operator and paint her truck purple in memory of her uncle.
Doug Fetterly is a Mack and vintage truck enthusiast. He entered his wheels into the Antique Truck Display, one of more than 175 exhibits available at the Truckers Jamboree.
Truckomat is a 24-hour car wash that carefully cleans larger vehicles like tractors, buses, and RVs. While your wheels have their sides scrubbed, you can lather up your canine companions at the Dogomat.
The Iowa 80 Trucking Museum collection contains hundreds of vintage trucks, toy trucks, and memorabilia dedicated to the industry. Learn about trucking history through these restored vehicles, some dating as far back as 1903. Admission is always free.
Pull up a haystack and enjoy live country music all weekend long at the annual 3-day event that attracts nearly 45,000 visitors.