Triple Treat

While most of the little “mom and pop” truck stops have been bought out (or forced out) by the big guys, the Tucson Truck Terminal (AKA Triple T) is still an independently owned and operated truck stop – one of the few survivors of the big chain truck stop era we live in today. Located on Interstate 10 at Exit 268 in Tucson, Arizona, a stop at the Triple T is like stepping back in time – back to a time when truck stops were unique and cool – and an oasis on the highway for truck drivers.

The Tucson Truck Terminal was founded in 1954 by Ira T and Sallie Sue Morris. In 1966, it moved a mile east to its present location. Back then, it was a full-service fuel stop – they pumped your fuel, washed your windows and thumped the tires – unlike the self-service pumps we are all accustomed to today. When you were in a hurry, this service saved precious minutes for you to use the restroom, make a phone call or grab something to go. Wouldn’t it be nice!

Years ago, I remember stopping here to get some fuel, call home, check out the nice little chrome shop and grab a meal, before hitting the road again. Recently, my boyfriend John and I had the opportunity to stop in and it gave me the idea to tell the drivers today about what was once one of the largest and most modern truck stops west of the Mississippi. The day we stopped, it was pretty quiet, but it was nice to just walk around – the employees there that day were very friendly and helpful. I took lots of pictures of how it looks there today, and it really hasn’t changed that much over the years.

I did notice one big change, though, that really stood out for me – the pay phone booths (some of you younger folks might be wondering what that even is). While some of the booths still had a pay phone in them, most were empty. The phones had been removed, but the stools in front of them, although now empty, were still there. It was kind of sad, thinking about all the drivers (including myself) that had sat in those stools and talked to their loved ones, dispatchers, brokers or friends. Cell phones have long replaced those old pay phones, which sometimes had lines of drivers waiting to use them. Not that I want to go back to those days, I just get nostalgic when I see these old places.

Even though it’s old, the Triple T is still a clean place, and the pictures on the walls show that it hasn’t changed all that much. A lot of times, back in the day, you would have to circle the lot several times before you found a spot to park. Once parked, you could lay your head down for a nap, or go in and get a good meal at Omar’s Hi-Way Chef Restaurant. In 1996, Omar Ramirez came on board to run the restaurant. Omar is a Tucson native, and he was named Chef of the Year by the Southern Arizona Chef’s Association in 1998. The Food Network featured the restaurant on one of its top-rated shows, and even awarded it the honor of being the #2 truck stop in the country. It has also been highlighted in many magazines and newspapers.

The diner still has the old booths and cushioned chairs in front of the counter, where I’m sure countless trucker stories – some true and some a little embellished – have been told over the years. So many places today are sporting “retro” designs, making the old “new” again. Here at Omar’s, that design has remained, and it means that you are getting the “real” thing.

Omar’s offers a classic truck stop menu with an emphasis on breakfast, which is available anytime. The menu also includes American Bistro, Mexican Cantina and Italian Trattoria to choose from. All the food is prepared on-site and you get large portions. To top it all off, they also offer a sweet ending to a delicious meal – you can choose from their signature deep dish apple pie (they also offer cherry and peach, as well), along with other assorted pies, cakes, sweet rolls and ice cream desserts.

Sallie Sue’s Gift Shop is the place where you can find the perfect gift of Native American Jewelry, along with a great selection of unique and beautiful Fenton Glass collectibles. Treasures of the Southwest include things like dream catchers, pottery and tiles. You can also find games, toys and books. We all know it’s hard sometimes being on the road. You miss birthdays, an anniversary, a graduation or some other special event, going on at home while you are out trucking. So, it’s nice to have the option to send something special from a place that doesn’t have the same things you would find at every department store, in every big city, across the country. And, everything at Sallie Sue’s can be shipped or mailed, right there from the shop.

Need to spiff up your look a little bit? Beuford’s Beauty & Barber Shop specializes in old-style shaves, men’s and women’s haircuts, colors, styles and highlights. Massages are also available, by appointment. The barber shop was established in 1989, and has been owned by the same family for over 25 years.

Need to spiff up your rig’s look? Mr. T’s convenience store includes a small chrome shop, but it has a nice variety of the basics, and is very well organized. We even found a few things you don’t find very often anymore, even in the mega chrome shops. There is an extensive deli menu, with drinks to go along with your on-the-go meal. Need a tire fixed or replaced? The “bays” are outside, under an awning, as there are no roll-up doors here. We chatted with Robert, who was working in the tire bay, the day we were there. He was very friendly, and told us that he had worked at Triple T for nearly 20 years.

Back in 1966, when they first opened at this location, you could get ice blown over any load. Upstairs, there were no frills – just bunk beds for the drivers to take a much-needed nap. We take so much for granted today, as we can just walk back into the bunk and lay down in cooled (or heated) comfort. It wasn’t like that when the Triple T opened. If you drove a truck with no bunk on a hot Arizona day, a clean bed in air-conditioned comfort had to be a welcome sight.

Back in the day, the Triple T was a full-service truck stop that catered to the needs of the drivers. In those days, there was even a “Honeymoon Suite” that they only rented out to married couples. There are still rooms available at the Triple T, if you want to shut off your truck and get a good night’s sleep, without listening to all the motors running and trucks coming and going. Heck, back in 1966, you could even send a telegraph or pay your bills.

Our friend Jamie Roche was kind enough to share a picture he recently took when he and his co-driver Cheryl Lynn Ezzio were parked on the fuel island of the Triple T on their way from Phoenix, AZ to Austin, TX. While Cheryl was inside, Jamie made good use of the quick stop as a photo opportunity! Good thing, too, because you never know when this place might be gone. One day, they will be very glad he took that cool picture of their sharp Freightliner in front of the famous round Triple T sign.

Today, our landscape is dotted with cookie-cutter travel plazas, which are not like the old days, when they were TRUCK stops that put TRUCK DRIVERS first. Each of them had their own claim to fame, so the truckers would stop there and pass on the word to their friends that it’s a great place to stop (or not). Now, we carry a wallet of loyalty cards that we swipe at the pump or when we make a purchase inside, hoping to earn enough “points” for a free shower or a free drink. Every little bit helps, but I can remember when some places would give you a free drink and a free shower just for fueling up there.

Progress marches forward, but sometimes it would be nice if it didn’t. The Triple T is truly an independent stop, competing with all the big chains nearby, for customers. You one-truck owner operators out there can probably relate to their struggle, as you are forced to compete with the giant companies, with hundreds or even thousands of trucks, and dirt-cheap rates, every day. If you can relate, stop in to the Triple T on your next run through Tucson, if for no other reason, to show your support.

Depending if you are going east or west through Tucson, the Triple T will either be your first stop when you roll into town, or the last place you hit on your way out of town. Either way, if you get down on I-10 anytime soon, take some time to stop in and patronize an independent truck stop. With great food, friendly people, and some amazing history, the Triple T is a triple treat, for sure. For more info about the Triple T and all their available services, visit www.tucsontruckterminal.net.

About Kim Grimm

Kim Grimm has had a license to drive a truck since April of 1978 and has driven millions and millions of miles ever since. Living in Wisconsin with her beloved cocker spaniels, Kim, who is a long-haul owner operator, has been a regular contributor to 10-4 Magazine since 2003.