Bill Moon had a vision. In 1963, at Exit 284 off a short stretch of the new Interstate 80, in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, Bill imagined a lit-up Standard sign beaconing travelers to a clean, white building trimmed with blue and red, to come on in for fuel and a good meal. That day, he smiled and thought, “I think I’ve found the perfect spot.” And what started out as a tiny fuel stop in the middle of nowhere, grew to become the world’s largest truck stop.
Decades later, while celebrating the 25th Annual Walcott Truckers Jamboree, a book called “The Perfect Spot” was published telling the incredible story of Bill Moon’s dream and how, even after his death in 1992, his family, including his wife Carolyn, son Will and daughters Delia and Jill, not only fulfilled Bill’s dream but went beyond what he ever could have imagined. But as interesting as the story is about the truck stop itself, this article is more about the great people behind it. One of the “people” I’d like to mention and thank right up front is my friend Heather DeBaille. Heather is the Marketing Manager at Iowa 80 and we have known each other for 17 years. When I told her that I wanted to write this article, she sent me tons of great pictures, some of which you see here. She also told me that going through all the old photos made her feel a little nostalgic.
Standard Oil built and opened the truck stop in 1964, and in September of 1965, Bill Moon took over management of it for Amoco. Back then, it was just a little place, housing a small store, one lube bay and a restaurant. Under Mr. Moon’s keen management, the truck stop began to grow, and in 1984 he purchased it from Amoco. Now that it was theirs, the Moon family was able to remodel and expand the truck stop into more of what Bill had envisioned back in the 1960s. Still operated by the Moon family today, the truck stop is now part of the Iowa 80 Group, a larger company that also owns and manages several other truck stops, truck washes, the CAT Scale Company and an antique truck museum.
Today, the Iowa 80 Truckstop offers a bevy of services and amenities for both truckers and travelers. Their enormous “Super Truck Showroom” (chrome shop) encompasses 30,000 square feet of space and includes a custom shirt shop, a vinyl graphics shop, laser engraving and an embroidery center. There is even a balcony overlooking the store where drivers can just stand and soak in all of the chrome and lights. The truck stop also features a Truckomat truck wash, a Dogomat pet wash, a CAT scale, a state-of-the-art fuel center, a huge truck service center, a food court with several restaurants, a 60-seat Dolby Surround Sound movie theater, two game rooms, a barber, a dentist and parking for 800 tractor-trailers, 250 cars and 20 buses. There is also a museum that houses the Moon Family’s collection of antique trucks and transportation memorabilia, as well as a very nice gift shop.
Mr. Moon’s focus on the customer is what sparked the beginning of the Walcott Truckers Jamboree. Hosted by the truck stop every year since 1979, the Jamboree is a celebration of America’s truckers. It is, and always has been, their way of saying “thank you” to the millions of truck drivers that deliver the goods we consume. Featuring antique trucks on display, a Super Truck Beauty Contest, vendors and exhibits, an Iowa pork chop cookout, carnival games, live country music, the Trucker Olympics, fireworks and more, the Jamboree draws in thousands of visitors every year.
My first Jamboree was in 1990, when the old shop was still standing and the show was still very small by today’s standards. It was there that I met my dear friend Bette Garber for the very first time. That was one of many friendships that I have made at the Jamboree over the years. Sometimes that would be the only place we would all see each other every year, but we always had a blast (I think many drivers out there would say the same thing about the friendships they’ve made at Iowa 80 and the Jamboree).
I have known Delia Moon Meier (Bill’s daughter) for as long as I’ve been going to the Jamboree. Delia is always out there, talking to the drivers, and handing out the trophies at the awards ceremony – and now she gets help from her daughters Nell, Lee and Lana. And it’s always a pleasure to chat with Carolyn Moon while enjoying an Iowa chop. Iowa 80 is all about family, but not just the Moon family. Their “family” includes all the families that work at the truck stop and all of the customers (they are part of the family, too).
Delia and the entire Moon family have continued to grow the businesses that Bill & Carolyn started, and they have done it with some employees that have been there 40 years. Delia told me, “Families are our customers, and we want them to want to bring their families back.” Some outfits frown upon hiring family members, but it is encouraged at the Iowa 80 Group. Dads, moms, sons, daughters, cousins, whoever – they all become part of the Iowa 80 family.
When I told Delia that I love the gift shop because it’s a place where you can buy a really nice present that doesn’t look like you got it at a truck stop, she was happy to hear that because that is exactly what they were striving for when they opened it. They don’t want to do what all the other guys are doing and, like her father, she truly loves the drivers. And I know for a fact that she listens to the drivers when they offer an idea, because I was the one who came up with the idea for the Dogomat Pet Wash years ago!
In regards to the Jamboree, Carolyn Moon said, “It started out as a customer appreciation day – still is – and always will be,” and Delia’s comment was, “It is our chance to say thank you.” Yes, there are huge crowds for this two-day event, but as soon as it is over the planning starts for next year. All of the employees go into overdrive getting ready for the show, doing whatever it takes to accommodate the thousands of people. There are no entry fees for the truck show, but every driver still takes home a trophy. Delia told me that they are always trying to portray trucking in the best light possible, and at the Jamboree, they get to share that with the local public (and the employees get to share it with their families).
One of my favorite memories of the Jamboree was a year that it was so hot we all went to town and got water guns. After the awards, it was time for fun – we started a huge water fight. One driver was standing in front of Russ & Debbie Brown’s truck and he said, “You can’t shoot me, you’ll get this truck wet.” To which Russ replied, “Sorry, it’s MY truck!” As you might guess, the driver got wet! We had so much fun that year, the next year “Tanker Dave” Marcotte brought 500 gallons of water in his tank just for us to use as ammunition. My memories of the Jamboree also include tents set up next to trucks and hammocks hung under trailers – it truly is a great event filled with fun and friendship.
Back in the early days, I remember when Bob & BJ Montgomery had the Space Shuttle murals on their truck, and Dick “Streaker” Johns had his famous red Peterbilt with beautiful galloping horses painted on the truck and down the trailer. Those rigs, which have been forgotten or never seen by many drivers today, were the real start of what keeps evolving in the truck show world. These guys were pioneers! I spoke to Dick several months ago and was saddened to hear that his old truck and trailer was sitting out in a field rusting away. Then, about a month after we spoke, I learned from my friend W.L. Putnam that Dick had suffered a massive heart attack and passed away. Like I’ve always said, you can put the trucks in museums, but when the drivers are gone, their stories are lost forever.
While talking with Delia, we both agreed how much Bette Garber is missed at the Jamboree. She was always there, taking pictures, and having a good time with the drivers. During the Jamboree, she would shoot pictures from the break of day until after it got dark – and that is when she always got the greatest light show pics. There were many nights over the years that I would ride around with her in the “Lil Red Rooster Cruiser” waving the floodlight she would carry along to help make those night shots so spectacular. To learn more about the Jamboree, held in July every year, visit www.iowa80truckstop.com.
Bill Moon always loved old trucks, and 18 years after he passed away, his dream of an antique truck museum finally became a reality. The museum is a place where drivers can take a walk back in time and realize how good they have it today (trucks were not always powerful and comfortable). It is also a place where grandfathers can take their grandkids and show them how life once was for them. Many rare and one-of-a-kind trucks are on display in the museum. There are over 100 antique trucks in the collection today, with 30 of these on display in the museum at any given time.
The truckstop sits on 212 acres, but only 90 of them are currently being used. One can only imagine what might be in store for us when we stop at Iowa 80 in the future if they decide to expand it even more. Bill’s memory lives on every day at Iowa 80 through the family and friends who love him and in all of the businesses within the Iowa 80 Group that he started which continue to still grow. The Moon family has proudly provided essential services for America’s truck drivers for almost 50 years and will continue to do so for generations to come. Who could have ever imagined that a tiny truckstop in the middle of a cornfield could become the largest truckstop in the world? Well, Bill Moon could. And he was right – it WAS (and still IS) the perfect spot!