24 Hours At A Truck Stop

Three Shifts, Three Truck Stops, And Four Idiots In A Pickup

The Diesel Power StaffNov 22, 2006
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Diesel Power editor David Kennedy wondered what it would be like to spend an entire day at a truck stop-just to see what happens during three shifts in a world that revolves around diesel. He tried to recruit as many people from the office as possible for this "fly on the wall" diesel surveillance mission. Many co-workers cocked their heads to the side like a dog told to calculate sales tax, then asked "whyyyy?" before declining the invitation. Then, three idiots were wrangled into a voyage to Barstow, California, for a full day in one of the busiest trucking hubs in the nation.
Why Barstow? Although it is home to less than 40,000 people, the town is one of the main connections between California, Nevada, and Arizona. Believe it or not, 60 million people travel through Barstow each year. We figured this would be the location for a perfect storm of diesel activity. We picked a Friday, with a full moon, during the peak of summer travel season, and spent time at three different truck stops to make the most of our day. Here's what we "learned."
1:15 p.m.After assembling troops from all over the northern half of Los Angeles, we headed east in Project Tow Missile, an '06 Dodge 3500 Quad Cab dualie, and programmed the navigation system to take us to Barstow, California. This was the first time the project truck had been asked to haul up steep grades since it received a Banks after-cat exhaust and gauges to monitor the exhaust gas temperature, boost level, and transmission temperature. The EGT stayed around 600 degrees Fahrenheit and raised to 1,200 when the engine was pushed hard during a climb. The transmission stayed super cool in all situations-never rising above 170 degrees-and we were impressed by the constant boost on tap provided by the stock Cummins turbo.
3:31 p.m.We arrived in Barstow and found a wide variety of combination trucks at three main truck stops including those made by Kenworth, Mack, Peterbilt, and Volvo, to name a few. Our crew included Diesel Power editor David Kennedy, art director Mark Snyder, feature editor Trevor Reed, and editor of Jp Magazine and resident goofball, John Cappa. The truck stops we inhabited included a giant travel center with a restaurant and video arcade, a medium-size truck stop with a diner, and a small truck stop/Dairy Queen.
3:46 p.m.Military equipment sightings are a common occurrence at truck stops, especially those near bases and other government facilities. Just a few minutes after arriving in Barstow, we spotted this set of super heavy-duty trailers riding on Michelin X C-20 Pilote radial tires. We estimate the three-axle trailers can haul about 5 tons each. The axles are leaf sprung with gas shocks, and there is a large airbag built into the hitch. During our trip we also spotted a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU) on a flatbed and an eight-wheeled camouflaged Light Armor Vehicle (LAV) with crowd control mortars.
4:10 p.m.After a tour of the parking lot, we explored the store inside the largest truck stop. We found everything from big-rig LED replacement lamps and CB radio sets to an orange Pontiac GTO Judge model car and this leather vest with tassels modeled by Cappa. He decided not to buy the vest when he buttoned it up and realized it was "made for the ladies." Cappa did purchase this "California Generic Postcard" for his girlfriend who was understandably concerned about his choice to spend half a weekend in a pickup with three guys at the truck stop.
6:12 p.m.We ventured away from the truck stops for a snack at the legendary Barstow McDonald's built inside an old passenger train. It's located on historic Route 66 (now Main Street) next to Interstate 15. Some say this is the busiest McDonald's restaurant in the country, but Ronald McDonald himself found time to sit down and share a soft serve ice cream cone with Cappa.
7:36 - 7:47 p.m.Another trip to one of the truck stop shops resulted in Cappa buying a Heater Meals beef and potatoes nuclear fusion meal in a box. It's actually the same technology in Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs) used by our armed forces. Instead of plutonium, the self-heater is made from powdered food-grade iron, magnesium, and salt. When water is added to the pack, it almost instantly raises the temperature by 100 degrees causing the food pack to boil-as art director Mark Snyder found out the hard way. For some reason, Cappa was surprised the potatoes came in a brick, but he liked the meal and says he's buying more packs for an upcoming trip on the Rubicon Trail. We send our condolences to his travel mates.
9:38 p.m.David and Cappa helped save the world from video game terrorists after we all ate a hearty meal at the diner inside the largest of the truck stops. At that meal, the dynamic duo had gone the healthy route with a chicken sandwich and a tostada, while Mark and I enjoyed homestyle meatloaf and a burger that came topped with a slice of fried provolone cheese, respectively. In addition to the restaurant and video games, this hub had two professional masseuses on duty to relieve the stress of long-haul driving. Before you start thinking of dirty jokes, you should know the massage tables were in plain sight, plus we never saw a single "lot lizard" (prostitute) roaming any of the parking lots as we had been told to expect (by Cappa).
10:47 p.m.
The football was busted out for some catch after we ran out of quarters and things got slow in the parking lot. During a break in the football action, Cappa swore he saw a UFO. We blamed it on the non-refrigerated meal he ate off the tailgate of our dualie, but saw something suspicious when the photo was developed.
There was noticeably less traffic after 10 p.m. Hundreds of idling semi trucks had parked for the night, and the civilian traffic was limited to cars and a few diesel rigs pulling motorboats. With not much happening, we killed some time watching tasteless comedy DVDs in the truck.
2:11 - 4:42 a.m.
Two charter buses packed with people destined for Las Vegas arrived in the parking lot for a rest stop just after 2 a.m. We're the idiots who chose to vacation at a truck stop, but even we know if you can't afford a car, you probably shouldn't be taking a midnight bus to Vegas on payday-but what do we know? That was the last activity we'd see for the rest of the night, so we grabbed some uncomfortable shuteye inside the Dodge (oh, how we wished for a Mega Cab that night). Cappa had brought along some hair clippers for a late night prank, but, luckily, he wasn't smart enough to bring a cordless unit. Instead of shaving our heads, he woke up periodically and took creepy notes about our sleeping habits such as: "Much like my Apple computer, David simply shuts down quietly into sleep mode," "Trevor sleeps with his eyes open-scary as hell," and "Mark's snoring sounds like the idling big rigs outside. His head is tilted-back like an open Pez dispenser."
5:48 a.m.
After waking up way too early, we visited each of the three truck stops to experience the morning rush. As expected, each stop was humming with activity as truckers got ready for another full day of hauling. Drivers emerged from sleeper cabs and made their way to the overused bathroom facilities in the truck stops. After watching guys wash coffee mugs and brush teeth in the public sinks, we were extra disappointed in the lack of clean restrooms. It's bad enough to deal with a nasty bathroom when you're stopping for fuel, but imagine having to deal with those conditions every single day. Truck stops can also improve conditions for their biggest customers by providing electrical hookups for overnight stays. The EPA says a big rig uses about 0.8 gallons of diesel per hour while idling, and without an outside power source, running the engine is the only way to heat or cool the trucker's living space. The government estimates each combination truck could save up to 1,900 gallons of fuel (about $5,700) every year if electricity was provided at truck stops.
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9:53 a.m.
Editor Kennedy spotted some diesel-powered earth movers across the street from one of the truck stops. The tractor is a Caterpillar 988F wheel loader with the Cat 3408 V-8 turbodiesel engine that is rated at up to 525 hp. The price for a used 988F is about $350,000-that's more than three times the median home price in Barstow. The water truck we found near the tractor is an OshKosh 6x6 that can hold nearly 4,000 gallons of liquid. It's powered by a Cat 3306 engine that's rated at 350 hp.
1:16 p.m.
After spending an entire day at the truck stops, we left Barstow in search of the church used in the Kill Bill movies that was supposedly just outside Palmdale and Lancaster, the home of Edwards Airforce Base. We drove up and down paved and dirt roads, but never found the site of the fictional intersection between Caliente and Agua Streets. We did discover the entrance to EAFB (no civilians allowed), saw some new jet-powered cargo planes making practice runs, had our truck attacked by two angry guard dogs, and called about a '70 GMC Camper Special that we saw for sale. We finally came to our senses and started driving home. No one said much during the ride, but we didn't have to. We were all in agreement. Truck stops are sufficient for fill-ups, but they don't make good homes. On the plus side, you can count on some good hearty food, plus, you're more likely to see cool military and construction equipment when you fill-up at a truck stop. So next time your tank is getting empty, forget the convenience store with green pumps, find a truck stop, buy a Heater Meal or a leather vest, and inject some fun into your road trip.

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