Aug 13, 2018

Scenes from the world’s largest truck stop, Walcott, Iowa

In my humble opinion as a travelling commoner, one of the uniquely American travel experiences – and often an essential and memorable part of any long-mileage road trip – is a visit to a truck stop.   

The truck stop can be many things all in one convenient location along the interstate.  Gas station.  Convenience store.  Restaurant.  Rest area.  Tourist trap.  Roadside attraction.  All are fine for travelers, but the truck stop primarily caters to those who make a living delivering freight from Point A to Point B.  As such, the truck stop provides all who visit insight into life on the road for the nation’s semi drivers.   

Of course, depending on the location and size of the truck stop, your mileage may vary, but occasionally you find one that literally tries to be all things to truckers who stop there.  They’re proverbial cities for semi drivers.  And the biggest and best of them all may be the Iowa 80 Truckstop just outside of the otherwise unremarkable town of Walcott.

Iowa 80 claims to be the world’s largest truck stop, and it’s easy to see why.  As if the long line of semis slowing down in the right lane of Interstate 80 wasn’t enough of a clue, the first true indicator is the sign you see as you approach Exit 284.

Then there’s the parking lot … row after row of parked semis, even in the middle of the day.   This picture doesn’t begin to show how much business comes into Iowa 80 daily or how massive the grounds of the truck stop really are. (For the record, the entire area encompasses 75 acres with plenty of room to grow, and the lot alone 900 trucks.)

For the non-truckers, there’s car parking near in front of the main building.  The front entrance will lead you past part of the convenience store area and into the food court.   

Between the two, you may notice this rather unique advertisement for the adjacent trucking museum.  Look closely behind the pickup, and you’ll see plenty of convenience store shelves stocked with the basics, such as snacks, fountain drinks and “I Heart My Pet” decals.   

The food court compares favorably in size and selection to those found in some smaller shopping malls.  Fast food mainstays Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut and Dairy Queen occupy stands, as well as Caribou Coffee. 

Stepping out of the food court and down a few steps, you’ll find yourself in Iowa 80’s gift shop, which is really more like a trucker’s version of Farm & Fleet or Walmart in that you’ll find a little bit of everything over here.  The DVD and CD selection rivals a lot of big box stores.  Other items from sunglasses to shirts can be purchased to serve as a memento of your visit. 

And if you need your purchase customized with your name or other noteworthy identification, they can do that here, too. 

The gift shop is nice to browse through, and the food court is convenient when you’re in a hurry, but the centerpiece of the main level is the Iowa 80 Kitchen – a full-service 24-hour restaurant and buffet. 

I can safely say without hesitation this was the first buffet I ate in that used an entire antique truck for decoration. 

I can also safely say that as far as truck stop buffets go, I’ve never seen one than can compare in size or offerings.  The variety from the salad bar section was particularly impressive, and all the staples from cole slaw to potato salad to pickled beets were done exceptionally well.  Among the entrees, the fried chicken and barbecue pork ribs stood out.  Not a bad deal at all for under $15. 

And just because the buffet is always buzzing, it doesn’t mean you can’t order off the kitchen’s extensive menu of steaks, pasta, burgers and sandwiches.  Whatever you’re craving, the Iowa Kitchen seems to have it.  I can imagine quite a few truckers relish coming here for what must feel like the next best thing to a home-cooked meal.  

So, we’ve covered dining and shopping.  What about entertainment and recreation?

For starters, Iowa 80 has its own arcade. 

And for those who love to admire trucks as much as drive them, there’s the Super Truck Showroom.  This is also the place to purchase every trucking accessory imaginable.   

But, really we've just begun to scratch the surface.  I’ve only shown you the main floor of Iowa 80.  I didn’t have time to really explore the place, which also has several more conveniences truckers might otherwise miss while on the road, such as a TV lounge, library, laundromat, dentist and chiropractor. 

Even without those extra services the Iowa 80 Truckstop provides, I have little doubt after visiting a couple of times that it has mastered its niche market.  No matter the reason you’re passing through on I-80, the self-proclaimed world’s largest truck stop is a destination all by itself and worth checking out. 

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