“THE ALL-AMERICAN TRUCK STOP COOKBOOK” BY KEN BECK, JIM CLARK & LES KERR
Initially, back in 2002, I planned to include “THE ALL-AMERICAN TRUCK STOP COOKBOOK” with my article about diners for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange. The problem with this is, as I discovered, some diners are truck stops -–but not all truck stops are diners. So, I decided that the subject of truck stop restaurants should be kept separate from the diners.
I have some fond memories of some truck stop restaurants and truckers in general from having moved across country several times. When we moved to Florida in 1979, we kept in touch with activity on the road with our CBs and we all had “handles”. One time the kids and I sang “On the Road Again” for some truckers somewhere along Interstate 10, as we headed for Florida.
“THE ALL-AMERICAN TRUCK STOP COOKBOOK” is a compilation by Ken Beck, Jim Clark and Les Kerr, published by Rutledge Hill Press in Nashville, Tennessee in 2002. (if the name Rutledge Hill Press sounds familiar, it should. They’re the folks who have been publishing the Roadfood Cookbooks, such as “The Louie’s Backyard Cookbook”, previously reviewed on my blog.
In the Introduction to “THE ALL-AMERICAN TRUCK STOP COOKBOOK”, the authors ask, “Remember the simpler days when there was no such thing as a fast-food restaurant—before there were interstates?
Maybe you’d been driving along the two-lane highways all day long. It was time for a bite of supper, and you had to pick a place to eat. Remember what Mama would say?
‘Look for a place where all the trucks are stopped!’
(Pete Rigney, the Silver Fox, disputes this old adage and says, “There was some truth to that, but traveling the roads in the fifties, I found there was more myth than truth. In reality, truckers knew where you could get a lot of food for the money and where nobody had died recently….”)
In any case, the trucks stop right here in THE ALL-AMERICAN TRUCK STOP COOKBOOK”
Here’s something I bet you didn’t know – more than three million heavy-duty truckers haul freight across the United States and Canada, from Miami to Anchorage and from Bangor to Baja. Authors Ken Beck, Jim Clark and Les Kerr (hereafter referred to as “The Authors”) covered some of those miles themselves in collecting more than two hundred favorite recipes from top truck stops across the land. Truckers, say the Authors, do know the best places to eat and they were happy to share their secrets of the best places to find yummy dishes like chicken-fried steak and gravy, fruit cobblers, soups or chilies. The Authors suggest that you can either use this book as a cookbook – or even as an insider’s guide to finding where to eat and what to eat once you get to your destination.
Truckers, claim the authors, like foods from every category on the menu but they received so many recommendations for chili and meat loaf that an entire chapter was devoted to each of these “hearty truck-stop staples”.
The book starts with a chapter titled “Nearly a Century of Service: The History of the Truck Stop”, explaining that perhaps the forerunner of the truck stop was the stagecoach stop relay station where horses and drivers were changed or rested, and tired and hungry passengers were served.
“But the original truck stops,” say the authors, “find their beginnings in the 1920s as gas-driver vehicles began to take over routes. It was big news when a truck route was established in the early twentieth century.
As late as 1950 one newspaper headline declared ‘Trucks End Isolation for Many Sections’”.
The authors explain, “Before trucking, a town without rail service relied on often inconsistent deliveries of goods. One pretruck vehicle was a horse freight wagon operated in Tennessee by ‘Uncle’ Dave Macon, later one of the Grand Ole Opry’s first superstars”.
“Team tracks,” the authors continue, “developed in the early 1900s in cities with train stations. The tracks allowed rail cars loaded with freight to be diverted to drayage companies. The goods reached their final destination by wagons pulled by teams of horses or mules…”
However, during the early 1920s, along came the establishment of dedicated truck routes and with it, the beginning of the truck stop. Truck historian Jennifer Rowcroft says that long distance automobile and bus travelers were originally the customers most service stations sought. However, it took truck drivers to create most of the business for the early gasoline retailers. Anticipating profits from providing truckers’ needs, service stations began to cater to them. By 1925, “the highway havens added bunkhouses, lounges, showers, and mechanical facilities. One of the truck stations from that era still thriving is the Dixie Truckers Home, founded in 1928 on Route 66 at McLean, Illinois. (Curious, I looked up Dixie Truckers Home in Marian Clark’s “THE ROUTE 66 COOKBOOK”. Clark provides a bit more history of the Dixie Truckers Home and says that the truck stop has closed only one day since 1928, and that was due to a 1965 fire that burned the original building. She also informs us that the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame can be found at Dixie Trucker’s Home. Exhibits featured in a prominent hallway tell the story of Route 66 in Illinois.) But I digress.
During the 1930s, there was a huge increase in the trucking business and, likewise, the truck stop industry. By 1935, say the authors of “THE ALL-AMERICAN TRUCK STOP COOKBOOK”, of all communities used trucks as their primary means of shipping. Between 1932 and 1936, the number of truck drivers in the United States increased from about one million to about 3.1 million. “Truck stops,” say the authors, “sprang up to accommodate all those drivers…the advent of long-distance trucking was taking root and truck stops became an important part of the support system for the trucking economy”.
And, they note, it was because of the use of trucks by the military during WW2 that, by the end of the war, there were plenty of trained truck drivers. Trucks became larger during the 1940s and 1950s. Another major change in this industry was the ability to transport frozen food and other items previously not considered. Another major new phenomenon, the authors explain, was the development of the modern truck stop chain in the early 1970s.
Today, over three million truck drivers are now on the roads and truck stops are more important than ever. State the authors, “With an estimated average employment of eighty-five people each, truck stops play a vital role in the economy. “OVERDRIVE magazine, the largest-selling trucking magazine in the world, reports that truck drivers make up over half of a truck-stop restaurant’s customers, with other travelers and local residents making up the rest…”
As for recipes—honey, you’re going to be in hog-heaven when you discover what’s in “THE ALL-AMERICAN TRUCK STOP COOKBOOK”.
From Berky’s Beef Cabbage Soup to Dakota Cheeseburger Soup, or from Ho-Bo Soup to Rhode Island Clam Chowder, from Keyers Ridge Chili to Wyoming Chili, or from Cold Coldfoot Salad (from Coldfoot Alaska!) to Nelle’s Red Kidney Bean Salad..this is just for openers! You may want to sample Crazy Fred’s Fajita Taco Salad (from Crazy Fred’s Truck Stop in Kingman, Arizona or Iron Skillet Huevos Rancheros (from Iron Skillet Restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia) or Grandma Max’s Broccoli Casserole (from Grandma Max’s Restaurant in Salina, Kansas).
And, if you like celebrity type recipes so you can do some name-dropping when you serve up a special dish at your next dinner party, you can tell your guests, “These Patio Black-Eyed Peas” are from Loretta Lynn’s Kitchen in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, or “This is Kay’s Salmon Dip”- and explain that the Kay is Kay Adams, a country singer and song writer.
There are all of these and many, many more in “THE ALL-AMERICAN TRUCK STOP COOKBOOK”—and with each page, you will find fascinating, nostalgic old-time photos and lots of trucker history. One note – some of these recipes yield a large amount, such as Dana’s Chicken Enchiladas (24 to 30 servings) or the Smoked Sausage Vegetable Noodle Soup Colorado (50 servings!) – the really great thing about having some of these recipes handy is so that you will be prepared the next time you have to make a large amount of food for a party. Don’t let that intimidate you; most recipes are geared for 4 to 6 or 6 to 8 servings. (Actually, I have yet in my life to make a small amount of chili or soup or chowder. I always end up with enough to feed the entire neighborhood—and have leftovers).
However, “THE ALL-AMERICAN TRUCK STOP COOKBOOK” is a lot more than a compilation of recipes. Included are many nostalgic photos of some of the early truck stops, stories about some of the more fabulous and eccentric truck stops, and interviews with several truck stop waitresses who have been serving meals to hungry Americans for decades. There is also a truckers’ glossary, a rundown on trucking movies and television shows which includes CONVOY and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT , complete with photographs. There are interviews and stories on the country music artists who have recorded the greatest trucking tunes of all time: Red Sovine, Dick Curless, Red Simpson, C. W. McCall and Kay Adams.
I’d say that “THE ALL-AMERICAN TRUCK STOP COOKBOOK” is really a fun to read cookbook—and what’s more, a portion of the authors’ proceeds from this book will be donated to the NATSO Foundation, a national charitable organization support by truck stops.
NATSO is a nonprofit charitable organization funded through private donations. NATSO was founded in 1990 for the purpose of administering an industry-wide scholarship. NATSO has awarded more than $100,000 in college scholarships to industry employees and their dependents. NATSO also has a disaster relief program which has a network of 650 travel plazas and truck stops to assist the Red Cross in the aftermath of disasters. Travel plazas have donated over thirteen thousand gallons of fuel as well as meals, truck washes, and other services to the Red Cross personnel since the Disaster Relief program began in 1996. To learn more about the NATSO foundation, visit their website at www.natsofoundation.org.
“Check your oil, fill’er up, and get ready to dig into these all-American recipes and stories from leading truck stops all across America”.
“THE ALL AMERICAN TRUCK STOP COOKBOOK” by Ken Beck, Jim Clark and Les Kerr is from Rutledge Hill Press and originally sold for $14.99. It can be found on Amazon.com starting at 8 cents for a pre-owned copy. It is available on Alibris.com starting at $1.99.
Review by Sandra Lee Smith
Updated May, 2013
(In loving memory of Mike Lydon, my granddaughter Savannah’s maternal grandpa, a trucker who passed away at a truck rest stop when Savannah was just a baby. Mike was a great friend of ours who taught me how to play pool!. Then, ten years ago, my youngest son married Mike’s oldest daughter.)