I grew up in the world of trucks. My Dad operated a business that used trucks. He had trucks of all colors, shapes, and sizes. He had one plain ole boring pickup truck, but most of them were dump trucks. They ranged in size from a one-ton truck all the way up to tractor-and-trailer trucks. He used them to haul coal, gravel, sand, cement blocks, bricks, and lumber. I loved to see that semi-truck dump trailer hoisted high in the air, and then watch its load slide to the ground below like a waterfall. I had “Touch-a-Truck-Day every day, but I not only touched them, I rode in them too. Even if it was only around the business yard, eventually, I drove them, but some of my fondest memories with my Dad were riding shotgun in a big rig. Even after 50 years, I still get a little nostalgic and misty eyed when I smell smoke from a diesel stack. I took trips with him to coal mines in Jasper, Alabama, sand pits in Sewanee, Tennessee, coke plants (not the kind you drink, but the kind you burn) in Birmingham, and brick plants in Ragland, Alabama. I loved seeing those places and watching the men as they loaded our trucks. I especially loved the stops Dad and I made along the way. Those stops were often at truck stops, so Dad could get fuel for the truck and fuel for the boy. He filled the truck with diesel and the boy with sweets. Dad was not supposed to have sugar, but I didn’t tell on him when he did! I don’t think Disney World or Six Flags had been built yet, and we probably wouldn’t have gone if they had, but a truck stop was almost as good. The bigger ones had all kinds of trucks, including dump trucks, flatbed trucks, and refrigerated trailers. There were Whites, Macks, Internationals, Peterbilts, and Kenworths. Dad had a couple of red Whites. They were built by the White Truck Company but red in color.
One day, as Dad and I drove through our neighboring town of Fort Payne, he said, “There’s Joe’s Truck Stop.” My mouth got set for a Grape Nehi and a Butterfinger, but I was confused when I didn’t see a truck stop. I said, “I don’t see it. Where is it?” Dad pointed toward a long, cement wall that ran along beside the highway. He said, “That’s it. That wall is Joe Truck Stop.” I learned that Joe’s Truck Stop was a four-foot thick cement wall, reinforced with wire and steel. It was not built to sell fuel or snacks, but instead, to literally stop trucks. The wall was built in 1959, by a homeowner named Joe. It is still located at the foot of Lookout Mountain, beside Highway 35. Truckers often burn up their brakes as they descend down the long steep mountain grade. At the foot of the mountain, the road makes a 45-degree right turn, right in front of Joe’s house. Joe built the wall to stop runaway trucks from plowing through his yard or even his house. It was nicknamed Joe’s Truck Stop, in an attempt at humor. Unfortunately, through the years many truckers have been injured and killed there. Neither Joe nor his house is there any longer, but Joe’s truck stop is still in operation.
As the son of a trucker, and as a former shotgun rider, I’m reminded by Joe’s Truck Stop that sometimes in life we don’t know what is ahead, so we need to gear down and slow down. Slamming headlong into those sudden stops can be dangerous...even deadly. Enjoy the trip, smell the roses (or diesel), but please be careful!
— Bill King is a native of Rainsville, where he and his wife graduated from Plainview High School. King is a director of missions in Opelika, a writer, musician and author. His column appears in the Times-Journal weekend edition. Visit brobillybob.com for more information.