In 1956 Ace’s 24-hour Truck Stop and Café, located north of Pittsburg on 69 Highway where the Farmhouse Café now stands, was opened by Woodson ‘Woody’ Creel. Over the next 23 years it was the scene of countless stories and escapades of workers, road-goers, late-nighters, long-haul truck drivers and assorted area residents – from the haggard to the high class. What follows is the first installment of the George brothers’ time working there, as shared by Ben George.
My dad, Phil George, started working at Ace’s in the fall of 1957 when it first opened. Woody Creel, owner, and dad became friends and business partners for several years up through 1978.
We five boys of Phil and Rosemary George (Bill, Ben, Bob, Stan and Steve) all had various stints working at Ace’s over those years. My older brother Bill and I graduated from our Easter sand buckets we used for milking the 13 farm cows in Greenbush to full size milk buckets the day our dad started at Ace’s. We were seven and eight years old. Younger brother, Bob, sat on a T-stool and held the cows' tails to keep them from swatting us in the face.
After a few months we moved to Frontenac and it wasn’t long before Bill found himself washing dishes at the truck stop cafe for fifty cents a four hour shift. If he’d slip up and tell Bob Stelle, the manager, that he got a tip or two cleaning tables, Bob would cut his shift pay to a quarter!
Phil was away for a few years as he and his eighth grade education turned to a traveling route to keep the eight children in food and clothes. Bill and I worked for Jack Stanley at the new Gulf station about a half mile south of the Ace’s for a few months. This adventure was cut short when Woody asked dad to be the full time manager of Ace’s. Family pride took over and we went to work for dad … for less money.
Bill remembers when the Vietnam War was in its heyday, munitions trucks from Parsons and Joplin fueled up at Ace’s. Produce trucks from the Texas Valley were coming through along with livestock trucks. The worst feeling was finding you had to change a flat tire on a livestock truck. You were not going to smell very good for the rest of your shift.
There were no air tools back then at Ace’s. Everything was manual labor with a sledgehammer being the main piece of equipment. Full service, back then, meant for every customer you were required to pump the gas (or diesel), wash all the windows, check the oil, and oftentimes check the air in all four tires. Customers usually bought $1 or $2 worth of gas on each stop. Fill ups were rare in the 1960s.
My brother, Bob, remembers some of the characters that we would come into contact with at Ace’s. Truckers are nomads and liked to stay moving — but in between hauls, they liked to hang out with fellow drivers and Ace’s was the place. Others just showed up, often several times in one day. Stringbean was affectionately known for his 6’7” / 150 pound frame. He showed up as a drifter down on his luck. He drank a free cup of coffee and lived on the free Christmas candy inside the station. He slept in the George family hand-me-down 1948 Chevy on several shifts, until he finally landed a driving job with Bill Crawford. He hauled pipe for Dickey Clay and became a good employee.
Sherman was a 70-year-old dishwasher at the cafe. Oftentimes he’d sneak out the back and come in the station to toss quarters - and just laugh it up when he’d take fifty cents or a dollar off someone like Mike Palmer. Johnny and Julie, a well-known couple from their late night tavern, would dine at the cafe often and tip a full $1 (our hourly wage!) for washing their windshield. Slim, the local tow truck driver, served all the George boys as a valuable friend during their early driving years. A quick ditch pull out or dead battery jumpstart got him rewarded with a pint of Old Crow under his front seat. He would never take any money from us.
Steve probably has the clearest memory of an event at Ace’s. At age 16, in 1974, he was robbed of the day's cash in his work billfold at knife point. He was smart enough in his running from the knife-wielding bandit that he threw the billfold in the opposite direction of his run. They suspected they knew who the nylon stocking bandit was but no arrest was ever made.
Steve also remembers a character named Jack. Down on his luck and basically just eating the fish he’d catch at a local strip pit, Steve managed to uncage three or four live chickens from a poultry hauler being fueled and successfully placed them in the back seat of Jacks bomb of a car. Jack was very grateful and had a few chicken dinners after that caper.
Next time: The George brothers experiences with watermelon trucks, traveling salesmen, and 'novelty items.’