This week’s column continues the George brothers’ recollections of working at Ace’s 24-hour Truck Stop as told by Ben George.
Watermelon trucks were always welcomed at Ace’s. Mysteriously, on their departure, three or four watermelons could be found in the bunkhouse and one inside the soda pop machine cooling down.
In the 60s and early 70s Ace’s was one of the few places in town you could go into the men’s room and buy a "novelty" for twenty-five cents. The traveling couple that owned the machine would come through every four weeks to restock and split 50/50 with Ace’s. A usual month saw about $400 of quarters spilled onto the station’s desk for counting. A bigger month usually occurred when Pitt State started up in September each year. It wasn’t unusual for the station attendants to listen to hear the machine clang the quarter into the money tray then take a good look at the young lady sitting next to the driver.
I remember the long, forty-hour weeks during my college years. Usually one of my friends would work the shift with me — the likes of Tim Vaughn, Mike Palmer, cousin Richard Crager, Bobby Palmer, and a few good vo-tech students from the college. It was hard work but it helped get us through school. We would get one night off a week but have to be back at 6 a.m. the next morning. Early morning sledgehammering a truck tire was brutal, especially after a late night of dancing and partying at The Roadhouse. In order to have Saturday evening off we would work the 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. A quick bite and a cold shower and you could find Mike Palmer and me on a bar stool at the 311 Tavern. Two or three schooners of Falstaff or Schlitz and we’d go our separate ways on dates.
Ace’s had a bunk house for drivers waiting to unload the next day or to legally get their "log book" up to date on their driving hours. Without going into the details of the odor and mess of the bunkhouse and the restrooms, let’s just say that today OSHA would demand that no one could enter those rooms without a full HazMat body suit!
Many locals filing out of the local pubs and clubs headed to Ace’s Café to coat their stomachs. Others went there to use the restrooms, which were the only ones available in the area after midnight; some to relieve their stomachs in the restroom.
As a senior in college I took Managerial Economics class and wrote my term paper about Ace’s Truck Stop. Basically it dealt with pricing of diesel fuel versus our biggest competitor in Fort Scott. What would happen if we lowered our price three cents a gallon? Would the volume increase offset the margin reduction, thus more profit? I received a rare A on that paper and proudly showed it to my dad and Woody Creel. They found it intriguing but said "Hell No!"
I admired the traveling salesmen that came through. Basically, they would pull into the gas pumps in their nice air-conditioned cars, have a crisp short-sleeve shirt and tie on, and say "Fill ‘er up." I’d clean the windows, check the oil, etc. while the salesman had a cup of coffee or soda pop in the cafe. He’d eventually come back to the station and plop down a company credit card. I thought that was a pretty good life versus being the kid sweating and doing all the work.
Well, after college, I became that traveling salesman. There was only one problem. Within just a couple years of my duties as a traveling salesman, SELF SERVE became the new normal. Not only was I back to pumping gas, the restaurant business was quickly changing to FAST FOOD. So now I’m ordering my food standing at the counter, taking my food to a table and — the biggest insult of all — cleaning my table and putting my plate and napkins in the trash myself.
Overall, the interactions with people and the work ethic we George boys learned at Ace’s Truck Stop has served each of us very well in life. When it came down to it, we didn’t want to disappoint our dad!
CORRECTION: In last week’s Flying Crow column two names were misspelled. Sandra’s last name is Geier, not Grier; and the middle initial of her grandfather is A not H.
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or firstname.lastname@example.org