I recently made the trek across Illinois into Iowa to visit the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum. Located next to the World’s Largest Truck Stop in Walcott, Iowa, and just northwest of the city of Moline, the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum features over 70 pickup trucks, semi-trucks, and even a few trailers. When I was there, I made sure to stop into the iconic slice of Americana known as the “World’s Largest Truck Stop” to grab something to eat.
The World’s Largest Truck Stop
Not every museum has the convenience of having the World’s Largest Truck Stop next to it. Established in 1964, The World’s Largest Truck Stop, also known as the Iowa 80 Truck Stop, tends to evoke the feeling of being at an airport or a mall more than it does a truck stop. The inside of the truck stop seemed larger to me than the exterior. There is a row of fast-food restaurants and plenty of space to eat. They have a semi-truck chrome shop and truck wash. It also hosts an annual truck show known as the Walcott Truckers Jamboree.
Inside the warehouse-sized building is a collection of trucks, many from the first half of the 20th century. Looking down the long hall of the museum, the sheer number of trucks is hard to fathom. They have a replica of a 20s and 30s era Texaco gas station. Many of the early trucks had solid rubber tires, and fittingly, there is even a vintage solid rubble tire press on display.
The trucks on display are primarily American trucks from the early 20th century to the 1960s, although there are exceptions. Most of the trucks have been painstakingly restored to look as they did when they were new. The trucks range from everyday models to unique prototypes, a show truck, and even a movie-used truck: a police truck made for the 1978 Sylvester Stallone movie F.I.S.T. There are even a few early electric trucks and a Mercedes-Benz Unimog. With so many early semi-trucks on display, is possible to trace their evolution from the earliest days of open cabs to the introduction of the diesel motor use in trucks decades later.
One of the first trucks you see when you walk into the Museum is the 1903 Elridge. As of writing, it is 118 years old. As a reference, the Elridge truck predates the first Ford Model T by five years. Like many vehicles of the era, it features heavy use of wood in its construction, a steering wheel that is parallel to the ground, wagon-style wheels, an opposing twin-cylinder motor located under the vehicle, and chain drive. Interestingly, the driver sits on the right side of the truck.
The second oldest truck in the museum, the 1910 Avery stands out even among all the classics. The wooden wheels feature a unique “tread” design, with replaceable wooden plugs making up the tread pattern. With paved roads often scarce in the early 20th century, especially in rural areas, these unique wheels undoubtedly proved useful. Like the 1903 Eldrige a few years before, the Avery features right hand drive, chain drive, and a parallel-with-the-ground steering wheel. The Museum notes it has a 40-horsepower engine, which might not seem like a lot until you consider a 1910 Ford Model T only had 22 horsepower.
Hank’s Highway Hilton
If a semi-truck can be a celebrity, “Highway” Hank Good’s 1981 Kenworth K100 aka Highway Hilton No. 1 would fit the bill. A heavily modified 1981 Kenworth K100 cabover, the Kenworth has been a work truck, an award-winning show truck, and the means by which Hank Good toured Europe. The Highway Hilton features hand-lettering as well as an eye-catching paint job, and many horns and lights. Not to mention the massive sleeper.
After checking out the museum and truck stop, I was off to my next destination: The National Motorcycle Museum, just over all hour away in Anamosa, Iowa. You can check out The I 80 Trucking Museum’s website here: iowa80truckingmuseum.com and The World’s Largest Truck Stop’s website here: iowa80truckstop.com. If you have been to either one, or know a place I should go to next, let me know in the comments!