Written by Clare Kittridge, published in the Seacoast NH Business Digest, May 1985
When they did away with cowboys in the wide open West, they created truck drivers,” sighs Cookie Siegel, peering through a sheet of one-way glass in the business office of Exit 3 Truck Services in Greenland. Unaware that he’s being watched, a truck driver in a green and yellow cap elbows up to a fuel counter on the other side, in front of half a dozen other men. “These are the old cowboys of the West….”
Outside another window, in a five-acre parking lot that holds 150 trucks “tucked in very tight,” a long line of vans waits at the fuel pumps. Behind them, “refers” or refrigerator trucks, flatbeds and vans with Arkansas, Maine, Vermont, Indiana and Oregon plates park diagonally in long, gleaming rows, resting between trips. They haul everything from logs to toothpicks everywhere in the country.
When Cookie and her husband took over the old International Harvester garage in Greenland two years ago, she says there was no other “full services” truck stop in New Hampshire. But her husband, the owner of Ralph’s Truck Sales on Lafayette Road, had been seeing trucks break down all the time. “That’s how he knew this area needed a truck stop.”
Shortly afterwards, Exit 3 became a multi-family corporation owned by Cookie, her husband and their three children, their friend Tom Redden, and another longtime friend of Cookie’s, Barbara Reilly — and Barbara’s husband. Now, Siegel says it’s one of the only truck stops of its kind between Connecticut and Bangor, Maine.
In the business office where she does bookkeeping and Reilly does accounts receivable for the garage, Siegel, a red-haired woman in sneakers and a pink sweater draped with gold chains, lights a cigarette and talks. “The paper work here is a killer. This place grew so quickly it ran away from us!”
The truck drivers that come to Exit 3, she says, are all ages and both sexes. They stop anywhere from several hours for a bite and a nap to several days waiting for a load. “We get everything from females driving alone to husband-and-wife teams, but most of the truckers are still guys.
“A tremendous number of drivers come here at night. Between six and 11, we have 120 to 130 trucks parked in front. A lot of them are East to West Coast drivers, and we see them about once a month. A lot are southern drivers. We might see them once a year. We get an awful lot that go from Ohio to Maine. Some that go from Maine to New Jersey, we might see every day, and then, some local companies just truck right here in the New Hampshire area.
The average sale at the fuel counter where truckers line up to buy fuel, is 100 gallons or about $100, she says. “There are 18 different ways they can pay for it, from credit cards to charge accounts and cash. We have 150 different charge
At the counter, truckers can receive money or send it to their families through Western Union, Comcheck, Dial-a-Check or other services. Through the wire, they apply for various Department of Motor Vehicles weight, size and fuel permits. A special permit service gets them permits for each state they have to travel through.
Behind the fuel counter, a small variety store sells candy, soda, T-shirts and Lil’ Abner-style chrome ladies for the embellishment of mud flaps or the sides of a truck. Also for sale are chrome hub caps, cameras, antennas, CB radios, tiny TV sets, calculators, a lot of watches and a new line of belt buckles. “We try to provide everything for their convenience,” Siegel says. “Showers, a washer and dryer, and a game room with a picnic table so they can kill time or do log books.”
Exit 3 has other amenities. Behind the store, a restaurant with one wall plastered with old license plates and movie posters exudes the aroma of ketchup, fries and cigarettes. Open 24 hours a day, Cuzzin Richie’s offers a bottomless cup of coffee and large or regular food portions for truckers who eat breakfast at night.
Next door, “Images by Suzy” is a hair salon run by Suzy Poster, Siegel’s sister. Inside, a husband-and-wife trucking team are having their hair washed. “This is great if you can’t go home,” says Arnie Bickford. A trucker for the past 25 years, he just took a load of frozen french fries to Massachusetts for the Mitchell Trucking Co., and is on his way back to Presque Isle for a load to take to Alabama. His wife Arnella, who is also having her hair done, has been riding with him on and off for years.
Upstairs, past the men’s rooms, showers and ever-busy telephones, an about-to-be renovated lounge features a “much-abused” television and a few couches. “Some guys spend one night here.” she says, “others stay here quite few days waiting for repairs or another load.
The six bays in the repair shop are usually full. “People are always waiting,” says Reilly, Siegel’s office partner. This too is an extension of the family corporation. Reilly’s son Philip runs the maintenance shop, her son-in-law Ron Clark runs the parts department, and her husband “Sarge” oversees the whole operation.
“If it’s not long-haul trucks he’s fixing, it’s local fire trucks and trucks for the Pepsi Cola Co., Standard Paper, the Morley Co., or Public Service Co. of New Hampshire. We do a lot of truck repair — that’s very unique in a truck stop.”
Siegel says she sees about an equal number of independent truckers working for themselves, and company truckers who work for big trucking firms like Frank & Sons, based in Oklahoma; North American Van Lines from Fort Wayne, Ind.; Mitchell Trucking from Presque Isle, Maine; Nelson Freight from Connecticut, and others.
After company truckers unload, they call the dispatcher in their home office for another job. Independent truckers have to find their own loads. This is why a broker in a leased truck stop office spends his time taking calls from companies who want things hauled. Jobs get posted for independent truckers on a downstairs bulletin board. “The only way a trucker can make money, ” Siegel explains, “is by running full. You need a load up and back or you don’t make a profit.”
The advantage of working for a company, she says, is that the company worries about finding loads. “The advantage of working for yourself is that whatever you get is yours, and you get to pick where you want to go. A lot of young husband-and¬wife teams, and a lot of older teams with grown children get into independent trucking because a lot of companies don’t let the wives ride with them. A lot of companies take the passenger seat right out of the truck.”
Downstairs at the fuel counter, Doug Johnson, an independent trucker from Portsmouth, is killing time before heading down to Miami. He just took a load of office furniture to Billerica, Mass., in his Freightliner twin screw cab oversleeper. “I’ve been Trying to get out of here since Friday,” he says, “My home is in the truck.”
A variety of constraints chip away at his profits, he says. The Department of Transportation requires him to take a day off after 70 hours of driving, and won’t let him drive more than 10 hours in 24. He keeps a log book, he says, to prove it.
Permits are a hassle too. Although states are trying for uniform regulations, so far, he says, they all have different weight, size and fuel requirements, and he needs a different permit to cross each state. In New Hampshire, Siegel says the maximum weight for a 10 wheeler is 80,000 pounds, and weigh stations along the highways enforce that.
“If you’re caught overweight in New Hampshire, it’s a $100 to $200 fine. Some states have lower weight limits. If Connecticut keeps losing bridges,” she jokes, “they won’t allow trucks at all — they’ll want all their supplies airlifted.”
When Exit 3 opened in ‘83, she says she spread the word via CB radio. “Now, it’s reached a point where if a driver makes a delivery from the South to Boston, he’ll go out of his way to come here. Trucks can’t just park anywhere,” she explains, “but truckers know they can come here, lay over, get repairs, a meal, a shower, wash laundry and sleep all night. It’s a relatively safe place to stop. No girls will come knocking on their doors. Their gas and fuel won’t get siphoned off, and tires won’t get stolen off their truck. They can go to sleep without having to worry.
“What we did was start with a new idea in a new place,” she says. In spite of this, when she announced she was from New Hampshire at a recent truck stop owners’ convention in Las Vegas, she heard someone remark: “There’s no truck stop there.” She bristled. Pushing back her sleeves, she smiles and brandishes her cigarette. “I said, ‘Oh yes there is!’
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