Al’s truck stop among the wildest
January 19, 2011 | by: By John Stewart as told to Lucinda Coulter
I could write about a hundred truck stops, but Al’s in Ripon, Calif., is one of the wildest I remember in all my 48 years as a driver. One night in 1964, I had pulled into Al’s parking lot and was walking from the 1956 Autocar diesel I drove to the restaurant when the swinging door flew open. Al had two drunk guys by the neck and was encouraging their departure.
He threw them down the steps and into the parking lot and almost hit me. Al was a big man and didn’t let anybody mess with him. I guess he knew he scared me because he said. “Come in and sit with me,” He poured coffee into a cup for me and said, “It’s on me.”
Another friendly gesture that I’ll always remember was from the owner of the 99 Oaks, on the southbound side of U.S. Highway 99, at the bottom of the Grapevine’s Five-Mile Grade. The restaurant wasn’t fancy, but you could buy a cheeseburger and a cup of coffee and all the refills the waitress could pour for 65 cents. I had a flat once close to the stop, pulled in and asked Howard, the owner’s given name, if he could fix it.
In a jiffy he had the wheel apart, a new flap and tube, and had put it back on the trailer. I asked him what I owed him and he replied, “Oh, 10 bucks.” I handed him the cash and climbed in the truck. But by the time I got the door shut, there was Howard, standing on my running board with the $10 bill and stuffing it in my shirt pocket.
I’ve learned over the years how to stay in business, even though I didn’t earn a lot to begin with when I started in 1963. It had a 220 Cummins with a 5-speed transmission that had a 4-speed brownie and Timken worm drive. I hauled firewood from Woodlake, Calif., to Los Angeles and hauled fertilizer on the return trip. It paid little, but I learned a lot. I drove for Hannah Trucking for 40 years, driving the Peterbilt shown in the photo from 1970 to 1974. I eventually retired from Hannah and bought a 1994 Peterbilt 379 with a Landal lowboy. I’m still trucking today.
Owner-operator John Stewart is a resident of Visalia, Calif.