As we approach our 50th anniversary of continuous service to the trucking industry on February 1, 2013, you might enjoy a 3-part walk through Broadway’s history with me to remember “where it all began”.
The story is similar to many post World War II entrepreneurial sagas where a couple of guys work hard, reach for the stars and touch opportunity. Such was the case with the newly formed Alsaker and Williams company.
February 1, 1963, Chuck and Agnes Williams along with Don and Bernice Alsaker who were fresh from the woodlands of North Idaho, launched an adventure that literally lasted a lifetime. Many thought that Chuck and Don built the Broadway Truck Stop but such was not the case. Chuck’s brother Roy Williams built the site in 1960 and opened the new truck stop next to Williams Kenworth on the recently partially completed Interstate 90 freeway that abruptly ended near Division street in downtown Spokane. The truck stop was originally billed as , “red hot and new” and they named it Truck Town. We still have the original neon sign that hung over the front door. They offered diesel, gas and motor oil products under the brand name American Oil which was part of the Standard Oil family of fuel services.
Chuck and Don leased the facility from older brother R.T. Williams. They offered full service fuel operations, a truck and tire repair shop and an inventory of small parts and an understated convenience store. Agnes and Bernice were the bookkeepers who diligently applied the debits and credits to the hand penciled ledgers every day, 7 days a week and made sure the bills were paid on time. In those days Chuck and Don leased out the restaurant to an independent operator, a lady of vintage. Her name was Tilly and she called her eatery, Truck Town Café.
Don and Bernice were 35 years old supporting a brand new home mortgage, relocation anxiety and two young mouths to feed, Pam and Dan. Chuck and Agnes were clearly the senior members of the team hovering around their mid-fifties and plenty of experience under their belts. Their children were grown, married and gainfully employed in other ventures like airplane pilots and medical doctors. So the journey began. Four hopeful partners and a willingly cautious banker from Washington Trust.
Hard work prevailed in those first few years. Chuck and Don were the third operators at the site. They knew that because the first two operators didn’t make it, financially, there was enormous pressure on them to be successful.
They both clearly understood the half day theory and used those 12 hours each day to manage the marketing, the H.R., the operations, the sales and the budget of their newfound ambition. Hard work and ownership were the call of the day. Don often worked late enough into the evenings and wee hours of the morning that he would spread a bed roll on the work bench in the shop, grab an hour or two of “sleep” and start the new day with ham and eggs from the café and was the original instigator of the now famous “get ‘er done” cry we hear from Larry on Jeff Foxworthy reruns.
The motivation for success there was always family. Some people call the effort a career today. I suppose Chuck and Don could have labeled their homeopathic efforts as a career but both of these family men were all about raising children and giving them more opportunity than they had growing up. So the pace went for a few years.
In the mid-60’s a young upstart oil company from Canada was making its way into the U.S. market by buying existing sites and establishing themselves as “International” Rocky Mountain marketers of petroleum products. They were a junior sized company in the motor car gasoline business but they seemed to be ready and financially capable of making a difference.
In the larger game of truck stops. HUSKY Oil roared into the market place and purchased many American Oil sites that the later felt were underperforming. The Spokane location, Truck Town was one of those sites that soon took its American Oil moniker down and replaced it with the Husky brand.
Transitions like these are usually reserved for younger hearts and even stronger backs. But in Chuck and Don’s case they saw this as opportunity to expand the horizons and of course sell more and work harder. The work harder part was difficult. They found it pretty tough to squeeze more than 24 hours out of a day. But to survive they had no choice and thus was discovered the 25th hour.
That Yukon like discovery was as good as the gold that early miners found on the Dawson trail. For Don and Chuck the business boomed and gave them a chance to build and open a new truckers motel just down the street from the truck stop. Many truckers in those days didn’t have sleeper cabs so they were relegated to inexpensive, small hotel rooms that would give them a brief sanctuary from the rigors of highway life. The first expansion outside the core truck refueling/repairing business was sleeping quarters that Chuck likened with the name, Broadway Motel.
This clearly put the upstarts into the hospitality business. Through all of this hectic and chaotic time neither family forgot the basic tenant of purpose. I don’t know how Don and Bernice did it but they always found the time to attend school functions, athletic events and volunteer for all the things community service defines. Chuck and Agnes were very supportive in their off hours to see that family came first and there was enough time to cover the essential bases. Life may have been simpler then but relationship building as today, was the key to success in the business, the community and the family.