LA PINE — “How do you like your eggs?” the waitress asked the truckers.
“Still walkin’,” said Randall Smith, a 43-year-old bear of a man. He chuckled heartily with Richard Broneske, 48, who ordered a heaping plate of french toast.
While devouring their breakfasts, the two swapped stories of carting cattle across the country and getting kicked by cows. Many would assume the two men from Idaho had known each other for years. But they met for the first time last week, at Gordy’s Truck Stop in La Pine.
Since 2000, Gordy’s has become a haven for many truckers traveling up and down U.S. Highway 97.
Business has doubled in the past three years, and the truck stop may include a lounge, poker and lube service by early 2009.
It’s a hub in La Pine, a town at the southern end of Deschutes County that is seeing its own share of progress. After incorporating in November, La Pine is putting down roots at its City Hall, working on its first city budget and picking its logo. The city now has a wireless cafe and drive-through coffee shops.
Truckers say Gordy’s remains one of the few stops along the highway where a person can park after a long day on the road, get gas or diesel, shower, grab a hot meal and chat with strangers.
“It’s the old way,” Broneske said. “You help each other.”
‘Everybody knows where Gordy’s is’
Gordy’s Truck Stop opened June 22, 2000.
Its owner, Gordy Wanek, wanted a place where truckers could pull off the highway quickly and get a good night’s sleep in their trucks, a clean shower and a steaming breakfast the next morning.
More than 6,000 truck stops line America’s highways, said Mandi Oliver, a spokeswoman with the National Association of Truck Stop Operators. Oregon has 21 stops.
Locally, there are three main stops on Highway 97 from the La Pine area to Madras: Chemult Pilot Travel Center in Klamath County, Madras J&L Truck Stop & Cafe in Jefferson County, and Gordy’s in La Pine. Jake’s Truck Stop used to have a small place in Bend, but it closed in 2004 and became Jake’s Diner on U.S. Highway 20.
Wanek knew he would face some competition when opening seven years ago. The Madras truck stop has been around since the 1960s, and Jake’s had served truckers since the 1930s, but under different names.
“They had a good truck stop,” said Wanek, 76, a former garbage truck company owner from Los Angeles. “But I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have another one. I just wanted to have our own people working in town.”
Wanek has about 50 employees who help clean six showers and run the 24-hour restaurant known for its “Paulina Peak,” a thick brownie topped with five scoops of ice cream. Gordy’s caters to a mix of truckers, residents and highway travelers, who pack the restaurant in the early morning and evening hours.
The truck stop pumps gas and more than 20,000 gallons of diesel a day. It also has a convenience store that sells everything from wrenches and light bulbs to Snickers and white chocolate caramel cappuccinos.
Gordy’s has grown alongside La Pine. In recent years, La Pine has gotten its bus service and a new senior center.
But in the midst of this growth, Gordy’s remains one of the largest employers in La Pine and the only place open 24-7, said Rose Alsbury, the La Pine Chamber of Commerce’s executive director.
“Everybody knows where Gordy’s is,” she said. “It’s just good home food.”
A growing ‘safe haven’
Three years ago, about 2,400 long-haulers used to stop by Gordy’s daily, manager Frank Eaton said. Since then, the business has doubled, prompting Wanek to expand his trucking empire. He hopes to add a lounge with video poker and slot machines in the next three months, followed by a full lube service.
Once completed, Gordy’s will outpace the Madras and Chemult truck stops, which offer limited service to roughly 100 trucks between the two stops. Gordy’s has enough space for at least 130 vehicles that hail mostly from the Midwest.
“A lot of the other places are smaller and harder to get to,” said Eaton, who used to haul hay. “They’re not as convenient.”
Eaton attributed the company’s growth to strong service, good meals and a friendly environment where truckers sometimes congregate weekly in the main seating on their way north or south.
“It’s what the truckers call a ‘safe haven,’” he said. “We’re one of the few places they can get off the road and feel safe. ... They can talk to each other at the bar.”
Smith likes coming to Gordy’s for that reason.
He traveled in his own truck last week, followed by Duane Vandenberg, a cattle trucker from Idaho garbed in leather suspenders and a hunting cap, with a pack of Camel cigarettes bulging from his breast pocket. Both men were headed for Washington in separate trucks carrying 159 cows combined.
They parked their roughly 50-foot monsters at Gordy’s, puffed a quick cigarette each and shook hands with Broneske. The fellow Idahoan happened to pull up at Gordy’s around the same time, hauling lumber.
The three walked into Gordy’s Restaurant, a chatty diner that greets people with a display of coconut creme pies, pictures of Elvis and toy trucks that line the walls.
“Welcome to Gordy’s,” reads a sign at the entrance, featuring the day’s special — a $6.25 bacon pepper jack burger.
The truckers sat down and immediately began swapping tales of the road.
Broneske, a husky man with gray handlebar mustache, told his new friends about the time he got kicked below the waist by a cow.
“That’s the Achilles’ heel of a man,” he said. “I had to sit on ice all next week.”
Vandenberg, a 52-year-old man who traveled with a scrawny Chihuahua named “Scoot,” could not top Broneske’s story.
But he had a bigger truck. Fifty-two feet long, in fact.
“Mine is 48 feet,” Smith said with pride.
“No, it’s not,” Vandenberg replied. “You’re 46 feet.”
After comparing sizes and stories, they lamented that few truck stops remain like Gordy’s, a place where drivers can talk before hitting the highway again.
Broneske — who has been driving trucks for 31 years — said he noticed a cultural shift in the trucking lifestyle about 15 years ago. People often used to gather at truck stops, barbecuing steaks and halibut together on portable Coleman stoves, but no more. Even helping one another on the road has become unexpected.
“It used to be if a guy was stranded on the side of the road, you’d see three or four people helping him,” said Smith, while dumping two giant scoops of sugar into his coffee. “We’re all out to do one job — deliver freight, whether corn or cattle — but it’s a game of common courtesy.”
That courtesy, Broneske piped in, has all but died — except for stops like Gordy’s. Aside from fellowship, they all preferred the place for its good food and fast service.
“They sit you down quick,” Vandenberg said. “They feed you quick. We’re pressed for time. The cows can’t sit too long.”
After paying for breakfast, the three truckers walked back to their rigs. They shook hands, hopped into their trucks and got back on the highway.