I know I’m showing my age, but in my childhood, a roadtrip wasn’t a roadtrip without at least one stop at a Stuckey’s. In the days before urban sprawl and the ubiquity of McDonald’s and fast food, it was possible to drive long stretches of America’s highways and see nothing but landscape. Until you came to a Stuckey’s. Ah, the blue tin roofed Stuckey’s. I assume long distance truckers were their bread and butter. There were always dozens of them idling in the large parking lots every Stuckey’s seemed to have for those purposes. (For us kids, the truckers were part of Stuckey’s exotic appeal.) There would be a good old fashioned diner-style restaurant where my Dad, who did all the driving, could get a good cup of coffee and a piece of pie. I’m sure the attraction for my mother were the Stuckey’s bathrooms which were always spotlessly clean, well-lit and child-safe. For my brother and me, it was the gift shop. Loads of knick-knacks pertaining to the location, the essentials a traveler might need, the famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log (from Mrs. Ethel Stuckey’s original 1937 recipe) and the soft cotton striped blankets that were another trademark. (If you were an American kid in the early seventies or before and you ever went on a roadtrip, raise your hand if your parents always had a few Stuckey’s blankets in the back of the car.)
Stuckey’s also had those wonderful water-slide travel decals that featured hand-drawn artwork of various state attractions. I don’t think Stuckey’s sold those. They were probably given away free at the attached Texaco stations. My brother and I had shoe-boxes full of them. We stuck them to everything (except the car, which Dad wouldn’t allow.) We eventually grew up and threw them all away. My collector friend, Rob, who has thousands of them preserved in glassine sleeves now tells me those things are worth a fortune. Who knew? But I digress.
The last time I’d done a proper road trip — as in from Maine to California — was in the mid-Eighties. So when I decided two years ago to take my niece on a cross-country road trip for her college graduation, I assumed Stuckey’s would play its usual role. Little did I know there had been a quantum cultural shift on America’s roadsides sometime in the late Eighties. The venerable Stuckey’s chain had sold out to a corporation. The once proud 300-strong Stuckey’s empire had dwindled to less than 70 sites, most of these in great disrepair. Finally, one of the Stuckeys had repurchased the chain and determined to make the Stuckey name again a force to be reckoned with on America’s highways. Unfortunately, his plan was a “store-within-a-store” concept that reduced Stuckey’s to pecan log stands inside existing 7-Elevens and mini-marts. (Read the whole sad story on the Stuckey’s website.) A Stuckey’s without the huge trucker parking lots with showers and amenities for the long-distance haulers? A Stuckey’s without that diner where all the waitresses called you “Hon”? Even worse, a Stuckey’s without the full gift shop and the striped blankets? A sad travesty of another vanished American tradition!
However, at the outset of our trip, I was blissfully unaware that the Stuckey’s I knew and cherished was no more. Before we’d hit Delaware I was already scouting. But I soon had bigger challenges than stocking up on Pecan Logs and striped blankets.
Of first concern was reconciling the dramatically different traveling styles of a child of the Sixties and today’s 24-year-old. I like to research where I’m going — even to the point of reading novels about the region I’m traveling through and making an appropriate playlist. (Traveling to Graceland, that’s easy. Elvis. Going down Highway 61? Crank up Robert Johnson and the Blues.) I make a plan, then diverge from that plan instantly if I see a roadside attraction, an interesting historical marker or just a better horizon. I experience everything, then I blog about it. Later. My niece, of course, has grown up much more electronically plugged in, but less interested in research. Just as Warren Beatty famously said of Madonna, “Nothing is real to her unless it’s being filmed”, to Aleana an experience isn’t an experience unless she’s texting about it. At the risk of having a crotchety “Kids Today!” moment, let me say that I have nothing against texting. Or blogging, obviously. But I hold firm to the belief that you must HAVE the experience first. You see it, taste it, smell it, revel in it. THEN you text about it. If you are glued to your phone and plugged into your iPod while Monument Valley whizzes by or the Grand Canyon unfolds below you, well, you didn’t actually experience it, did you? And existentially speaking, can you really text about it?
But we had one transcendent moment where our roadtripping styles meshed perfectly. Somewhere south of Delaware, I said, “We’ve got to find a Stuckey’s.” Without a pause, Aleana said, “Absolutely!” and located one on the GPS unit. In perfect accord, we walked in happily through the large parking lot full of long-haul truckers, we filled up on good coffee and pie at the diner, and we hit the gift shop and loaded our arms with Pecan Logs and striped blankets.
Little did we know that, from Boston to California, that would be the only real Stuckey’s we’d find. We searched the Find-a-Stuckey’s feature on the website every night. We checked the GPS unit whenever we hit a stretch of open highway. No more Stuckey’s except for one or two “store-with-in-a-store” mini-Stuckey’s we stumbled over. They didn’t count.
We had indeed visited The Last Real Stuckey’s in America. Wreathed in nostalgia, we covered ourselves with our Stuckey’s blankets every night in motels and campgrounds. The Pecan Logs finally melted on the back seat somewhere in Oklahoma. The memories linger.
Wow, how interesting, I grew up in the late 70’s early 80’s and have never heard of the restaurant. Obviously they were not big in the Midwest.
I have a 20 year old and 17 year old, texting is their way of life, not quite sure I have figured it out but like every generation before me teenagers seem to like to throw the ‘older’ generation for a little loop. My parents were amazed at how long I could talk on the phone with my friends after spending the whole day with them. Kids!
Although I never knew Stuckey’s … nor have ever experienced a cross country road trip (oddly enough the “interstate” highways in Hawaii don’t allow for such travel) I feel I understand your nostalgia. I’m somewhere in between your child of the 60’s lifestyle and that of your niece. I don’t research much (suggestions from friends work) … I use the iPhone to find things … but I do like to ‘experience’ where I am and where I end up. Another good blog post Lisa!
Sadly, I have never been to a Stuckey’s – but you make me want to scout one out!
I was remarking the other day that “Kids Today” can’t even walk the dog without having to text the whole time. Can’t help but wonder if they are missing out– by living each day with constant constant background “noise.” Or maybe I’m just turning into an old fuddy duddy 😉
Stuckeys rules. I still love my two Stuckeys blankets that cost seven dollars apiece.
Thanks for your comments on my blog. I remember Stuckeys but I don’t think we ever ate or stayed there until I was an adult. We didn’t travel much during my childhood but I do remember they had quite a following.
I absolutely agree with everything this article says about Stuckeys. It’s like he and I lived the exact same life as a kid grwoing up in the 60s and 70s. I am so sad about the demise of Stuckeys, aka the Americana that was America just like watching the TV show- the Wonder Years, it’s a look back into, and reliving simpler times, good times.
Stuckys was the only stop for us on our family vacations as a child. We were always allowed to choose a small token gift from the gift shop. It would be a polished stone or a wooden nickel. My favorite was the plastic purse with little games stuffed inside. A few years back my husband and I were traveling through the Carolinas and and we saw a stuckys sign. It brought back a flood of wonderful memories! A hate the saying, “The good old days,” but that totally supplies here.
I worked at Stuckey’s in Southern California from 1977-1979. Wore the silly double knit uniform and served many pecan malts and apple cider. I met my husband at Stuckey’s. We are till married.
I loved the ceiling of these buildings. I would love to buy one and make it my home.
The last Stuckey’s in Arkansas .. just south of Blytheville on Hwy 55.. I was by there last July 9 2014.. this was our stop regardless of going to see family in Blytheville or heading back home to Fort Smith Arkansas. We use to see them along I40. Now …..good memories. .
First off, your quote, ” If you are glued to your phone and plugged into your iPod while Monument Valley whizzes by or the Grand Canyon unfolds below you, well, you didn’t actually experience it, did you? ”
ABSOLUTELY! Thank you! Turn off the device and live!
Now about Stuckeys. In the 1950’s my sister and I would travel the 100 miles between Richmond and Washington DC once a month with our father. There was a Stuckeys about at the halfway point. Of course there where also signs for 30 miles in both directions pointing this important fact out! So we quickly made a game of spotting the Stuckeys sign. Whoever spied one 1st would shout out “Stuckeys and receive a point! Naturally there had to follow a stop there! So I have very fond memories of the old chain. Pralines!
Now in July of 2015 my wife and I traveled across America on I-40. Somewhere out west, Oklahoma maybe, we saw signs for one. When we pulled off to visit it all we found was a burned out shell. We found another burnt ruin that had been a Stuckey once again a little farther on. We wondered if any remained. A few still do, but the Stuckeys brand never recovered from the advent of interstates. Stuckies was a product of the old pre-interstate Federal Highway System; roads like US Routes 1 and 66. They tried transitioning to around the exits when the interstates came, but their time was over. They never were able to win back the travelers who had been so loyal in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. All things pass.
My father built the Terre Haute Ind. “Stuckey’s Pecan Shoppe” as they were called in 1959. But sadly we finally had to sell the business just a few years ago. Broke my Damn heart.
Between 1953 and ’60, I too with my parents visited the Stuckey’s between Richmond VA and Washington DC several times a year traveling between SC and PA. Great memories and now it’s sad to see the ones between Indianapolis and Montgomery AL vanished.
Bruce Bailey, you’re not the only one who has stumbled across this pattern of burnt out shells of Stuckey’s. Oklahoma and Texas are full of them as I remember. I saw one east of Houston on I-10 about four years ago.
Aside from the pecan logs, the most prevalent memory I have of Stuckey’s was exiting the highways in anticipation (having seen so many signs the past r0 miles…lol) only to arrive at the charred remains of an American Roadside icon.
Now, as I’m older and wiser, I can almost smell the arson/insurance fraud from 40 miles away.
Back in 1974, our family took a road trip between LA and Northern Mississippi. Along the way we discovered Stuckeys, and eventually ended up taking all of our rest/meal stops there.
I don’t remember the food (I guess it was ok), or even the pecan log rolls. I do remember they had clean bathrooms, and vending machines full of neat toys like little plastic kazoos and such.
Fast forward to 2011. On a trip between Birmingham, AL and Atlanta, we saw a worn out Stuckeys billboard at a gas station. They had the pecan rolls, but that was about it.
Stucky’s was our favorite place to stop in the 60’s!!! I was only a little kid then but it left a big impression. My dad would get those stickers for every state we went through (ohio to calif), and put them on the window of our station wagon. When he sold the car he had to scrape them all off. Now i wish he had bought extras! As for the blankets, I don’t remember those,but i have bunch of them that I bought at a Walmart decades later (LOL). Last time we saw a Stucky’s was 1993 going out west. Haven’t seen one since. 🙁
I traveled I-70 from Pittsburgh to Denver on my motorcycle back in 1984. There were still some of the old Stuckey’s around back then, mostly in Missouri and Kansas. I have old photos, (somewhere), of some of them. I remember one was in Grinell, Kansas, but had been re-badged as “Andy’s of Grinnell”. I still looked just like the Stuckey’s. I wonder if it’s still there? Time for Google Earth. Randy McDaniels, TLC.
I remember Stuckeys from growing up in Texas. I remember stopping at them as we traveled. However the last time I stopped at a Stuckeys was when I was in college in the 80’s and the woman behind the counter said loudly to her colleague “Can someone please help this Mexican fellah?” I can’t say I’m sorry they are all gone (or reduced to their current reincarnation).
Being from Georgia with family in ky and Ohio there were many road trips. Always looked forward to stopping at Stuckys. My childhood memories in a nutshell. Nostalgic Americana. Yes I miss my stuckys.
Very good, thank you for your recommendation
Sad to hear of Stuckey’s demise. History is not for the faint of heart.