Dixie Truckers' Plaza gets new ownership
July 7, 2012, By Nancy Saul, MCLEAN – If you’ve heard rumors of change at the intersection of U.S. Route 136 and Interstate 55 in McLean, those rumormongers aren’t just whistlin’ Dixie.
Road Ranger LLC, a company headquartered in Rockford that has owned and operated service stations throughout the Midwest since 1984, has purchased the Dixie Truckers Plaza. Ben Gulley of McLean Gas and Supply is the previous owner.
On Saturday, the old repair center behind the main building at the Dixie was being demolished. A number of gas pumps have been removed from the parking lot, where concrete slabs are stacked. The restaurant is open but the store and fuel stations are closed for remodeling.
“The Dixie” has been an iconic part of Route 66 since its inception and according to Road Ranger President Dave Saporta that won’t change with the new regime.
Road Ranger is a privately held limited liability company owned by founder Dan Arnold and co-member Sunil Puri, CEO of First Rockford Group. According to the company’s Web site, “Road Ranger is the leading Gas Station, Convenience Store and Travel Center chain in the Midwest.” It owns more than 80 businesses, including those in Springfield, Champaign and Decatur. The company has partnered with Pilot Travel Centers.
The Dixie opened in 1928, after the federal government announced that it would plan and help fund a national highway system. J.P. Walters, a general store owner in Shirley, took advantage of the opportunity to open “filling stations” in Shirley and nearby Bloomington. His partner was his son-in-law, John Geske.
In 1926, the pair started their own delivery service, Shirley Oil and Supply Company. They called their product “Dixie Gas.”
When they opened the truck stop at the intersection of U.S. Routes 136 and 66 in McLean, they called the new business “Dixie Truckers Home.”
C.J. Beeler, Walters’ granddaughter, was once quoted as saying, “The name stood for southern hospitality. My grandfather was born and raised in Kentucky. He wanted truckers to know they had a home away from home here.”
The parking lot offered space for up to 200 trucks. The hospitality also included 24-hour-a-day service 365 days a year, a custom that has continued through several subsequent owners. In that context, Road Ranger’s service will be no different.
The current Dixie building, which was erected in 1972, is under renovation. Saporta says it is scheduled to re-open by Labor Day. He quashed a rumor that a fast food restaurant may locate there in addition to the carryout food service offered by Road Ranger.
“We’re not planning to alter the restaurant offering,” Saporta said. “We plan to keep and preserve what’s there. We do plan a major remodel of the store.”
Saporta said the store and truckers’ facilities will be “new on the inside but will preserve as much of the Dixie signage and heritage as possible.”
An economic impact study completed in 2011 in conjunction with the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program shows that $132 million per year is spent in communities along historic Route 66, which is America's most celebrated automobile highway and a symbol of 20th-century American culture and history.
“The sign proposal I approved is to keep the Dixie signs out there,” Saporta said. “We’re not looking to erase the memory of the Dixie Truck Stop.
“We’re looking to bring a nice, clean facility (to McLean). We have a lot of experience in offering truck stops, especially in Illinois.
“We want to preserve what’s been there. We’re looking forward to being a part of the community.”
Saporta said in addition to the Dixie signs, Road Ranger signs will also be erected.
According to Road Ranger’s Web site, besides top-tier gasoline, amenities at many Road Ranger travel plazas include 100% Columbian coffee, ice-cold fountain drinks, a huge variety of canned and bottled beverages, fresh food to go, newspapers and magazines.
Also available are money orders, ATMs, Western Union Direct Connect Service, propane tank exchange and purchase, long-distance prepaid phone cards, prepaid cellular cards lotteries from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin and a complete line of cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco.
Truckers can find guaranteed diesel values, showers with shower credit for purchases and (at most travel centers) Certified Accurate Truck Scales (CAT Scales). Purchase points can also be redeemed for food, merchandise and WiFi service at participating travel centers and restaurants. All locations feature a driver kiosk where truckers can update information and check points balances.
Public laundry facilities are provided at many locations and game rooms provide a place for entertainment and relaxation.
TRANSFLO Express is available at most Road Ranger Travel Center locations. TRANSFLO Express allows truckers to receive trip documents the same day the load is delivered. Trip documents are scanned by trained cashiers and delivered within seconds to the fleet's corporate office for immediate billing and payroll.
Road Ranger is the Founding Sponsor of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign lobbies federal legislators and agencies on behalf of beleaguered wild horses.
The company has re-named its fuel grades with the commitment to horse freedom in mind: Mustang, Stallion and Thoroughbred. An online blog discusses ways to get the greatest fuel efficiency.