Son of trucker opens free 400-space lot along I-44 in Missouri

As truck drivers continue to haul essential goods across the country amid the coronavirus pandemic, Missouri businessman Bob Mericle says he wants to do his part by offering free truck parking at his 15-acre, 400-space lot.

Mericle opened Bob’s Parking on Interstate 44 at Exit 88 in Strafford, Missouri, two months ago. He said his lot is fenced, well-lit and has high-definition security cameras. The only drawback: There’s only one port-a-potty onsite right now as rain delays have pushed back the date to pour the foundation for permanent restroom facilities. Also, while there’s no food at the site, it is easily accessible just two miles away.

Bob’s Parking billboard along I-44. Photo: Bob Mericle

“Truck drivers are great people and are very unappreciated — they deserve a safe place to park for the night,” Mericle told FreightWaves on Monday.

And he should know.

His dad, Ray Mericle, was a 40-year trucking veteran, who drove for well-known carriers like Pacific Intermountain Express (PIE) and Southern Pacific Transportation Co. that old-school truckers would recognize.

As he got older, Mericle said, he traveled some with his dad, back in the days when trucks had no power steering, air conditioning or automatic transmissions.

“It’s a tough life, I know it was hard on my dad, and I want to make it a little easier for truck drivers right now,” he told FreightWaves.

Mericle said he decided to open a truck parking lot after selling his eight Waffle House restaurants in southern Missouri, including two sites that offered truck parking.

“After about two weeks of retirement, I was ready to go nuts, so I decided to do something new,” he said.

As consumers continue to find grocery shelves empty and hospitals and health care companies call for more critical medical supplies and personal protective equipment, the demand for trucks to haul these essential goods has risen.

However, Mericle said some nearby truck stops are unable to handle the volume of trucks on a nightly basis as spaces fill up by 6 p.m. along I-44, a major trucking corridor. The overflow of trucks are forced to park along the edge of the road, which isn’t safe for drivers or motorists, he said.

He’s working to get his company’s name out there as a safe place to park but admits it’s been tough as some truck drivers tend to stick to their routines and go to the places they are familiar with despite the parking woes they encounter.

Reserved parking at two nearby major truck stop chains can run around $18 per night, but Mericle said truck parking spaces at his lot will remain free until the pandemic is over, then he will charge $10 per night for spots at Bob’s Parking.

“Truck drivers are our foundation and if we didn’t have them, where would we be?” he said. “These drivers are good people who just want to make a living. They really are our heroes right now.”

Read more articles by FreightWaves’ Clarissa Hawes