By Dr. Curtis Varnell
In 1957, Interstate 40 was built through Arkansas and became a thoroughfare connecting the east and west coast of the U.S. with one continuous highway. Until that time, a number of state highways served as the main transportation loops for commerce and truckers by the hundreds traveled up and down local Highway 10 and 22 in their journeys across the state. In a much more picturesque period, small truck-stops and cafes dotted the highways; places where the truckers could stop for rest, coffee, and a warm meal.
Needing a large pull-in and parking area, most of these existed outside of the primary towns and usually included service stations and mechanic shops as well as the café. Travel down these local roads today, one can still see remnants of what once was. Washburn, Central City, Caulksville, and other small communities that once had thriving all-night café’s and businesses.
One of the busiest was found at Hill Top, six miles east of Subiaco on Hwy 22. Not even a community, all that was located on top of the ridge was a large pull-in area, a service station, and a café. During the heyday of the 40’s and 50’s, Hill Top was the happening place. Truckers from across the nation would pull in for a hot meal served by a crew of waitresses rushing from one Formica table to another serving blue plate specials to the hungry truckers. Local teenagers would hang out at the counter, listening to music on the juke box, and playing pinball games.
Owned and operated over the years by various people including Gerald Baumgartner, J.W. Trusty, Ruel White, and the Dedmon family, the café and station attracted a varied clientele and served as the starting point for tales still circulating today. Various people that worked or visited there reported seeing late night visits by Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, and the King himself, Elvis Presley. Many of the country and western stars traveled the local roads on their hayride circuit as they traveled from town to town to perform. Johnny Cash probably visited more than once; his guitar playing friend and brother in law Bob Wooton was a frequent visitor at the café and at the home of the nearby Huber family who were his close friends.
Today, the traffic has moved north to the interstate, the truckers stop at chain stores and hurry in and out carrying fast food they eat on the way and America has lost a lot of its small town charm.