Big Cabin Travel Plaza Still Thrives after 57 Years


Big Cabin Travel Plaza, Inc./NATSO

Fifty-seven years ago, DeWayne and Kathrena Franks stumbled into the truckstop business when Arkansas designated Highway 22A as the truck route around Fort Smith, and trucks began stopping by their service station asking for diesel. At the time, Kathrena, chief financial officer of Big Cabin Travel Plaza, Inc., was just 19 years old.

 That was in 1954. They had a diner that offered an “all-you-can-eat” catfish special for $1.00. They had bunkrooms for drivers (motels were not plentiful and were considered too expensive) and community showers. DeWayne and Kathrena Franks, with their friendly and hard-working staff, have spent decades keeping up with driver needs as they built a small service station business into a full-service highway stop for truckers.Their first diesel sales were at $0.189.

When the downtown Western Union office closed, they opened Western Union’s first experimental office in truckstops and were once given the unfortunate task of delivering a Western Union message alerting the recipient that their son was killed in the Vietnam War.

After 12 years, I-40 was built to the north, out of Fort Smith’s reach, and the Franks looked for a new site on an interstate already in place. A location with the unlikely name of Big Cabin, Okla., at the US 69 exit of I-44, proved to be such a place, and they opened the Cherokee Truck Terminal in September 1966.

The diner turned into a full-service restaurant, the bunkrooms disappeared, the old Western Union typewriter and Telex machines became computer transfers and the showers became private. The Cherokee Truck Terminal was later renamed Big Cabin Travel Plaza.

The Franks businesses have survived since 1954 by hard work and determination. As Kathrena shared with Stop Watch, the truckstop business is “long hours, long days, long weeks, but worth it in the end. Just keep dancing as fast as you can.”

The story of standing brave
isitors to Big Cabin Travel Plaza are greeted by Standing Brave, a 46- foot sculpture of a Native American.

The birth of the idea for Standing Brave came after a trip to Maine by the Franks and an unsuccessful bid to buy a 26-foot Indian statue. DeWayne Franks wanted the statue as an attraction to his location that is situated in the midst of the Cherokee Nation.

Starting Oct. 2, 2000, Wade Leslie, the then 26-year-old body man at the service center, worked tirelessly to create Standing Brave. After 801 hours of fabricating a scale model, creating the base out of 1,800 feet of steel bar, sculpting the details out of insulation foam and then fiber glassing, sanding, priming and painting, Standing Brave was born on March 22, 2001.

The job of transporting Standing Brave to his permanent home turned out to be quite a feat. In order for the statue to be completely freestanding, a 15-foot underground footing was laid with 100 yards of steel-reinforced concrete, upon which the pedestal was placed. Standing Brave’s spear and headdress had been built into the framework for added structural support. A wrecker on his feet and forklift on his head, Standing Brave was pulled and pushed out of the body shop, then driven across the property to his home, finally being hoisted upright by crane.

Standing brave fun facts

• Statue height – 46 feet
• Weight – 15,500 lbs
• Fiber glass used – 600 lbs
• Standing Brave was built entirely while laying on his side.
• Sanding Standing Brave took 80 hours.
• There are 105 feathers in Standing Brave’s headdress, of which the largest is 5 feet long.
The Oklahoma state flag was integrated into Standing Brave’s shield.
• Standing Brave received his name from Kathrena Franks


This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.

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Amy Toner's photo

Amy Toner

Toner markets NATSO products, services and meetings. She is the content editor of NATSO's core websites, Stop Watch magazine and Highway Business Matters biweekly articles. In addition, she provides creative services across all departments. Toner joined NATSO in 2006. Prior to joining the association, she served as director of membership services at an association for ambulatory surgery centers. Toner lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and son. More
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Big Cabin Travel Plaza, Inc.

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