When Carolyn Moon and her husband Bill opened Iowa 80 Truckstop in Walcott, Iowa, they started with $100, and Moon joked that they had mortgaged everything but the kids. They grew the business into one of the largest truckstops in the country, established the industry standard that continues to serve as the underpinning of the truckstop and travel plaza community and left a legacy that continues to this day.
“She came from nothing and made something. That is a great story and it should be inspirational to everyone,” said Delia Moon Meier, the Moons’ daughter and an owner and the senior vice president of Iowa 80 Group.
Carolyn Moon passed away May 4 at the age of 81. The truckstop industry mourned the loss and remembered the significant contributions Moon made to the industry, including serving as a co-founder of NATSO and supporting the NATSO Foundation.
“She is a very special person any way you cut it. NATSO wouldn’t be what it is today without Carolyn and Bill,” said Jim Goetz, Sr., founder of Goetz Companies. “Carolyn was one of the heavy lifters in NATSO in the 80s and early 90s. When we wanted to re-start the government affairs operations, she moved in and provided the leadership necessary.”
Meier said her mother was creative and smart and called her a pioneer. “She really was able to think about things in a different way than lots of other people. When others saw trash, she often could see something useful. When other people would see a crabby person, she would see a person that needed a different job,” she said.
Lisa Mullings, president and CEO of NATSO, said the entire NATSO family was saddened to hear of Moon’s passing. “She was one of the first NATSO members I met when I joined the staff, and her easygoing warmth and kindness made me feel like we had known each other for years,” Mullings said.
After graduating from Southwest Missouri State University with a degree in mathematics, Moon was recruited by Lockheed Missile in California for advanced training in designing missiles. She went on to break the glass ceiling at Boeing Aircraft in Wichita, Kansas, as the first woman to enter the engineering and programming department. She was frequently the only woman in the room and programmed a gigantic mainframe computer to solve engineering problems mainly for the B-52.
“She was used to working in a man’s world because of her time at Boeing,” Goetz said. “She set the groundwork for females to have credibility and be allowed to provide leadership within our industry as well.”
Moon revolutionized the truckstop industry with innovative advancements. Her mathematical mind and programming skills, once used to design missiles and aircraft, helped to turn a simple road side gas station into a multimillion dollar business.
The Moons started their truckstop career in 1965, when the couple leased Iowa 80 Truckstop in Walcott, Iowa, from Standard Oil. In 1984, they cashed in their savings and retirement funds and borrowed money from friends to purchase their first location, which has grown into the world’s largest truckstop.
The Moons founded Truckomatic truck washes, a truck wash chain located throughout the Midwest. In 1977 they introduced the first totally automated, full-length platform scale, known as CAT Scale, that allowed truck drivers to quickly and accurately weigh their entire truck and trailer unit simultaneously.
Meier said Moon often found ways to streamline operations to make them easier and faster. “She saw things that other industries were doing and helped apply them to our business,” she said. “Examples of this are cashier checkout procedures, check reconciliation, sales projections, invoice coding and AP. In the early 70s she designed a cash register system for our business that allowed us to run multiple locations and have accurate and timely financials produced out of our headquarters.”
For 50 years, Moon worked at the Iowa 80 Truckstop and CAT Scale as chairman of the board and chief information officer until December 2016. She went into the office regularly until a few months before she passed.
Meier said Moon liked to work nights at the location. “She needed very little sleep and she liked to work alone,” she said.
One night, Moon was sitting alone eating a sandwich at 9:00. “A housekeeper was working around her. He said, ‘Don’t you own this place?’ She said yes and he asked her if she had ever felt like running away. She told him she had never considered it, and I think that shows how committed she was and how much she was enjoying herself here,” Meier said.
Moon also opened the Trucking Hall of Fame in tribute to Bill after he passed away. The trucking museum showcases Bill’s personal collection of more than 100 trucks and trailers. She generously donated both time and money to NATSO and the NATSO Foundation, including chairing the Public Awareness Committee and serving as a member of the Long Range Planning and the Government Affairs Committees.
Meier said Moon took a deep interest in the drug-free truckstop program that was started in the 80s. The Moon Family also helped endow the NATSO Foundation scholarship program, which awards multiple $5,000 scholarships each year to deserving travel plaza employees and their dependents.
In 2002, Moon was awarded NATSO’s Distinguished Member Award for exemplifying the principles by which NATSO members strive to lead their daily business practices and lives. The award recognizes an individual resonating integrity, character, charitable, political and community benevolence and service to the truckstop, and travel plaza community.
Moon was active in the American Association of University Women in Davenport where she served as treasurer. Ernst and Young awarded Moon the Iowa Entrepreneur of the Year Award for 2000. Junior Achievement of the Heartland inducted Carolyn and Bill into the Business Hall of Fame in 2006.
Meier said, “She showed me that you have to work hard to be the best and earn respect. She taught me to get mad and prove people wrong when they say you can’t do something. She told me to do what men are doing, but do it your own way.”
Moon had many things to be proud of throughout her life, but Meier said she believes Moon was the most proud of building a business that lasted. “She was proud she did her best every single day and that her family is continuing. It didn’t fall apart when her husband died and it isn’t going to fall apart when she died. I think that has to be the pinnacle of success,” she said.
Photo credit: The moon family shared photos of Carolyn Moon at NATSO events throughout the years.
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