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Truck plaza in Woodhull popular

WOODHULL -- Change always is constant at the Woodhull Truck Plaza off Interstate 74. Unfortunately, roads in the area haven't caught up yet.

Recently, new lights were installed at the exit, making the interchange safer. However, when motorists exit, they still have to manage Illinois 17. With its crumbling medians and rough road, some motorists have a tough time handling it.

``Sometimes it seems like we're the forgotten interchange,'' plaza owner Jeff Herr said.

However, exit 24 is not forgotten to the many truckers on I-74. As the next truck stop after Walcott, Iowa -- some 50 miles away -- the plaza is a welcome sight.

``We're there for truckers who are stuck out on the road during the holidays,'' Mr. Herr said. ``They especially appreciate us being open on Christmas Eve.''

Since Mr. Herr, who also owns a petroleum business in nearby Galesburg, bought the plaza in 1993, business has increased. The 27-year-old plaza has new gas pumps, bathrooms, showers, service bays and other travel amenities.

Despite the changes, one thing at the plaza remains familiar. ``The restaurant has stayed pretty much the same since it opened 27 years ago,'' Mr. Herr said. ``It complements our business.''

One reason behind the restaurant's success is its broad local base. On many holidays, Sundays, events and special occasions, the town of Woodhull -- population 800 -- turns out to eat. The most popular item is the restaurant's special buffet.

``We have a Swedish buffet every year, and people will wait in line for it,'' he said. ``It's a lot of work to put on.''

Just like the station, the restaurant has plans for improvement. Mr. Herr said new booths and other items will be sought in the future.

Another item Mr. Herr is working to improve is access to the plaza. As drivers exit I-74, they have to drive about an eighth of a mile west to a road leading to the plaza, then double back to the plaza entrance.

Mr. Herr has proposed a road that cuts between Ill. 17 and the frontage road, allowing visitors better access to the plaza. However, in order for the $300,000 project to succeed, modifications must be made to Ill. 17.

Mr. Herr said he needs partial funding from the state, but the state said no. He said the road will be done sometime in the future.

Despite access problems, many locals and visitors are willing to drive the extra quarter-mile to the plaza to get directions or eat a home-cooked meal.

``People feel comfortable because they know everyone here,'' Woodhull Truck Plaza bookkeeper Barb Carlson said. ``It feels like home.''

-- By Kristophere' Owens (February 2, 1998)

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