An iconic Meridian landmark will remain in place for future generations to enjoy.
According to Wallace Miles, whose family owned the Red Hot Truck Stop, the big "Red Hot" sign that attracted customers near and far to the popular eatery from the mid-1950s to 1999 is here to stay. Current construction of a car lot next to the landmark on South Frontage Road (next to A&W and Long Johns Silvers restaurants) has prompted concern about its demise among many local residents.
"To my knowledge, it's going to be a permanent landmark," Miles said. "When my dad (the late Jimmy Miles) tried to move the sign when we moved to Howard Johnson's Motel, he was told it was going to cost him $250,000 ... I knew then it was considered a national landmark."
According to the web page redhotruckstop.tripod.com, the Red Hot Truck Stop opened in 1955.
"In those days, you simply turned right off the interstate into the eatery's parking lot. The 'interstate' in those days was a new four-laned section of U.S. Highways 11, 80, & 45 called Tom Bailey Drive that ran on the then edge of town," states the web page. "The Red Hot's extremely large and bright signs welcomed the weary traveler and provided a clean, comfortable place where they could get a good meal at a fair price, and make a few friends if they stayed around long enough.:
In the 1970s, the interstate highway system was changed. Interstates were separate from the old U.S. highways, and part of the old interstate became South Frontage Road. Motorists could no longer simply drive right in; they had to take an exit on to the Frontage Road and then go to Red Hot. A large bridge was built for the new interstate, which went over a railroad track and allowed access from one frontage road to the other. The bridge was built across from Red Hot and its parking lot.
"This made it difficult for large trucks to easily access the truck stop. However, the dedicated truckers, travelers, and local customers that patronized the truck stop made the effort to get there anyway," the web page states.
In the early 1990s, the business – but not the land – was purchased by Jimmy Miles. Miles said he bought it because he ate there so much, he decided he might as well own it. Under his ownership, the Red Hot received many needed improvements, including new air conditioning and a new stove. They did, however, become simply a restaurant. They stopped selling fuel and repairing trucks in the late '80s or early '90s. Eventually the "Truck Stop'"sign was turned off.
The land on which the truck stop was located was of national interest – not for the restaurant's food, but for fossils beneath located deep in its earth.
In the late '80s, there was a large dig at the site that attracted National Geographic Magazine to the area. in 2008, Southern Methodist University graduate student Daniel Danehy published a paper on the Red Hot locality in the online journal Palaeontologia Electronica. According to Danehy, what makes fossils unearthed at the Red Hot significant is the ability to accurately date them. Daanehy said the fossils are from the early Eocene period – about 54 million years ago.
In 2000, the Red Hot Truck Stop was torn down to make a driveway for a Wal-Mart Supercenter and other stores. The business relocated to Howard Johnson's Motel, located on a section of the original interstate that is now U.S. 11 & 80. The "Good Food" and "Truck Stop" signs were destroyed, however the "Red Hot" sign remained.
• Background information on the Red Hot Truck Stop fossil dig was taken from a 2008 article by former Star Staffer Jennifer Brown.