TV show shines fame on truckers

Kirsten Buchanan

A trip to Midway Truck Stop, 6401 Highway 40 West, had been an average outing for owner Joe Bechtold. Located just outside of Columbia, it held a diner, gas station and antique mall, among other businesses. Last year, however, Bechtold had the opportunity to add a new aspect to his truck stop.
“The Travel Channel called me out of the blue last November. They found our contact info through our website,” Bechtold said. “They called hundreds of truck stops and chose Midway” to be the star of the new reality television show, “Truck Stop Missouri.”
Each episode of the show focuses on different events that occur at the truck stop. These scenes range from a “biker granny” receiving a tramp stamp tattoo to a runaway cow dragging Bechtold across the parking lot.
Even though Truck Stop Missouri is just in its first season, Bechtold has already found enjoyment – and stress – in the making of the show.
“When they are filming at Midway, [the crew] work[s]… [even] every weekend. Some days they concentrate the cameras on visitors and clients in the different businesses at Midway, and some days the camera crews follow me or my co-workers,” Bechtold said. “The time requirements can be an imposition. Some weeks I’m working seven days.”
While some of what the show features is unstaged, actors recreate many of the scenes. A former music teacher at Columbia Public schools,  Ed Hanson played a truck driver on an episode because he a friend of Bechtold.
“They apparently, at one time at Midway Truck Stop, had a guy that stopped to do his laundry. He had limited amount of clothing so he sort of stripped down to his underwear,” Hanson said. ”They wanted me to sort of recreate what had happened to use it for the TV show, and so Joe called me up and asked if I would be willing to talk to the director and see if I could play this role for them.”
Reality television directors often times recreate humorous or entertaining events to make them better suited for shows such as Truck Stop Missouri, Hanson said.
“Reality TV isn’t something that’s filmed there while it’s happening. It’s created for the cameras. They got everything all set up, told me what the story was and what was going to happen, and we improvised the dialogue,” Hanson said. “Once you watch the episode, everything that I say is all just improvised dialogue based on the storyline they wanted us to recreate. It’s not like it’s all fantasy though because it’s recreated, so people can see what it’s like to be at a truck stop like that.”
While Bechtold enjoys all of the segments he films, he has some that stand out in his mind – a mix of recreated and live scenes hold the title for his favorite moments.
“Any scene with Carl the salesman makes me laugh. He’s the craziest salesman in the world,” Bechtold said, referring to a traveling salesman that has been featured on the show multiple times attempting to sell Bechtold an automatic bathroom cleaner and soap dispensers. “I also really like the Willie Nelson episode because it’s a great documentary of that event.”
Not everyone, however, is a fan of “Truck Stop Missouri.” Senior Iain Gould does not believe the segments on the show positively reflect what life is like in the community. At the beginning of each episode, a title at the bottom of the screen declares Midway Truck Stop to be in Columbia, Mo., but he believes the lifestyle portrayed on the show is not at all like life is really like.
“I watched the trailer when it first came out, and I was just like, ‘Wow, this is biased against Missouri,’” Gould said. “They made it look like everything in Missouri was all about agriculture. I’m not saying Missouri isn’t agricultural, but it’s so close to Columbia, and it’s not like that at all. It made it seem like nothing was developed and that we’re backwards and less advanced.”
It also disappointed Gould because people he saw on his television were nothing like the people he sees around the Columbia. He said even though the purpose of Truck Stop Missouri is entertainment, it is still “reality” TV and should have truth to it.
“The people they had on it didn’t seem very intelligent and the things they were doing were stupid,” Gould said. “It seemed to portray us as dumb, country bumpkins. Entertainment or not, it’s insulting.’”
Fans, however, have poured into to the truck stop since the show came out. While before locals and travelers would stop just to fill up with gas or look around the antique mall, now there are people who enjoy watching the show that come to visit.
The fans “road trip from all across the country to visit Midway. Many stay in the motel and visit all of the businesses on the property,” Bechtold said. “They expect a Midway experience based upon what they see on Truck Stop Missouri.”
Bechtold said each moment at Midway is unique, and he enjoys having his truck stop as the focus of a reality television show. Contrary to Gould’s opinion, he also believes Truck Stop Missouri reflects Columbia in a positive way.
“Many of the fans who road trip to visit us comment, ‘It looks like you guys have a lot of fun,’” Bechtold said. “People identify with the main Midway employees on the show, and I think we do a good job of representing Columbia.”
By Kirsten Buchanan