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Carl's Corner: A Truck Stop And More

Carl's Corner in the southwestern state of Texas used to be an old-fashioned truck stop. Today it is a city in its own right, a haven for truckers passing by, a frontier for alternative fuels, and much more. For producer Yi Suli, VOA's Ealine Lu has the story.

On highway I-35 in Texas, at least seven trucks drive underneath the overpass at Exit 374 every minute. Carl Cornelius noticed the business opportunity some 20 years ago and established his truck stop, Carl's Corner, for truckers passing by to refuel and take a break.

"Welcome to Carl's Corner. Keep guessing your weight? Try your luck."

Looking somewhat old-fashioned, Carl's Corner has its own appeal to truck drivers. Edward Frenze, from the southeastern state of South Carolina, is one of them. Frentz frequents Carl's Corner at least once a month. "Well, I like it because it is more of a 'mom and pop' place instead of a big chain," he says.

About 500 truckers, on average, stop here every day.

Owner Carl Cornelius of Carl’s Corner adds, "Well, serve the people. Everybody in the world should serve each other like brothers and sisters. Taking care of the people. Whatever they ask for, we try to help them."

Timothy Barret and his wife have known Cornelius for a long time. "Well, he doesn't forget our faces. He is a good old Texan boy."

In order to obtain a liquor license, Carl had to have a city. So he filed an application with the state of Texas and made his corner a city in the 1980s He is the city's mayor, which is home to 130 residents, including his own family.

While an oasis for truckers in the rough landscape of northern Texas was taking shape, a disastrous fire hit -- Carl lost his three sons and his hope for them to carry on with his dreams for the corner.

Then longtime friend country music legend Willie Nelson, came into the picture.

Carl explains. "I was shutting my business down. I was tired. I lost my three boys. So what took place was I was shutting down. He called me and told me the story of Annie and (the) car (that runs on biodiesel fuel) and everything. I decided to go ahead with Willie."

Willie not only helped to raise money to rebuild Carl's Corner with a benefit concert, he also brought Willie's biodiesel fuel to the corner and established a pioneering community for alternative fuel in the country. Barrett has been a user of biodiesel for three years and says, "It burns cleaner, (with) less pollution. The engine runs quieter."

Willie eventually decided to set up a biodiesel company to meet the increasing demand. Bob King is the designer of the facility. "Here we will be able to sell 40 thousand gallons a day out of this plant," he said.. "We also got room to expand. We can double that."

BioWillie, Willie Nelson's own blend of B-20 Biodiesel, is made from vegetable oils . It reduces the emission of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. Diesel engines can use biodiesel without being remodeled.

Carl says the business concept is a winner. "We've got a win-win situation throughout the whole world. In Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island or Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Montana. It doesn't matter. It will go everywhere."

Carl's Corner offers more than fuel. It boasts entertainment like a rodeo show and a 1,000-seat theater/music hall that features Willie Nelson and other country music singers.

The director of the Texas Musicians' Museum, Thomas Kreason, debuted the museum's collections at Carl's Corner during "Willie Nelson's Warmup Weekend." "The unique thing happening out here is with Willie being involved and development out here with Carl's picnics coming out here, it is just a very complimentary thing for us and Texas music and history kind of acquainted with all," Kreason said.

Carl says, "Without a vision, you perish," a motto he lives by when it comes to the future of Carl's Corner. “A whole shopping center. Entertainment area. Maybe a casino. “This is going to be the bio diesel gorilla of the world, probably. "