Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Minnesota couple 1 millionth customer


January 22, 2020

Ron Warnick

Arlo and Pat Sell of Minnesota react during a celebratory balloon drop Friday at Russell's Travel Center for being the 1 millionth customer at the Endee business.

ENDEE - A couple from Minnesota has a tale to tell their granddaughter when they visit her in Arizona - they were named the 1 millionth customer at Russell's Travel Center since its opening a decade ago.

Arlo and Pat Sell of Windom, Minnesota, were feted at the truck stop's classic-car museum Friday afternoon with a balloon drop, a free Russell's T-shirt and ballcap, a certificate to mark the occasion and a free steak-and-shrimp dinner from its diner.

The Sells, who said they had ventured into New Mexico for the first time Friday, said they were en route to visit a granddaughter in Gilbert, Arizona.

"This is a really nice stop where you can get out and stand for some time after being in the car for so long," Pat Sell said.

"It's a surprise," Arlo said of them being named Russell's 1 millionth customer. "It's appreciated. It's quite a welcome to this place."

"It's not often you get balloons," she added, laughing.

Mark Russell, the director of operations, said the company didn't have a strictly accurate count of when the 1 millionth customer occurred; it was estimated. Russell's used a clicker count of customers at the Interstate 40 business in eastern Quay County on a typical month last spring, multiplied the total by the months and years the truck stop had been open and came up with an approximate time when that count would occur. Russell said the company conservatively chose a spring month as a baseline because it's not the busiest time but not the slowest, either.

Russell said the 1 millionth customer ordinarily would have been projected in November, except weeks-long construction of a new overpass over I-40 depressed visitor numbers by almost 40% during that time.

"It's a milestone," Russell said of Friday's event. "And it happened way sooner than we thought."

Russell said bigger-than-anticipated crowds occurred at Russell's Travel Center when it opened July 14, 2010, because it's unique - namely because of its free classic-car museum.

The founders, Emery and Barbara Russell, also own a Russell's Travel Center along Interstate 25 near Springer.

"My dad always wanted to have a museum on I-40, and we thought, 'Well, why not have a travel center there, too?'" Mark Russell said. "My dad, he wanted people to see his cars."

Barbara Russell had wanted to charge admission to the museum. Instead, they stationed an old Salvation Army kettle near its entrance so people could give donations. That money goes to the House of Hope in Tucumcari and Faith City Mission in Amarillo to help feed poor people.

To date, those donations have generated more than $330,000, thus providing more than 226,000 meals since Russell's Travel Center opened.

"If you told me we'd have $10,000 a year, I'd have been ecstatic," Mark Russell said.

He also didn't anticipate the effect of building Russell's Travel Center over the ruins of the long-closed Longhorn II restaurant along an alignment of Route 66.

"That was a bonus," Russell said. "Route 66 has been such a blessing for us because you get so many Europeans traveling it."

To date, Russell's Travel Center has seen visitors from 110 counties and all 50 states. Most foreigners come from Canada, with the United Kingdom and Australia next.

Russell said he also appreciated the support of locals during the recent I-40 overpass work, even if it required a lengthy detour for those from the east.

"It was a hassle for them, but they made a point to come in and eat at the restaurant, even though it was going to add another 16 miles to their trip," he said. "These were folks who instead of eating here the usual two times a week, they came in daily because they knew it would help us out.


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