According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 16,600 drowsy-driving related crashes can occur every year, with 846 possibly resulting in death.
For more than 50 years, the District 28 International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) and Rebekahs have been trying to combat this problem. Their solution? A rest stop during the major summer holidays: Memorial Day, Labor Day, and, when it falls near a weekend, the Fourth of July.
Located along U.S. Highway 50 at the Escalante turnoff, the little green-striped trailer, American flag and brightly colored banner stand out among the desert landscape. Drivers see signs before the turnoff advising that they should "Stay Awake, Take a Break" with some free drinks and snacks ahead.
"We want to encourage drivers and motorcyclists who will travel these long distances over a short weekend to stop, get a drink, get a snack, and stretch their legs," shared Glen Conger, Odd Fellow and grand master for the state. "If one sleepy person avoids an accident because of our trailer then we've done our job."
Every year the group sees travelers from all over, including some visitors from Alaska and from other countries. "I really enjoy talking with people about where they're from," said Jennifer Avery, Palisade resident and Rebekah member.
She grew up helping with rest stops in other parts of Colorado with her parents' lodge. This is her fourth year volunteering for District 28.
This district includes both Odd Fellow and Rebekah lodges from the Western Slope communities of Olathe, Delta, Clifton/Palisade, Montrose and Ouray.
A few local businesses donate snacks and items such as plastic cups. Other refreshments are provided by volunteers from these lodges who, instead of spending the holiday with their families, want to provide a refuge for weary travelers.
Two to six volunteers work in shifts, covering 12 hours total for each lodge. Conger often works the night shifts by himself.
A family travelling from Montrose to Rifle were happy to see the trailer in service over Memorial Day. The mom helped her children pick out cookies from the table while Avery handed the dad a coffee through the trailer window.
Their stay took maybe five minutes, but it's that small break the organizations are hoping makes a difference.
Before departing, visitors are encouraged to sign the guest book. As many as 1,000 people visit the stop during a holiday weekend, shared Conger.
"We even have locals who expect the trailer and will just come up to say 'Hi' and leave a donation," said Marcie Simms, Palisade resident and Rebekah member. "Most people who stop will donate, though it's not required."
Any proceeds go toward maintaining the rest stop tradition and other service projects within the district. Simms joined Rebekahs last winter because she wanted to do something service oriented.
"I value how this organization takes care of its members and gives back to the community," she said.
What is Odd Fellowship?
The Odd Fellowship is an international, non-denominational and family-oriented fraternal organization including Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, with both men and women able to join either.
The organization has four main pillars of service, summarized Conger. They aim to visit the sick, provide relief for the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphaned/youth.
Delta's local Odd Fellow Lodge #116 located on Colorado Highway 92, for example, gives out five $1,000 scholarships every year to graduating seniors within Delta County. This money comes from their open bingo night, a weekly occurrence every Saturday from 6:30-9:30 p.m.
The group also helps with other service projects such as giving financial assistance on one-time special occasions to struggling individuals.
In addition, Odd Fellows have the honor of laying wreaths on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Early in May Conger travelled with his wife and another Rebekah member to Washington, D.C. to mark the 85th year of this tradition.
While laying the wreath by the actual tomb is the duty of the worldwide sovereign grand master of Odd Fellows, Conger joined grand masters from 45 states and five U.S. territories in setting up their wreaths on the plaza below.
Conger described the experience as "unforgettable and honorable."
To many Conger is best known as the barber behind the chair at Glen's Barber Shop on Main Street. To others he's known as a passionate multi-generational Odd Fellow. His dad was a member for 62 years and Conger carries on the heritage with this year being his 42nd.
"I can remember going out to the rest stop when I was a kid," he said. When he first went out with his dad the stop was just an Army surplus tent with lanterns. After several tents and a box, they've upgraded to a camping trailer.
One time, Conger was volunteering at the trailer when a motorcyclist traveling from Durango to Salt Lake City stopped for some coffee and a cookie.
"Thank goodness you're here," the man said upon arriving. "That sunset was glaring into my eyes and I couldn't see well."
He went to sit down at the picnic table next to the trailer and fell asleep before taking one sip of joe. Conger let the man sleep, checking on him occasionally. He woke up an hour later.
It's these kinds of instances that reinforce why District 28 maintains the tradition when others have stopped.
A Declining Tradition
Conger noted that over 150 Odd Fellow lodges used to participate in hosting rest stops within Colorado alone. But with just 22 Colorado lodges left, only one other rest stop exists in Colorado, near the Kansas state line.
Most Odd Fellows and Rebekahs are older and fear membership will continue to dwindle, putting the tradition at risk.
"Many fraternal organizations are suffering today," shared Conger. "People used to see the lodges as something to do when they came into town. Now people think they don't have time for it."
Conger, and other members, agree that the organization's trend toward an older demographic makes it harder to recruit. Lodges often fail if they refuse to change and examine their traditions as younger members come in.
Despite this challenge, District 28 hopes to see the trailer continue for another 50 years. Assistance from other service clubs or individuals may be the key to continuing, but the lodges also want to increase membership.
If you're curious to learn more about Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, Conger advises to "get to know one and talk with them." Stopping by the rest stop is a good option to visit with the volunteers wishing to make Highway 50 a safer place.
And, they always have a pot of hot coffee.
The next time the trailer will be out is Labor Day weekend. This year, the group won't be hosting the stop for the Fourth of July. While they've set up for the holiday when it's landed mid-week, they saw only a few people as compared to normal.
Additionally, anyone is invited to participate in the weekly bingo, or attend the open meeting at 7 p.m. the last Thursday of the month for fun night. The group doesn't hold meetings from July to September, due to summer, however.
Those interested can also call 970-874-4588. "We're always looking for good people," said Conger.
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