We tend to take modern communication for granted these days. No matter where we are in the world today, friends, family, and colleagues are just a finger swipe away whenever we need them; not that long ago, however, our world was a little different.  If you had to contact friends, families or coworkers while traveling for business or pleasure, you had to find the nearest phone booth and call them by telephone. Depending on how far away from home you were, this could be a costly and time consuming affair.

That all started to changed back in 1973, ten years before the launch of the first mobile phone and 18 years before the internet became public, when Stuckey’s introduced the innovative Highway Emergency Locating Paging Service (HELPS).

HELPS was a sort of precursor to instant messaging. It was a fast, free, and completely private way for those traveling out on the lonesome road to get in touch with the folks back home.  You didn’t even have to purchase anything – not even one of those Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls or a souvenir t-shirt (though both were so cool, you probably couldn’t resist and ended up buying them anyway).

GETTING “HELPS”

In the summer of 1973, Stuckey’s installed computer consoles in each of its 350 locations throughout America. Every one of these consoles had a 10 digit numeric keyboard (0-9) and a small readout screen. At the same time, Stuckey’s Corporation headquarters in Eastman, Georgia, expected to take in around 800 phone calls a day, so they hired operators who would answer the phones from early morning to late at night. An answering machine picked up in the wee hours of the morning.

So, how did it work? Well, let’s say you were a businessman traveling up to Stuckey’s Carriage Inn in Altamont, Illinois, for the 5th Annual American Pecan Salesmen’s Convention – about a day’s drive from your home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in those days – and you left behind your three children and your beautiful wife who’s about to give you your fourth child any day now.

Before you left, however, you gave your wife, your neighbor or your trusted colleague the number to the Stuckey’s HELPS line in Eastman, Georgia (478-123-4567). (Incidentally, Stuckey’s was asked why they didn’t give out a toll-free number. Stuckey’s actually thought about that, but then they also thought about all of the misdialed numbers and prank phone calls they would likely receive, so they declined). Anyway, along with the HELPS number, you, your wife, your neighbor or your trusted colleague also agreed upon a 10-digit number (area code and phone number) you both would use to contact each other; for example, you could have used your Hattiesburg home phone number:  601-555-1212.

A little while later and you’re on your way to Altamont. After four hours on the road, you start thinking about that time John, Jr., (the oldest one) fell out of the pecan tree in the backyard and broke his arm. And then there was the time Sally, the youngest, drank water from the neighbor’s garden hose and came down with a case of giardia. Oh, and let’s not forget when Freddie (the middle one) thought he was Evel Knievel and ended up with eight stitches in his head after he tried to jump over six of the neighborhood kids on his bike. Miraculously, none of the other kids were hurt.

“Ah, but they’re good kids,” you think as you start to tear up a little thinking about them.

Up ahead, you see a Stuckey’s sign saying there’s one just ten more miles up the road, and you decide to pull in and make sure everything back home is alright. Besides, you have to use the restroom anyway, and Stuckey’s is famous for their sparkling clean restrooms.

You get out of your car, stretch a little, then walk into Stuckey’s and up to the HELPS console.

The HELPS console was available in every Stuckey’s location.

You push the “Clear” button which erased any messages the other sentimental road traveler before you might have left on the screen, then follow the on-screen prompts.

“Enter area code and phone number”

You enter “601-555-1212” which is also shown on the screen as you enter the numbers.

“Press Enter”

You press enter and the screen displayed “Message entered. Please stand by.” Within 30 seconds your phone number (the 10 digit phone number you entered) appears followed by either “No Messages” or it flash a phone number for you to call back home.

If you have more than one message, they’re presented in a list format. After you check the message the first time, an asterisk (*) appears next to the message. The system relays the same message twice. It also stores any unchecked messages for 120 hours (5 days). Once you check the message twice or if you don’t check it within the 120-hour time frame, the message will be deleted.

Your screen reads “No Messages”. You breathe a sigh of relief and go to the bathroom in the back of the store. On your way out, you remember you brought your Stuckey’s Coffee Club mug with you, so you go  out to your car and bring it back in. You pick up a pecan roll and fill your traveling coffee mug. You also filled up your gas tank, because, hey, you’re already there and the price is cheap enough.

Back on the road, as you sip your coffee and eat your pecan log roll, you start to smile because you realize Stuckey’s once again found a way to provide you highway happiness.

 

HELPS MADE EVERY TRIP A PLEASURE TRIP

So how well did HELPS work? Well, with the consoles being installed in only 50 stores by June 1 (all 350 Stuckey’s were expected to have HELPS installed by September 1973), the first 10 consoles installed reported getting an incredible 60 calls a day! And that was with only the support of a public relations program and word of mouth.

The only thing you had to pay for was the call to Stuckey’s headquarters, so Ma Bell probably wasn’t too excited about the program, as telephone companies lost a lot of money to the HELPS project. But highway traveler’s seemed to really like this new and innovative idea that helped them make every trip a pleasure trip.

With dozens of stores lining the highways of America (and dozens more to come),  Stuckey’s is still here, ready to help you relax, refresh, and refuel.  Stop by one of your nearest Stuckey’s locations or visit our website at www.stuckeys.com today!

Looks like there’s a Stuckey’s straight ahead.