In this self-proclaimed "Town of Motels," a crossroads for highways west to Ohio, east to Philadelphia and south to Baltimore and Washington, the pervasive roar of diesel engines has been replaced by an almost eerie silence.
Since the start of the independent truckers' nationwide shutdown at midnight last Sunday, the typically bustling truck traffic in and out of Breezewood has slowed to a crawl. Now drivers arrive sporadically in groups of two or three, and rarely at night.
"It's dead," mused Sam Gump, who has supervised the Breezewood 76 Truck Stop for 15 years. "There's nothing moving at all. We don't have one single damn truck in our lot right now. How much are we losing? I hate to even think of it."
Trucking is to Breezewood what presidential primaries are to New Hampshire, and a heady aroma of fear has permeated the exhaust-filled air in this town of fast-food joints and inexpensive motels. At the Ramada Inn, the desk clerk warns departing drivers, "Be careful."
One night last week, she said, the hotel's truck lot was empty. "It's scary when it's this quiet," she said.
While the nation waits until Monday morning before further official assessments of the scope and effect of the shutdown, the impact can be seen here. This community provides the backbone of support for the Independent Truckers Association, which called the strike to protest increased federal taxes and truck fees.
This area also has seen some of the nastiest incidents involving strikers and those who choose to drive. Included is one at the Plum Borough overpass on the Pennsylvania Turnpike last Monday when a rock was dropped, missed a truck and struck a 14-year-old girl in a car. She was hospitalized in serious condition with head injuries.
Since the strike began, Breezewood and the township of Bedford 16 miles west have reported scuffles between drivers and strikers, nails thrown on highways and several incidents of vandalism.
Last Wednesday night, an electrical transformer was shot out in Breezewood, Gump said, plunging the city of neon lights into a temporary blackout. That night in Bedford, six persons were arrested for fighting and slashing tires, said state trooper Raymond J. Hillenbrand at the Bedford station.
Between 4 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. today, Pennsylvania state police reported 14 new incidents, mostly in this area, according to public information officer Tom Lynn in Harrisburg. They included seven reports of rock throwing, two sniping incidents with no injuries, four threats against drivers and one act of vandalism on a rig.
As they arrive at the Breezewood 76 Truck Stop, drivers swap the latest rumors and stories about the violence accompanying the strike.
"Damned right I'm scared," said Charles Dunn of Richmond, who stopped overnight on the way to New Jersey. "A man would be a damned fool not to be scared."
Dunn, like other drivers interviewed, said he chose not to strike because he works for companies and the alternative is unemployment. "If it was my own truck, I'd be parked, too," Dunn said. "But this is a company truck and, when the company says drive, I drive."
"I guess they're going to blow my head off, but I can't worry about it," said Ray Tyndall of Youngstown, Ohio, who was trucking dairy products.
"My brother owns it the rig . He said go out or look for another job, and I got to make a living. I didn't have no choice. I've been driving for 20 years but, as soon as I get this load off, I'm going to quit."
Driver Bill Merchant was fueling up in Bedford before continuing his trip that began in Arkansas with a truckload of bread and bakery goods.
"I'm scared," he said. "I'm not crazy, so I'm scared. Anybody out here would be. It ain't just rumors. I had a gun pulled on me in Tennessee. Two guys in a van . . . . I got protection, though. I might get shot, but I ain't going to get beat up."