The Restaurant and Fuel Stop called Pollard Flat USA
By Billy Pilgrim
Gertie, Good Grub & Good Friends
Story and Photos by Billy Pilgrim
I WAS HEADED north on Interstate 5 on a road trip with my buddy Bill, and he said there was a restaurant somewhere between Redding and Yreka with a female mannequin residing in a bathtub in a restroom. If you touched the mannequin, a recording would play inside of a woman screaming, everyone would hear it, and embarrassment would follow for the party involved. It had been years since my friend had been there, so long that he couldn’t remember the name or location. After a round of guesses of roadside attractions in this part of California, we thought it just might be the restaurant and fuel stop called Pollard Flat USA.
I must have driven past Pollard Flat a couple of hundred times. I had read many publication and travel guides that raved about the incredible food. In fact, some said it was a must place to stop to eat. But I was never hungry enough or curious enough to pull off the interstate to investigate. But now there was a reason. It was the legend of the mannequin in the bathtub, and I just had to see.
I can’t imagine this diner has changed much since the 1940s, when it was the major stop on Highway 99 between Redding and Dunsmuir. I was hit by a warm wave of Americana and a nostalgia for a simpler and a more innocent time. The store and restaurant are a roadside museum, and a reflection of this part of the world several decades ago. Yellowed newspapers from World War II adorn the walls, as well as old license plates from all over the United States, memorabilia, snake skins and more. It takes a while to absorb it all. There is a certain sense of wonder. And a feeling of hunger! Hunger is not a problem here, with great plates piled with enormous portions of homemade rib-sticking American specialties – fresh eggs with thick slices of country bacon, incredible burgers, garlic chicken salad, butterscotch apple pie and Betty’s chili. There’s parking for 18 wheelers, and I saw plenty of truckers eating there – you know it’s got to be great. And it is! Just read all the five-star reviews on Yelp, with some saying it’s the best food on any interstate in the nation. Here’s a review from Hadi S.: “Had a chicken fried steak for breakfast, portion is big with a fair price. The best in California.” And from DeAnn V.: “One of the most interesting places to stop on I-5 and maybe the whole country. The staff is amazing and the food is definitely homemade.”
How did I miss out on this experience for so many years? Where was my curiosity? I guess some things just happen when they are meant to happen. If my friend hadn’t brought up a vague story in casual conversation of a mannequin in a bathtub, I would still be bypassing exit 712 on northbound I-5. And I wouldn’t have met Bill and Donna that day, and Gertie in the tub. That’s Pollard Flat USA.
Try Grandma Florence’s pea soup. You’ll love it. •