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Toll collector logs 30 years with turnpike authority

Staff writer

About 30 years ago, Joe Thomas, 50, of Burns was going through some big life changes when he found a job as a toll collector for the Kansas Turnpike Authority.

“I started in Cassoday when I was 19,” Thomas said. “I had just got married, and we had a baby on the way. I needed a good job.”

He stuck with it , and recently was recognized by KTA for 30 years of service.

He worked at the Cassoday exit for about five years before transferring to the North El Dorado exit, all the while making sure traffic flowed, as he collected countless tolls, gave out innumerable directions, and assisted myriad motorists whose vehicles had broken down or got flat tires.

Now he drives a truck and does other various jobs for the KTA toll department but for about 10 years, he primarily worked the night shift, finding various ways to occupy himself in his downtime.

“I would exercise between cars when it was slow,” he said. “Maybe I could get a set of push-ups or sit-ups done. You wouldn’t think it, but there is room to do that in those booths. When it was really slow sometimes I could even exercise outside.”

He also exercised his mind.

“I read too,” he said. “I read a lot about the [John F.] Kennedy assassination. There was a big article in the Wichita paper about it I read, and my interest sort of snowballed after that.”

He believes Lee Harvey Oswald probably never fired a shot.

“They had pictures of him in the front door of the book depository at the time of the shooting,” Thomas said. “They also found his rifle also had about five shims under it and wasn’t good at hitting a target.”

He also has a theory on who is responsible for the assassination.

“Who actually pulled the trigger is probably irrelevant compared to who gave the orders,” Thomas said. “The orders probably originated in the CIA.”

“But anyway, you had to keep your mind occupied or you’d be taking a nap.”

Thomas worked in the toll booth long enough to see self-pay and K-Tag options drastically reduce jobs.

“It sure moved in a different direction in a hurry,” he said. “I’d say it’s almost to the point where we’re dinosaurs. It probably hurt jobs, but the automated makes much more sense from a business standpoint, not having to buy insurance for employees.”

He said the job also worked well with his schedule and other endeavors, like “True Lies,” his western-themed bar and grill in El Dorado that bears no resemblance to the 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie by the same name.

Thomas said he has worked with many good people at KTA and for the most part, he can’t complain.

“Hell, everybody wishes they could be doing something different sometimes, but this job enabled me to buy a farm and raise three kids with my wife, Tomasina,” Thomas said. “It paid the bills.”

Last modified Nov. 24, 2016

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