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Ladies drop their tops for charity

Sunday, July 23, 2000

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

GAS CENTER, Pa. -- The mechanics of the every-Saturday charity car wash here aren't tough to grasp, not as explained by overseer Jesse Lantzy.

"Women take off their clothes," Lantzy said, "and they wash cars."

But of course. So simple. You almost wonder why the fund-raisers down at the Little League or the church Ladies Aid Society didn't think of it first.

For now, though, it's the domain of Truck Stop 22, a Route 22 strip joint on a dusty hilltop piece of nowhere 14 miles east of Blairsville.

Down at your neighborhood car wash, the attendant dresses like a Maine lobsterman, charges $6 for the economy wash, washes under the fenders and slaps on an extra buck for the Canuba wax.

At Truck Stop 22 -- weather willing, on summer Saturdays from 3 to 6 p.m. -- three or four, uh, vehicle appearance maintenance technicians toss T-shirts and modesty to the breeze in the revered name of charity. This year's cause: a disabled Johnstown-area contractor trying to raise money for a $6,000 insulin pump.

"We figure we can raise a couple thousand before summer's out," Truck Stop owner Ron Laughard said.

At these prices, maybe.

At the Truck Stop car wash -- a spit of gravel, its view blocked by tarps -- 15 bucks buys the once-over for a car. Twenty dollars does a truck.

For that, you'd think they'd at least vacuum under the seats or maybe toss in an air freshener.

But naaaah. "That's not really why guys come here," Laughard said.

In comes a Chevrolet Celebrity, a car motoring through its dotage laden with body putty, primer, a cracked windshield and a buckled trunk lid. The only car wash that could help might be a full-service drive-through in Lourdes.

But the three topless car washers converge. The car is hosed down. Sponges fly. And four ballcapped heads inside the car swivel like soda fountain stools until the windows are fogged.

"Yeah!" one hoots.

Another appreciative customer.

A big day is 40 vehicles, average is about 20, said Sarah Laughard, Ron Laughard's 21-year-old daughter and car wash coordinator.

"We had some guy come back four times in a day," she said.

Which neatly segues into the question most drivers appear far too embarrassed to ask: Is this tax deductible? "It's for charity," Ron Laughard said. "You can ask for a receipt."

Last year, the car wash delivered about $2,000 to help pay for Johnstown resident George Tvaronzo's kidney-pancreas transplant. This year, it's for the portable insulin pump to control suburban Johnstown resident Joe Rocco's diabetes.

"Topless car wash? As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with that," said Rocco, 62. "I appreciate it."

Laughard could have been running bingo or bake sales to raise charity money. But he came up with this car-wash brainstorm because he was, well, equipped.

Truck Stop 22 isn't a truck stop. You can't amble in, order a slab of gravy-smothered meatloaf and punch up a little Loretta Lynn on the jukebox. It's a strip club, Laughard's third in 10 years, sandwiched on a rocky hilltop with Laughard's junkyard.

He recruited his dancers to be car washers, offered to let takers split $5 and tips for every wash -- and started doing charity work.

A car wash takes about seven minutes. Car wash rule one: keep your paws off the vehicle appearance maintenance technicians.

"When I first heard 'car wash,' I thought that was pretty bizarre. But it was OK when I heard it was for charity," said one dancer/washer, who identified herself only as Kasey.

"You get a tan and make money," co-worker Holly said.

But the concept needed a little tweaking.

"For instance, last year, it was Sundays, noon to six," Ron Laughard said. "But we moved it to Saturdays because everybody wanted to go to church on Sundays."

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