By Robert Lucke
Talk to Bill Stewart for even a couple of minutes and you will find out that he loves his job. As he talks, his eyes start to twinkle and his whole face lights up like the red Scotch Tartan cap that he wears.
Stewart and his wife, Kelly, are locksmiths. They have been locksmiths for the past 38 years and, according to Kelly, while they might not last another 38 years, they will still be going strong for awhile.
Locksmithing is an odd business. When they are needed, it is usually immediately and there is virtually no planning possible in the profession. When people are locked out of cars, houses, businesses or safes, it is not something that was supposed to happen. Not only that, but when the locksmith is called, he or she is needed now.
"We started out part time," Kelly said. "We had bought the business from a man named Hill who bought it from a man named Brobst. Probably the business was started in the 1930s, maybe even the '20s."
The Stewarts started locksmithing full time in the 1970s.
"Bill always said that he had 25 years as a carpenter and 25 as a locksmith," Kelly said, laughing. "Even though the figures don't exactly fit, that's OK."
While the Stewarts were in the locksmith business, they raised nine children in Havre.
"By the time we got into the business full time, most of the kids were out of the house, and as the years passed, the business got better or our needs got smaller or maybe both happened," Kelly said.
One thing is for sure and that is that the Stewarts never forget their customers or their customers' stories. Apparently people need to get into their houses for a variety of reasons. Just last week they got a call that the fish needed feeding so the person needed to get into the house.
Or the one about the man who called to make a new key for his pickup.
"When I got there I saw that he had tried to mount the ignition on the steering column and there was not even a steering wheel. I just turned around and came home," Bill said.
One time a man called and needed a set of keys for his pickup. A few minutes later, his wife called and said he had better not get a set of keys for the pickup. That was another call the Stewarts never made.
Locksmithing can lead to trouble with the law.
"One time Leo Kraft called me and told me to go down to the Plainsman (bar) and make him a key because the man who was buying the building had gone to Alaska and it looked like someone was trying to break in," Bill said. Kraft was the previous owner of the bar.
"So, I went down there and made a key. The next day the buyer came in with the sheriff and said I was going to get sued. I called Leo Kraft and told him what the sheriff had said to me. Kraft told me not to worry and I never did hear another thing about it."
There are a surprising number of calls that involve no work when the Stewarts arrive.
"Lots of times someone will call and say that they lost their car keys and need me to come," Bill said. "Then they find them so they drive off as fast as they can and when I get there, there is no one around."
Most people are not like that, Kelly said. She likened it to Rudyard where the sign says there are 486 nice people and one old sorehead.
"Yes, and we have worked for that sorehead," Bill added.
Locks are changing quickly, Kelly said. That is the challenge of the future, to keep up with all the electronics.
"It is not changing so quickly here is in larger places," Kelly said. "But it is changing every year here too."
A few years ago Bill had several very serious bouts with illness. These days he is getting on fine, except he has never grown back his flamboyant handlebar mustache that he sported for so many years. Will he ever?
"No way," he said, smiling. "People say I look 10 to 20 years younger with it gone. That's good enough for me."
Both Stewarts express much appreciation for customers who have stuck with them through thick and thin.
"When Bill was so sick, people were just so very patient," Kelly said. "In fact people still ask how he is doing to this day."