By Tim Leeds
Members of a coffee-drinking crew tend to wander in and out of the Kmart cafe between 8:30 and 10 a.m., Monday through Saturday. A variety of topics is discussed.
"Everybody wants to talk at once 'cause between us we've got hundreds of years of experience, so everybody wants to tell their story," Walter Hill said at Thursday's gathering. "The trouble is, we can never remember the names."
During the morning, various members of the group stop by, talk and drink some coffee, then head off again. Sometimes they come back for more coffee and companionship before the morning is over.
Others stay the whole morning. John Malley said there are more than 20 people who might stop by.
"You've got a pretty colorful collection that comes here," Malley said.
Malley, 54, is the youngest of the group and works for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. The oldest is Mike Farley, a former justice of the peace in Havre, at 92.
"Everybody's retired but John," said Larry Turgeon, who then adds to the list Lyle James, who still farms outside of Joplin. "But these farmers never retire."
"He farms in a tuxedo the gentleman farmer," Red Vylasek said.
The group includes several retired railroaders, like Hubert Goggins, who said he was a passenger train engineer for 19 years and brought the first westbound Amtrak through Havre.
Others are retired ranchers like Webster Thackeray and a surveyor, Mike "Smitty" Smith. Tom Woo used to own a restaurant in Havre, and worked for the telephone company.
"We always say he worked on the Great Wall of China, too," Hill said.
Malley chimed in, "If you look at the bottom stone, where they started, it's got his name on it."
Vylasek complimented Woo's demeanor, with an explanation.
"He's the only gentleman here," he joked. "But he's a foreigner."
Malley's wife, Linda, is one of the service desk supervisors at Kmart, and sees the coffee drinkers most mornings. She works about 20 feet away from cafe and listens in.
"Linda stands over there and rolls her eyes," Hill explained.
"They are the funniest guys," she said.
But sometimes she quiets them down when discussions get too wild.
"You have to," she said.
The subjects discussed vary widely, from tire sizes to politics to seat belts to fishing.
"We discuss the unusual in the news first," Goggins said.
"We take apart politics. We never put them back together, but we take them apart," he said.
Hill said a couple of Republicans come to the gatherings, and the rest swear at them.
"We're not sure what Red is," he added.
Occasionally the topic turns to sports, like the NBA playoffs, but Smith and Bill Silvernale are the only ones who really watch any, Malley said.
"I tell 'em it doesn't take much to entertain 'em if they watch basketball," Hill said.
After drinking some coffee, many of the coffee drinkers start walking through the store.
"We always take a walk," Turgeon said.
Hill explained why.
"That's our exercise," he said.
They stop as they go to chat with customers and with the store's employees. The walkers don't know all the employees by name, Hill said, but they know most of them by sight.
There's only one day the members of the group don't meet.
"Sunday is our day off," Turgeon said. "We've got to plan what we're going to say Monday."
Turgeon said the instigator of the Kmart meetings was the late John Thackeray, who died March 25.
"He used to pick me up to come here," Turgeon said.
Linda Malley said the group members are very close. If someone doesn't show up when they are expected, the group tries to find out what's wrong.
"If someone's sick and the seat's empty, they talk about sending cards," she said.