Railroad rat pack relishes relentless ribbingCoffee Club


April 26, 2002

Railroad rat pack relishes relentless ribbing

Coffee Club

It's Monday morning, and scattered on the table are containers of cream, empty sugar packets and crumpled up napkins.

Ashtrays filled with cigarette butts and mugs brimming with hot java sit before nine men talking sports and cars and Medicare, and trading insults like two teenage girls in love with the same boy.

But these aren't nasty or rude or even sincere remarks. These guys are merely cracking jokes, taking verbal jousting to an Olympic level.

Some have known each other for 40 years. All but two are Havre natives. Eight are retired from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad diesel shop. One will wrap up his career later this year.

Some mornings, 15 retired railroad workers 500 years of experience show up for the weekly coffee club.

Among them are former machinists, pipefitters, electricians and a guy they all refer to as "Willie the Whip."

"We were all friends but we weren't friends with him," Earl Nelson joked about the Whip, his former supervisor. "He's older than God."

Bill Otto is actually only 80 years old, but is the senior member of the coffee club.

"I'm only the oldest in age," he said.

During his younger years, Otto was an avid hunter and fisherman who once owned 35 horses. He retired in 1979 and since has done his best to do "as little as possible."

The coffee club, he said, is a time to reminisce.

"This is just something different to do and a chance to visit old friends," Otto said.

Chuck Borsanti, who retired in 1985 after 39 years as a railroad machinist, agreed.

"This is fun. Anything you ever wanted to talk about, we talk about it. Times passes when you're having fun," he said, taking a sip of his coffee.

"They really get into the topics, especially this one here," 4B's waitress Diane Mooney said of Borsanti. "He really pushes buttons."

Borsanti, 76, has been a member of the club since its inception five years ago. He took another sip and and looked over at two of his buddies.

"Kenny came here in 1921," he said with a smile. "And we try to keep Pete out of here. It doesn't work."

Kenny Collins started with the railroad as a machinist in 1943 making 56 cents an hour. Pete St. John moved to Montana from New York in 1965 while in the U.S. Air Force. He's spent the last 36 years with the railroad and will retire to Billings in October.

"The only reason I come here is they wanna know what's going on in the shop," St. John, 59, said. "You put that many years in the same building working together, you don't forget."

Down at the other end of the table is 65-year-old Charlie Genger, the self-proclaimed "king of the pipefitters." Genger retired in 1996 after 40 years with the railroad. Havre is his home, but only for the warm months. Genger lives in Yuma, Ariz., during the winter.

"I really don't reminisce much about the job. Pete comes in and he tells us what's going on down there," he said. "I've been with these guys for 40 years. We worked a lot of years together and we had a lot of fun."

Sitting across from Genger is Jim Cole, a Cleveland Indians fanatic, who retired after 40 years as an electrician in the diesel shop. When the Indians are winning, St. John said, Cole wears his favorite team's hat. The Indians must be on a losing streak. Cole is hatless.

"Mostly, they talk about all their aches and pains," he said laughing.

They also, according to Dave Keeler, argue about who worked the hardest at the shop. Along with Cole, Keeler started the club in 1997.

"I started to come for coffee here every morning," Keeler said. "It's nice because we all have something in common."

Keeler, who went blind five years ago after a series of strokes, asked Mooney to refill his cup.

"They're really a nice bunch of guys. They're really sweet," she said. "As long as they get their coffee, they're as happy as pigs in a poke."


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