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“We found a few rare pennies — a 1909 VDB,” Scott says, referring to a coin with Lincoln’s likeness, designed by Victor David Brenner. “But getting those pennies to a bank was quite a project. Nobody wanted to count them.”
On this day, Schulte is the man in black — a black and white tie, black suit and black work shirt, with his service-station name tag covered by his sports jacket.
“It’s a convertible uniform for days I have to be at the government center and then back here,” he explains. “My Superman outfit.”
He says he couldn’t be happier as a county commissioner and loves public service. He attends every county committee meeting, even for those on which he doesn’t serve, “to at least have the same understanding as my fellow commissioners.”
Sardines and hot sauce
But it is at these casual meetings of old friends at the service center that Schulte appears to be in his element — even if the conversation is merely about crossword puzzles.
“My wife has succumbed to it,” he says of his early-morning lifestyle.
Where else could he find old buddies who understand the virtues of sardines with Louisiana hot sauce?
Roger Hendricks, 64, retired on Dec. 31 after working at the station for 45 years. But days later, he has made the 30-mile pre-dawn drive there, to hold court and trade barbs.
“If Melvin isn’t here, it’s up to me to keep everyone in line,” says Hendricks, who often arrives to the coffee klatch at 4:30 a.m. “Often, I’ve thought I should wear a black-and-white striped shirt and a whistle.”
Before earning his living as a carpenter, Roger Haugen, 66, worked at the station in the mid-’60s — seven different times.
“I don’t know if I was fired four of the seven or if I quit,” Haugen says. “But I get up in the morning and get here when I can. It’s the camaraderie. And I like to watch and listen to Mel and Jeff fight like an old married couple.”
Melvin opens a box of fresh doughnuts, offering treats to the regulars and to customers who mingle long enough to catch the conversation and a good laugh. The customers offer high praise for the service center and seem amused by the coffee-klatch group.
LePage gestures toward a newcomer.
“You have to try some of this spicy Spam and crackers,” he says.
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419