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Photo by Trish Gannon Photo by Trish Gannon

It looks like a bunch of old farts at a gas station but it's really the Knights of the Round Table

If you want to know a little something about anything, you should stop in where the folks know a little bit about everything.

When I went to work at Hays’ Chevron in Clark Fork, I didn’t know I was about to meet some of the most colorful characters I would ever know and love. Although the station has been in operation for many years, I would venture to say that when Bob Hays took over in 1965, the Chevron’s true personality began to emerge, becoming a mecca of information for the community of Clark Fork and an interesting side stop for tourists passing through town.

Inside the station, in front of its large picture window, sits a small, round table surrounded by a few unmatched chairs. At any given time you can find some of the best and most imaginative tellers of tall tales imbibing their favorite beverage, Hazy’s coffee. They are like a mutated version of the Knights of the Round Table, with Bob as their King Arthur, Bugsy as Guinevere and several of them vying to be Lancelot.

Bob’s coffee is a well-known, much-loved town staple and believe me, when you forget to make it, you pay a high price. When I was working nights at Hays, I made the coffee in the coffeepot the night before and Bugsy had it rigged up to automatically make in the morning before Bob and the “Piss and Moan” crew arrived. (P and M also being Gordon Lockman’s well-deserved nickname.)

Several times I forgot to make the coffee when I first went to work there. It wasn’t pretty, mostly because I had only lived there a short time and already knew that the guns racks in this crew’s back windshields weren’t just for looks. It’s bad enough to face one grumpy old man in the morning, but when you forget to make coffee for the good old boys, it’s like the combination of a train wreck and a mortal sin.

 I always knew when I’d forgotten to make the coffee, too. I’d walk into the station the following morning with ten raging men ready to pounce on me, possibly even take me to the edge of town and stone me. You could almost see the wheels of their caffeine-deprived brain cells churning out ways to punish me. If not for Bugsy saving my skin, huffing her chest out, (if you know Bugsy, then you know how hard it is for her to accomplish this!) and pulling me under her wing like an angry mama hen, I am pretty sure those guys would have tortured me for several days until they felt I had learned my lesson. I left myself notes, in bright, bold letters stating, “Don’t forget to make the coffee!” I started dreaming about making that coffee. No sugar plums and pixies dancing in my head, instead I get coffee mugs and urns spewing out coffee grinds and soggy filters.

There are pictures covering almost every inch of space on the Chevron station walls. Black and white pictures, colored pictures, aerial views and close-ups. Some of the pictures are of the very characters that sit slurping coffee at that table now or in days passed. Pictures include a pet pig being fed by Bob, a giant king crab and a grouping of slaughtered goats proudly being displayed by some of the town children. Of those town children, I think only one is still living.

Hazy’s has more history on its walls than most museums do. It’s incredible the things you learn from listening to these guys, too. Lonnie Lockman can tell you where the best huckleberries are located. (I said he can tell you, not that he will.) Lonnie’s knees and hips can also tell you what kind of weather is on the way for the next two weeks. If you listen closely, Jim Proctor can tell you what a diabetic should or should not eat, not that he follows those rules for himself. He also is the local soup connoisseur and knows every flavor served at every establishment and on what day that soup is served. Jim is also an avid Canadian goose hunter and you can see one of his prize mounts on Hazy’s wall of fame. (There is also a wall of shame, and several of these old guys can be observed on it as well.)

Don Heller can tell you what’s new and who is doing who on the TV’s most popular soap operas. He is also up-to-date on most football events, as one of his sons, Don Jr, is a former major league football player for the 49ers (among other teams) and another son, Randy, helps coach football in Clark Fork. If it’s fishing you want to know about, then just grab a chair when Fred Solomon is sittin’ and spinnin’ his fish tales. Fred probably knows every well-stocked fishing hole from Sandpoint to Noxon, but don’t be shocked to hear how big the “one that got away” grows with each passing minute.

Now don’t think that it’s just the men that can talk you up at Hays’ Chevron, either. Every now and then a woman will come in and visit at the round table. Before her death last year, it was quite common to see Claire Hays, Bob’s mother, fly swatter in hand, keeping the boys in line. They are men, and just can’t help commenting when a pretty girl walks in, unless Claire was there to keep them in line. I am pretty sure she shook that fly swatter to Mike Conn more than once. Mike may look like a cross between a dimpled Santa and Brad Pitt, but Claire knew the difference between naughty and nice pretty well. Someone had to do it and she was willing to step up to the plate and she wasn’t afraid to swat them when they needed it!

I never actually saw her shake her fly swatter at Mike Van Stone, but I can picture her with that little tolerating smirk on her face, shaking her head at their comments. Sometimes she would come to the counter, look back at them and whisper to me, “Those boys need prayer!”   

If you want to know about community events or even community gossip, Hays usually has the 411, but don’t expect to always get your answers laid out on a plate all nice and sweet, because sometimes, Eloise answers the phone. Eloise Frost got the nickname “Helloise” because she is a sassy, brassy, blunt, self-proclaimed BBB, who will quickly tell you what you want to hear and sometimes throw in a little of what you don’t want to hear for good measure. (By the way, if you want to know what BBB stands for, you will have to get that explanation from her!)

I do have to say that the old farts who sit at that table aren’t sitting there because they are physically attracted to Bob, although he is the best looking man in Clark Fork. I think mostly it’s because they enjoy each other’s company, though they would never admit it, and because of  the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Bugsy. While Bob is the personality that keeps you laughing until your sides want to burst inside the Chevron, it’s Bugsy’s smile, her sincere hugs and genuine kindness that will draw you back time and time again. Well, that and the fact that if you need anything fixed, she is better than McGyver. Give Bugsy a half a coffee can and a piece of baling wire and the woman can make a car run. Hand her a paper clip and a piece of duct tape and she can make an air conditioner as good as new. I am not kidding either, I have seen her in action!  

If you need to know about guns, the history of guns, the future of guns, what guns are made of, make, model and serial number, who owns what kind of gun, or what kind of gun is best for you, then it’s Bobbie Kennedy you need to be listening to. He is not the only man well versed in weaponry at Chevron, though. Hazy has his own designer knifesmith in the form of Brad DeVeny. Brad takes used saw blades and artistically fashions his own unique brand of knives, several of which are owned by my own son.

Clark Fork’s own red headed, singin’ stranger, (not Willie Nelson), Jolyn, can tell you what’s going on at Clark Fork’s local hotspots. Jolyn may be the newest member of the Hazy team, but when you work there, you learn a lot about Clark Fork and its people and you learn it really fast. One thing you have to learn is that almost everyone has a nickname, and while you may call him Bob Hays, he is also well known as Hazy, Bobbles, Bobby, Hazy-Bob and his closest friends call him names that I am not allowed to write!

I can’t tell you how long it took me to realize that Daryl Derr and “Mugger” are one and the same person! Then there is “Flapper” and “Finn” and “Dick Tracey” and “Big Ed,” “Bullhead,” “By Golly,” “Hammerhead,” “Whitetail,” and the list goes on!  

If you need to know anything about the woods and the local wildlife (the four-footed kind), Jack Siple (Sr. and Jr.) roam the mountains constantly on their ATVs and know quite a bit of local Indian folklore. Don’t tell them you want to ride with them up those mountains, though, unless you are prepared to actually back it up with action.

I also learned a lot of little trivial things from listening to the old timers that I probably didn’t want to know. Bob Hays informed me that Kenny Butler was the hairiest man in Clark Fork. Unfortunately, Bob showed me a picture of  Kenny playing basketball in high school and I have to admit, I tend to agree. Come to think of it, Bob told me a lot of little things and usually had the pictures to back them up.

Another tidbit I learned is that Camp’s Corner is allegedly the oldest working building in Bonner County. (Courtesy of Corey Vogel.) These are important things to know when you are in Clark Fork! That and the fact that almost everyone is related in some way or another. If you get curious, Bob has about a thousand  or so pictures of people and events in Clark Fork, ranging from 4th of July drag queens, (a scary picture of Bob, Lonnie and Ed Howard) to Boots Reynolds’ prints, to the fire of 1910 or the flood of 1920; something like that anyway. Pictures of the old railroad and old mines are nestled amongst those of a turn-of-the-century moose pulling a cart and pictures of basketball, volleyball and those trophy deer, elk and moose.

I’ve sat here now in Texas for the last eight weeks, haven’t met a neighbor, cashiers seldom say hello and if someone waved at me I would fall to my knees and pray it wasn’t with a gun in their hand! However, I am kissing my grandbabies and that is about as great as life gets! But as far as Southern hospitality goes, all I can think is: man, I miss Clark  Fork!

Ed Note: Jinx may miss Clark Fork but that hasn’t stopped her from gloating about the 80 degree weather in Texas!

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Jinx Beshears Jinx Beshears is a southern transplant to North Idaho, and shares her confusion with the Pacific Northwest Lifestyle in her column, Jinxed. When not writing, or living, her outlandish stories, she's generally lost somewhere in the mountains with her dog, Aspen.

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