It’s 8:06 a.m. on a dreary Saturday.
Sadly, I face before me an indictment of the world around us – Walt’s service station, mum-and-pop empty, closed door dust collecting, full of memories of days gone by.
Great days, we must note.
It’s closed, I imagine, so its owner’s family could benefit – well-deservedly – from the retail dollars the site would likely bring in. Great for them, because they are wonderful people, much like their parents. Not so great for the many of us who have forever praised her stand against the price gouging that has surrounded him over the past several years.
Walt was special. It was unique, homely and often fun – because of the characters involved.
After years of grumbling, it’s no longer a six-decade staple on Rock Island’s 18th Avenue and 28th Street.
My source, my old friend KC, informs me that the family of the late Walt Schacher, the man behind the famous station known as “Walt”, has decided to close their doors.
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Many times over the years – amidst these sermons – I have shared my affection and respectful fear of the late great Walt – “Mr. for me” – Schaecher. He was a majestic man, tall, thicker than a Whitey’s barley, with hands that swallowed everyone who shook him. He was such a wonderful man that you have been searching for his respect forever.
Mr. Schaecher was a throwback to simpler times, when full-service gas stations offered just that – full-service. At the pump, in the garage, inside for a candy bar or a soft drink, Mr. Schacher took care of you.
Mr. Schaecher was an honest, self-made mechanic, voice and feel in a world fueled by Doo-hickeys diagnosis. He was full of faith, elegant, straightforward, and had no hustle or bones in his body.
Did I mention he was honest?
It was in this very place that I dated my first step into the world of buy-now-pay-later with Mr. Schaecher. His hard-to-get approval was the basis of the credit rating I have today.
In the mid-1970s, I was allowed to charge $5 worth of gas every week, to be paid on the first of each month. In the summer, when I was working, I paid the bill – in person and on the first of the month. Mr. Schaecher was one of 13 children and raised five of his children – with his stunning 59-year-old bride, Mary Ann – so he understood the money.
During the school year when I was into something sporting, my dad paid the bill as well as the monthly fee for his company’s vehicles. Payable on the first, payable on the first.
I never knew what Mr. Schaecher had done with those in arrears, for I had never been so much; Too afraid to come looking for me. It was there that, until the Good Lord decided to take Mr. Schaecher – at age 92 in 2017 – I had never felt man enough to challenge his authority.
Walt gave his first jobs to hundreds, including his sons. A father of five, Mr. Schacher’s children–all of them–had some sort of involvement in the station. Joe has become a very neat mechanic and Jeff is the best auto detailer in the area, and his successful career in insurance has been bolstered by his interactions with Walt clients. Mark Schacher simply loves people and was just talking to talk.
I have always been amazed at finding Mr. Schaecher for the time he did. He was a man of great faith and was a wonderful husband and father. However, he always had time for his clients. If you ever had a problem with your car, it was there. If you come for gas, pumped gas, windows cleaned, oil checked, and usually a conversation. Speak Mr. Schacher if you want to speak. He can talk to the best. We agreed politically, which always made it fun.
And when the world began to change and full service stations began to disappear, Mr. Schacher made them work. Even when he passed away in 2017, Joe – and the rest of the family – really did their best to take care of the many who depended on Walt.
When I began today’s sermon on my phone, my tone was bitter. How can an organization like Walt be shut down? However, my thoughts soon changed to the wonderful lessons of a relationship with a great private place. You can’t make a judgment when you don’t have all the answers.
Thanks, Walt. Especially you, Mr. Schacher.
Photos: Rock Island through the years
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Columnist John Marks can be reached at [email protected]