MANKATO — A changing of the guard of sorts took place Wednesday in the service bay of Mankato Ford.
Part-time customer-shuttle driver Dennis Hornemann walked up to longtime shuttle driver Joe Schultz and extended his hand.
“Joe, I hear you’re done.”
“Yup,” Schultz said. “I’m throwing in the towel.”
So ended the 69-year-old Schultz’s 50-year career working with four regimes of Mankato Ford dealership owners.
As Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” character famously said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
For Schultz, that translates to the hitch in his gait from a balky knee and the realization that it’s time to stop shuttling others and start shuttling himself and his wife.
Other states, other places are calling. And they’ll road-trip in style in the race-red Mustang convertible he bought last year.
“Me and my wife always wanted one, and we decided, what the heck, we’re not getting any younger.”
Schultz started work as a Ford mechanic on April 1, 1963. He walked into the then-downtown dealership and asked for a job.
“Do you know how to put in car radios?” he was asked. In those days, dealers installed that equipment on new cars.
Schultz did and he was hired on the spot.
In 1968 the dealership moved to its current location on the largely uninhabited east edge of Mankato.
“Everyone thought we were moving to Eagle Lake,” Schultz said of the then out-of-the-way site.
There was a drive-in theater next door with a cornfield in between. Schultz recalls working nights and watching kids sneaking sacks of ice and beer through the corn and into the theater lot, where they’d link up with buddies in their cars.
He spent 42 years as a mechanic before knee problems got the best of him. He was offered the job of shuttle driver, usually a part-time gig for retirees, but Schultz remained full time, which meant he got to keep his employee benefits.
“I was probably the highest-paid shuttle driver in Mankato.”
People who use car dealership shuttle services often have vehicles that are undergoing pricey repairs. Schultz said when their demeanor reflected that he’d ease their angst with some of his becalming bullroar.
Then there were the already becalmed customers who didn’t give repairs a second thought.
“Those are the people that you can usually tell if their cars are under warranty or not.”
As Schultz munched a going-away cupcake on Wednesday, he spoke of Florida, Mount Rushmore and other places he’s anxious to visit with the top down.
Odds are that Mustang’s odometer won’t sit at 2,100 miles for long.