Customer Has Special Booth At The Beeline

Bill Johnston has watched Payson grow out the front window of the Beeline Café every day for 32 years

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The mounted, black and white pictures on the walls of the Beeline Café showing scenes of handsome young men roping and riding seem taken from a earlier, simpler era decades ago -- when Payson was an itty bitty mountain -- a long way from everywhere.

Bill Johnston has been sitting in his own booth beneath those pictures pretty much since they were taken those many years ago.

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Bill Johnston, left, doesn't really need to look at a menu as Mary Grubbs waits to take his lunch order at the Beeline Café on Highway 87. Bill has been eating at the cafe every day for past 32 years.

Johnston, 95, has eaten breakfast every morning at the Beeline since sometime in 1975 -- watching the world go by and Payson change out those front windows.

Johnston has been a faithful customer to the Beeline Café for 32 years. He shows up promptly every day for breakfast and lunch.

"For dinner, I eat two cookies at night (at home)," said Johnston.

Beeline Café owner Ray Sexton shares a friendship with Johnston that has lasted more than three decades. Sexton wanted others to know of this remarkable man, so he contacted the newspaper.

Natives of Waynesborough, Pennsylvania, Johnston and Gertrude shared a class in high school. Years later, the two would meet again, marry and have two sons.

Before World War II, Johnston at 24 received his training in the police academy in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Part of the police training then included horse riding skills.

"Everybody had to learn to ride," said Johnston. Only the best riders were selected to participate in Hershey Police Department's 12-man trick-riding team. Johnston dedicated three years to the team and chose to relinquish his position.

"After three years of riding, I said that's enough. I don't want to be crippled for the rest of my life," said Johnston.

After his training in Hershey, Johnston worked for the Greensburg Police Department. The highlight of his career was his involvement in cracking the case of the Pennsylvania Turnpike killer.

After two victims were slain and a third seriously injured, it seemed the killer would not be caught. But then Johnston decided to visit the homes of the victims and determine what had been taken off the bodies. After making a list of the missing items, he posted the list on the teletype to allow police departments nationwide direct access.

Later, Detroit police contacted Johnston and verified the items on the list matched those found in the possession of a suspect who was caught hawking the items, but then later released.

Johnston flew out to Detroit to examine the stolen articles and confirmed that they belonged to the victims.

Johnston now had a name and description of the suspect and within a week the suspect was apprehended in Arizona. The suspect was taken back to Pennsylvania, tried and sentenced to the electric chair.

Johnston spent 20 years with the Greensburg force before retiring. Shortly after his retirement, Johnston took a position in the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office as an investigator and remained in service for another five years.

Johnston and his wife moved to Tucson, in the late 1960s. He was involved in the project to renovate downtown Tucson.

In 1975, while taking a walk on a visit to Rim Country, the Johnstons fell in love with the first house they saw in Payson, purchased it, and moved in on Jan. 1, 1975. When the Johnstons heard about a place that delivered meals to homes, they decided to check it out. It was their first time they ate a meal at the Beeline Café, and it has been their favorite spot since.

"Whenever we went out to eat, we came here (to the Beeline)," said Johnston.

Widowed since 1994, Johnston is a regular for breakfast and lunch at the dinner. Though he quietly takes his seat, he does not go unnoticed. He's long been a friend, not a customer, for the owner and staff. Everybody knows him by name and waits for his arrival every day.

When asked what he would recommend from the menu, Johnston's response, "Order anything. The food is great. I have never had a bad meal here."

And after about 20,000 meals -- that's saying something.

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