Old Farts Club holds court daily in Bristol

BRISTOL — Take a look inside the window of Cubbers restaurant on Main Street in Bristol around 8 o’clock any morning, and you’ll bear witness to a display case of local history.
But this is no still-life diorama. It’s the real-life, venerated “Old Farts Club,” holding court at Cubbers as they’ve been doing nearly every day for the past 15-odd years.
Had you come upon them this past Wednesday, you would’ve been treated to a near-full house, featuring such notables as group founder George Smith, age 92, and Bristol’s own centenarian Bill James — the most senior of all the seniors at 107 years old.
“Hello, young fella!” Smith called out to James, fresh off a starring role in the town’s July Fourth parade.
After a round of greetings, Smith took his seat, slowly but steadily, and the “old farters” could really get into full swing.
‘There’s the old farts!’
The origins of the Old Farts Club can be traced to the mid-1990s, when Smith and his daughters would meet at the nearby Bristol Bakery for morning coffees. By 2000, several Bristol Rotarians joined in, growing the group to around eight members. A few years in, the bakery closed for a week of renovations — leaving the Old Farts wandering down Main Street one morning.
Luckily, they came upon Ben Chamberlin, the co-owner of Cubbers, who took pity on the stranded seniors.
“Ben said to me, ‘You want coffee?’ I said, ‘Yeah!’” Smith remembers. Chamberlin invited them in, and the old farters accepted, on one condition: that they be charged the same $1 per coffee that they’d paid at the bakery.
“I was like, ‘I don’t care if you pay at all!’” Chamberlin said.
But over a decade later, the Old Farts are still commiserating over $1 coffees — drunk from customized mugs embossed with each member’s name — and an occasional complementary basket of cookies, like the one brought to their table Wednesday morning by a Cubbers worker.
Seated just inside Cubbers’ big front window, the group is plainly visible to any Bristol resident walking past on their way to work. Over the course of Wednesday’s meeting, the old farters waved hello to a score of passersby — several of whom they knew only by sight, not by name.
“Every day she walks to work and we wave at her,” said Ron Williamson, 81, after one such anonymous greeting. “One day we were waving at her and the chief of police came by and he thought we were waving at him. He came in and said, “Gee, I didn’t know you guys thought that much of me!’”
Indeed, the group’s moniker was devised not by its members, but by the Bristolians who spotted them inside. “People would say, ‘Oh, there’s the old farts in there!’” Smith explained.
‘Not a race to the finish line’
THE OLD FARTS meet again. From left, Mike Harding, Chauncy Eldridge, Joe Devall, Ron Williamson and Norm Cota.
Independent photo/Nick Garber 
Conversation on Wednesday lasted around an hour, with topics ranging from hearing aids to the gubernatorial race to the town’s ongoing water main repair work. And much of the banter, of course, consisted of jokes — usually at another old farter’s expense. When Mike Harding, 77, updated the group on his newest woodworking effort, he faced a tough crowd.
“The latest project is, I built my own casket,” Harding said.
“He’s trying to sell me one now!” Smith chimed in.
“When are you gonna use that coffin?” asked Norm Cota, 74.
“When the time is right!” Harding replied. “This is not a race to the finish line.”
Today’s old farters certainly aren’t racing to that line, but they remain mindful of former members who have already crossed it. A wooden rack toward the back of the restaurant, hand-built by Harding, displays the mugs of 13 former members who passed away within the past few years. When a member dies, Smith said, the remaining old farters bring his mug to the funeral, before tying a black ribbon around the handle and hanging it prominently on the Cubbers’ rack.
For today’s attendees, still busy navigating their golden years, the Old Farts Club offers a crucial sense of camaraderie, and the ability to stay plugged into the area most of them have called home for decades.
“I come down here to find out what’s going on in Bristol,” said Joe Devall, 85.
And beneath the banter, the old farters noted, is some much-needed companionship.
“This is actually a group therapy session every morning,” Harding explained.
“Yeah,” agreed Cota, “we laugh today, then we’ll say the same thing tomorrow because we forgot what we said today.”
NORM COTA, LEFT, Ray Clark and Joe Devall shoot the breeze at Cubbers on Wednesday.
Independent photo/Nick Garber
Membership in the Old Farts Club can be an ephemeral thing, given the fragile stage of life that most of its members have reached. But if members may come, go, and sometimes slow down a bit, the club itself shows no signs of going anywhere.
“I’ll have them for as long as they come here,” Chamberlin said. “It’s town history. Just to have them as part of Cubbers is an honor.”
Each day, Chamberlin opens his doors to the Old Farts hours before the restaurant’s official opening at 11 a.m. But, he explained, his accommodation is only a small way of repaying the esteemed group, whose members who have contributed to the community in many ways, include retired teachers, postal workers and firefighters.
“All of those guys did their service,” he said. “What’s a cup of coffee?”

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