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POLSON - No one knows the story behind the cows - the two giant metal and once-neon cows that stand on their hind legs, dressed in police uniforms, directing traffic in and out of Burgerville here.

They were bolted to either side of the old building when Enoch and Lucille Richwine first leased the landmark drive-through restaurant nearly half a century ago, and they'll still be standing guard Friday, when Burgerville reopens for the 2010 season.

The cattle sport a fresh coat of paint, but more important, Burgerville - for the 48th consecutive year - will still have the Richwine name in front of it.

Marcia Moen of Missoula has decided to keep Burgerville all in the family.

Moen, the only daughter of Enoch and Lucille, has taken over management of Burgerville after the death last summer of her 51-year-old brother, Shane, who took it over from their parents in the 1980s.

Enoch and Lucille, meantime, had first leased the restaurant way back in 1962, when the uniformed cows glowed in the dark and were attached to a much smaller hut.

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The hut is long gone, replaced by a considerably larger - we're talking more than 12 times larger - brick structure Enoch designed and built in 1968, after the Richwines had purchased the restaurant outright. The comic strip-like cows remain, even though the neon lighting on them hasn't worked for years, and the cattle have watched millions of vehicles pass beneath them since folks first started flipping hamburger patties at Burgerville back in the 1940s.

For decades, the cows have been perched on the sides of a windmill, the result of a $50 bet Enoch won from his brother-in-law, Carl Seifert, who dared Enoch to haul the towering windmill from a field outside Kalispell and erect the thing in front of the building.

Randy and Tami Hart, who have long painted the menu boards at Burgerville, re-did the cows. The one facing east, they climbed ladders and painted on location.

The one facing west, they took down and hauled to their shop last fall - a big mistake, Randy says.

"It was a bearcat getting it down," he explains. "The things weigh at least 300 pounds apiece and probably more - it's hard for me to judge. The body is riveted sheet metal but the cow's legs probably weigh less than 20 pounds. It was just awkward."

The cow was easier to put back up Monday, when Pat Collicott helped the Harts pull it into place on the windmill with a rope. The ballast was still in the sign when it came down last fall, Randy explains, but was removed before the cow was hoisted back in the air.

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Prices have changed, but the menu largely hasn't at Burgerville, where no fresh ground lean-bull burger touches the grill until a customer orders it through intercoms placed near the bottom of each cow.

That, and the Richwine's secret burger recipe, once requested by Bon Appetit magazine, have kept Burgerville going as fast-food chains have come to Polson (and some have gone).

With Moen in charge, some things are changing - not the fresh burger part, but the menu.

Don't worry - the "Royal Burger," a cheeseburger deluxe with fries named after Royal Morrison, a Burgerville owner prior to the Richwines and the restaurant's most popular item, will still be there.

But she's putting sundaes, which her brother evidently tired of dealing with, back on the board - including the "black-and-white," with two scoops of vanilla and one of chocolate ice cream, covered in chocolate and marshmallow sauce and topped with sprinkles, nuts and cherries.

She's adding hand-dipped cones, something she says has not been on the menu in all the years Burgerville has been in her family.

But the most important change? The addition of the "Bernie Burger," a cheeseburger deluxe with a slice of ham.

"Bernie Burger" was the longtime nickname of her brother, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007. Shane Richwine beat that, but cancer soon attacked him aggressively from all sorts of other directions - from melanoma to tumors on his liver and around his spinal cord.

He died last June, three years after Enoch had passed away at the age of 81.

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Marcia Moen, her mother and the other Richwine sons banded together to keep Burgerville operating last year during Shane's illness and after his death, and Moen made the decision to take over the family business during that time.

She's no stranger to it - no Richwine kid is. She earned $606.46 the first summer she worked at Burgerville, as a 13-year-old in 1974.

Moen, now a 26-year veteran of H&R Block who will retire as district manager for western Montana after this tax season, says she just couldn't see the business leaving her family.

It remains very much a family business. Her brother Corey Richwine of Ronan helps grind the hamburger, and he and employee Bill Corrigan will have 1,800 pounds of it ready for Friday's opening.

Plenty of that burger, Moen hopes, will go into the new Bernie Burger. A portion of the proceeds from every Bernie Burger sold, you see, will be donated to the American Cancer Society in honor of her brother.

"The reason I am here is because Shane is not," she says, "and I am reminded of that every day when I walk through the door.

"We miss him and wish he was here to run the show. But we will remember him every day by little things."

Like the new burger named in his honor, cooked and served in the shadow of two giant metal cows standing on their hind legs and dressed as policemen, in a business only Richwines have run for nearly half a century.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

 

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