“Busy Enjoying Retirement Together”
On June 1, 2017, an iconic Carthage landmark closed after 63 years of continuous service to the community, and its beloved proprietor joined his wife in the ranks of the retired. James William “Bill” Arnold, Jr. says that his father, James William “Billy” Arnold, Sr. opened the Billy Arnold Garage in 1954, and Bill began working full time there around 1970, after graduating from CHS in 1969 and attending Panola College.
“I grew up there,” he recalls. “I was there all the time, sweeping the floors and indulging my love for tearing things apart and putting them back together. I had that passion from the time I was a really young child when I first dismantled the lawn mower and then restored it. From as far back as I can remember, every day I would ride my bicycle the two blocks to the garage and tinker with automotive and mechanical things. It was a big part of my life that I always enjoyed.”
Bill bought himself a motorcycle when he was 12 years old. “My dad wouldn't buy me one,” he says, “so I got a job at my uncle's grocery store sacking groceries and saved enough to buy it myself. At that time, if the cycle was less than five horsepower, you could legally ride it anywhere you wanted to, and for me, that was absolutely everywhere! I ended up getting an additional motorcycle, and I was always either riding them or working on them and keeping them running.”
Bill met his future wife, Donna Poss, at Lake Murvaul at the Fourth of July fireworks display when he was about to be a senior and she a sophomore. They started dating a few months later after an incident at a Bulldog football game. “Someone dared me to try to get his car keys from him,” she says. “He had a 1968 Z28 Camaro that he had bought new, and no one thought he would even think about giving the keys to me. But I just walked over to him and told him I needed to borrow his car keys because I had somewhere I needed to go. He handed me the keys, and we have been together ever since. Of course, since then, he has built many cars for himself and others. He is currently rebuilding my 1972 Nova SS that I bought new before we married and hopes to have it ready to drive to my 50-year class reunion.”
Bill said, “I was lucky to find me a 'car girl.' Over the years it has been great to have a wife who not only understands the 'on call' nature of my car repair business, but joins me in it. When there were no wrecker services here, and I would be called at night to pull someone off the side of the road and fix their car, she would go help me tow it and then feed and entertain them and their family while I got it fixed.”
For awhile, Bill was heavily into building drag racing cars and competing in drag races. He always had friends and partners in race cars with him and ones who would help work on them after hours. Donna enjoyed going with him to the events and even drove one of the cars once, she claims “just to be able to say I had.” She says she never did any work on the cars, but absorbed enough just being around them so much that she could sometimes identify a problem when she heard noises the car was making. Bill and Greg Williams were partners in a drag racer for awhile, and Bill says, “We went to races every weekend, splitting the driving chores, but when Greg's business got so busy that he could no longer go every weekend, Donna and I would just go by ourselves, and our son Brad started going about age 3.”
Eventually Bill started building “street rods” and taking them to shows all over the country. They were originally made from the bodies of vintage cars from 1948 or before, but now the standard is that they must be at least 30 years old. He explains, “They are old in appearance only. They have modern engines, brakes, power steering, and other features NOT found in vintage cars, and we build all these things. We have gone everywhere, including the street rod nationals in Louisville, Kentucky every year for the past 25 to 30 years. It’s like a big reunion where you get to see everyone you’ve been doing this with forever. We have made some wonderful friends. We don’t really care any longer about winning the competition involved in the show; we just like to go. Before we retired, we took our vacations in our street rods going to shows, and now we can just go any time we want to. Brad started taking his bright yellow 1939 pickup to the shows with us when he was a teenager in the 1990s and had a blast, never seeming to notice the level of parental supervision that was going on. He has made friends all over the U.S., too.”
He continues, “Just before he left to go to TSTC in Waco, we went to a car event, and all these people from the Waco area were pulling out business cards to give him, telling him to call them if he needed anything while he was away from home. Great folks! He is working in the Longview area now and still takes his street rod 1972 Suburban to shows.” Brad graduated from CHS in 1993. He is married to high school sweetheart Nicole Dorgan, and they have two children, Emily, age 12, and Caden, age 3.
Bill now has all of his street rods stored at the garage, and he still goes there nearly every day to work on them and still looks for old cars to rebuild. He also jokes that he used to be an auto mechanic, but now he has diversified, working on lawnmowers and any other equipment for family members, and remodeling a bathroom and the kitchen for Donna, who is happy to have him unemployed and at home “because he can fix anything!”
Donna worked at the court house when the couple first married, but after Brad came along, she began substitute teaching because she liked the hours better. When he became school age in the early 1980s, she was hired as the secretary at Baker-Koonce, where she remained until her retirement in 2007. “I loved working at the school,” she says. We had a great time, and I enjoyed being there every day and loved the wonderful people I worked with and also the students. It was also a perfect fit as a mom, getting to have similar hours and holidays as my child. Everywhere I go in Carthage, I run into people who recognize me from when they were B-K kids and enjoy visiting with them so much.”
Both lifelong Carthage residents, Bill and Donna feel blessed to live in a small town. Donna says, “Bill always wants to do the best—the best work and the best treatment of people. He would go to management seminars geared for big city businesses and leave at the break because he knew a lot of what they were teaching would never work in a small town where everyone knew everyone, or at least he couldn’t treat customers in ways they were suggesting. His attitude often paid off for him. He had so many customers who kept us supplied with fresh fruits and vegetables from their gardens and delicious cakes, breads, and other baked goods from their kitchens. You just can’t beat living and working in a small town!”
Bill says that there were two Arnold garages in town after World War II, one owned by Billy and the other owned by his great uncle, Dewey Arnold. He jokes, “Where CVS is now, there used to be three businesses all owned by Uncle Dewey and his sisters: O&D Grocery and Gas Station, Dewey Arnold Garage, and a beauty shop. We feel like we came full circle with our own little complex because where the bakery is now used to be a beauty shop, we bought the convenience store that has groceries and gas, and there’s the garage. And we are still doing the same things I did at age 12, minus the motorcycle!”
The Arnolds are a true picture of collaboration and mutual respect and affection “We have always tried to help each other,” says Bill, “and enjoy being, doing, and going together. I would go to the school with her to help with something, and she would go on service calls with me. We have made lots of great memories, lots of great customers, and lots of great relationships with co-workers and students and friends at the car events we both enjoy so much, and we are busy enjoying retirement together!”