"BELTSVILLE SHELL ... Read the first sentence of any chapter and the reader is hooked, the people are real, the details bring it to life, writing is smooth, the ironic conclusion is poignant. You are an historian and sociologist, your analysis of the 1950s generation (and lasting until 1970) is genuinely profound. The tone is always right – good humored, serious but light-hearted, intelligent, ironic. A time and place comes to life."
—Professor George H. Callcott, History Department, University of Maryland
"About five minutes ago I finished reading BELTSVILLE SHELL ... I do an enormous amount of reading and I am rarely moved. Right now, right at this moment, I am moved. This thing that we do, this relationship with cars, our cars, runs so deep in us that it lasts a lifetime. What are you doing now that you were doing as a teen-ager? What interests did you have as a young man that is as strong or stronger today as back then? This car thing can really get a grip on you. I wanted to send this note of thanks for sending me back over thirty years to such a wonderfully rich time in our lives.”
—Pete La Barbera, Owner, The Rod Shop
"The Board of Directors of the Prince George’s County Historical Society sincerely appreciates the contribution of your book, BELTSVILLE SHELL: You Are What You Drive to the Frederick S. DeMarr Library of County History. This book fills a niche of social history that is all too easily forgotten. Gifts such as these help the Society continue its mission of fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the rich culture and history of our county."
—Sarah Bourne, Prince George’s County Historical Society
By Bob Wallace, Editor
VETTE Magazine, a Primedia Publication
BELTSVILLE SHELL: YOU ARE WHAT YOU DRIVE By Cary Thomas What would you get if you crossed American Graffiti with Bruce Springsteen, then wrapped it in a paperback book cover? If you said BELTSVILLE SHELL: YOU ARE WHAT YOU DRIVE, Cary Thomas' paean to fast cars, rock and roll, and adolescent testosterone in the tumultuous'60s you'd come pretty close.
Beltsville, Maryland is now an anonymous northeastern suburb of Washington, D.C., but in the '60s and into the '70s, it was one of the small towns nestled along US Route 1, then a main corridor between D.C. and Baltimore. Beltsville Shell was a service station, back in the days before self-serve (or pay an extra fifty cents per gallon to have a surly slob do it for you), when the gas was not only pumped for you but a usually courteous attendant washed your windshield and at a minimum gave the car's tires and vital fluids a cursory check. Beltsville Shell was, thanks to a somewhat understanding and open-minded owner, also a local hangout for a group of car-crazed teenagers, a place to for them to work on their four-wheeled alter egos and, for a lucky few, their first job.
Cary Thomas was one of those kids, and BELTSVILLE SHELL is his warm and gentle, raucous and rowdy remembrance of that brief period when muscle cars ruled, when a high school kid could actually afford to buy a few years old Corvette, and before the war in Vietnam claimed the lives of over 50,000 young Americans and divided the country to a degree unseen since the Civil War. It's also an ode to the Corvettes of yesteryear and one particular clique, 13 teenage guys with tetraethyl lead in their veins.
The 184-page book is divided into 41 concise chapters covering topics like "Racing in the Snow," "Midnight Auto Supply," "Girls," and "Mishaps" to "The $15.00 Car" (the author's first car, a '56 Bel Air two door sedan) and "My First Ride in a Corvette." ('I was stricken not only with the Corvette mystique, but also with the adrenaline rush of drag racing. I would never be the same.') Chapter 13 will make most grown men get a little weak kneed as the author relates buying his first Corvette, a Roman Red '59 fuelie (with a carburetor replacing the Rochester F.I. system) and optioned with factory metallic brakes (RPO 686), close ratio four-speed (RPO 685), a 4.56:1 Posi rearend (RPO 675), and radio delete-an all together very serious then-seven year old car-for the magnificent sum of $1,200!
BELTSVILLE SHELL should unleash a flood of memories for anyone who grew up in the '60s and early '70s. It's not, however, purely an exercise in warm and fuzzy nostalgia, filtered through rosy-tinted glasses and three decades. The joys and exhilaration of street races are recounted, as is the emotional body blow of the deaths of three different friends in two violent, high speed crashes. Cary Thomas sold his '59 Corvette in June of 1973, but never his love affair with America's Sports Car never died, and 40 years after that first memorable ride in a friend's '62 Corvette, now living on the West Coast, he bought another Corvette. Some things in life come full circle.
I enjoyed the book, a lot, and heartily recommend it.
Beltsville Shell: You Are What You Drive
Book by Cary Thomas
ISBN 0-9745757-0-4, 184 pages
By Ted Ladd
The Beltsville News
Beltsville Shell is the story of author Cary Thomas and his friends, all drawn to working on their cars, in many cases Chevy Corvettes, to improve performance and appearance. It drew them into close and enduring friendships. The book's sub-title, "You Are What You Drive," gives a clue to their orientation. He and many friends worked part time at Beltsville Shell, at the time located at 10410 Baltimore Avenue, across from Sunnyside Avenue. This became the headquarters of their informal club, referenced in the book as JTRAMFGS. You will have to read the book to discover the meaning.
If you live in Beltsville and start reading Beltsville Shell, you probably won't be able to put it down until you finish the last page. It starts with a three-page description of the town, and from there consists of short stories, each with a main character from the period 1965-70. There are photos of each of them from that era. Some stories are about drag racing in Beltsville, usually on Old Gunpowder Road, or Sunnyside Avenue. These are interspersed with descriptions of "cruising" between the Mighty Mo in Queenstown and a drive-in Hot Shoppes in Langley Park, and some hi-jinx at High Point High School, which earned the author a one-day suspension. Included are historic pictures of Boteler's store, the Beltsville Fire Department, a trolley car, a Driver's Education class at High Point, and many classic cars. Readers are reminded of Randy's Dari Delight, the Beltsville Drive in theater, the skating rink at the south end of town, and Friday Night teen-club meetings at the Beltsville Volunteer Fire Department.
Beltsville residents will recognize many characters in the book: Sonny Boteler, Dan Holbrook, High Point Vice Principal Fred Novak, Charlie Hopkins, Bris Rightmeyer, Johnny Wozney, Webster Gross, Jimmy McEvoy, Sharon Cox, Wayne Armiger, John Bradley, Dexter Drake, Brenda Fisher, Nace DeLauter, Jeff Hughes, Michael Tanguay, Jimmy Becker, Jim Brakefield, Wayne Thomas, Albie Peterson, Frank Porto, Peewee Thompson, Darryl Richards, Carl Schinner, Charlie Wooster, Jimmy Mayo, Dana Moore, Joe Corbin, Larry Reeves, Gary Scaggs, Frank Bollinger, and Linda Kolsky.
Author Cary Thomas grew up in Beltsville, graduated from High Point High School in 1965, and received a BS in Information Systems from the University of Maryland four years later. He went on to receive an MBA from the University. Thomas and his wife Nancy now reside in Carlsbad, California. Thomas serves as Chief Operating Officer of the Sydney Kimmel Cancer Center in La Jolla, California.
Thomas traces every character through to the present. You will discover not only what they did in their youthful years, but also where they are today. The book is a tribute to Beltsville and a tribute to true friends. You can find information regarding the book at www.beltsvilleshell.com. Copies can be ordered by mailing a check or money order for $16.95 to Nancy Paul Thomas, 3581 Seaview Way, Carlsbad, CA 92008. Include a note if you want the author to autograph a copy for you or a friend, in case it's a gift.
Book reminisces about growing up in Beltsville
Feb. 19, 2004
A Beltsville native has written a tribute to a time in history when teenage boys loved nothing more than their American-made muscle cars and hanging out together at the local gas station.
Author Cary Thomas graduated from High Point High School in 1965, then the University of Maryland. He got married, moved to California and decided to write a book honoring his childhood town. That fruit of his labor is a self-published novel, "Beltsville Shell: You Are What You Drive."
"One of my high school friends died a couple of years ago," Thomas said. "Before I lost anymore friends, I wanted to write about the fun and crazy things we did."
Thomas, who is 56, said the 184-page book was a labor of love. "I'm a complete novice," he said.
Thomas did not write the book for financial gain. It was a testimonial to a town and an era he can't stop thinking about.
The book includes local history and chapters that tell tales about Beltsville residents. One of Thomas's friends and a character in the book is Sonny Boteler, who is the third generation owner of Boteler's Store in old Beltsville. Boteler, who has read the book, said that it was an unusual experience.
"A lot of people stayed friends for a long time," Boteler said. "That's what the book is about."
He found the book amusing because of the stories in it that he remembers from being a teenager. He particularly enjoyed the story about the beer cans that the group of boys who hung out at the Beltsville Shell threw up on the station's roof. The Beltsville Shell, where Thomas worked as a teenager, was located at the corner of Sunnyside Avenue and Route 1. Thomas said he and his friends threw their beer cans up there to get rid of the evidence. When high winds hit the town, it was like a beer can tornado. The source of the cans remained a mystery.
Most of the book is about cars, which was the obsession of Thomas and his high school friends. The book includes hair-raising stories about drag racing, out running the police and dating girls.
Phyllis and Bill Herndon of Hyattsville lived in Beltsville about the same time as Thomas. They remember one of the boys in the book particularly well, Charlie Hopkins.
Hopkins was a whiz with auto-mechanics and much of what he knew he learned from Bill Herndon who owned old cars.
Bill Herndon remembers Hopkins coming around to help him with his Model T and Model A. "It was an interesting relationship," Bill Herndon said of the time he spent with Hopkins. Hopkins was 10 or 12 and Bill Herndon was in his 40s but Bill Herndon said they were "like contemporaries."
Apparently, Hopkins learned a great deal about cars from Bill Herndon and went on to teach other boys in Thomas's circle.
Phyllis Herndon said she enjoyed reading "Beltsville Shell" because she is interested in local history.
The book includes a map of Beltsville in the 1960s, old high school photographs of the main characters, car photographs and a wonderful picture of students taking drivers education at High Point High School.
Thomas grew up in Beltsville, and received a bachelor of science in Information Systems from the University of Maryland in 1969. He went on to receive an master's in business administration from the university. Thomas is the chief operating officer of the Sydney Kimmel Cancer Center in La Jolla, Calif.
Copies of "Beltsville Shell" can be purchased at Boteler's Store at 4808 Prince George's Ave. in Beltsville.
Books may also be ordered by mailing a check or money order for $16.95 to Nancy Paul Thomas, 3581 Seaview Way, Carlsbad, CA 92008. Include a note if you want the author to autograph a copy. For information on the book, visit www.beltsvilleshell.com.
E-mail Meghan Mullan at firstname.lastname@example.org.