Book reminisces about growing up in Beltsville

Feb. 19, 2004
By Meghan Mullan, Staff Writer
The Gazette

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

E-mail Meghan Mullan at