Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

A death notice for a memorable moving man made the rounds this month among a slice of my Arlington boyhood pals.

Arthur “Buddy” Frey, of Spotsylvania County, who died in June at 68, may never have known his impact on the lives of dozens of suburban teens back in the 1970s at what then was an Arlington institution known as Newlon’s Transfer.

The emails flew, 40 years after Buddy and the other furniture estimators, truck drivers, packers and warehousemen gave our gang of “college help” our first adventures in blue-collar work.

My brother, sister and a dozen-plus friends spent summers at Newlon’s at the North Nelson Street yard still visible off I-66 at Quincy (between Hayes Playground and the vanished Skor-Mor bowling alley). We packed household goods and humped hide-a-beds up walkboards for hourly wages that—memories differ—ranged from $1.56 to $2.25. We rode around the Beltway to homes of military families for moves dispatched from the old Cameron Station in Alexandria.

My friend Willie swore he would have “worked there for free. Just to build character and nobility!” Winnie recalls feeling “like a voyeur” packing others’ belongings that for some Newlon’s veterans included dirty dishes.

Most of us were hired by gruff owner Harry Earl Newlon Jr. Steve recalled how Harry Earl “would come out of his office, go to the shed and holler at us for standing around and not cleaning up,” but then look at Steve privately and wink. My sister Martha remembers Harry’s impatience when some callow employee couldn’t get a truck running: The boss removed his jacket and applied his “diamond-ringed fingers” to make the engine roar.

My friend Dickie, who in college folklore class wrote a 50-page paper on Newlon’s, recalled the Saturday he and pal Randy were driven to Harry’s Fairfax home in a flatbed truck. They picked up a backhoe to spread topsoil. “His wife made us tuna salad sandwiches for a 15-minute lunch,” Dickie remembers. “We went back to the office, and Harry told us he would fill in our time-clock cards. He docked the travel time and the tunafish-eating time.”

Much more approachable was Newlon’s son, Harry Earl III, called Butch. One guy in our college crowd threw a beer party and invited the whole Newlon’s crew to his parents’ home; Butch was the only professional to show.

Buddy Frye, as James recalled, once passed out a memo declaring a guaranteed vacation time for long-term employees, allegedly signed by Harry Earl, though he delayed giving the boss his own copy.

Buddy was a silver-tongued salesman with customers. My brother recalls Buddy mocking him for believing the 1969 moonwalk really happened. My friend Donley recalls getting in trouble and hearing Buddy say, “Let ol’ Bud take care of it.”

Many of us worked during the floods from the 1972 Hurricane Agnes. A black crew leader who couldn’t get home to D.C. spent that night on a cot in our Arlington home.

Newlon’s was still going in 1993 when I booked a local move. Eventually, its property was taken over by technology contractor System Planning Corp, and Newlon’s shrunk to a moving supplies office run by Butch near Landmark shopping center. Butch died in 2004, his father in 2010.

Today, the old Newlon’s yard belongs to Arlington Public Schools. I treasure my education from both owners.