WATERVILLE — Arnold Lee Weeks built his auto body business from scratch, beginning in 1931 with the philosophy that the customer is always right — and he never strayed from that principle.

He brought his sons, grandson and great-grandson into his business, A.L. Weeks & Sons Inc., and the family worked hard and joyfully at the Kennedy Memorial Drive venture until they sold the property 17 years ago.

It had been a thriving shop under the Weeks’ ownership. Patrons were so satisfied with the service they would come back again and again and recommend the business to other people.

“At one time, we were selling probably 20 to 25 cars a month,” Harland Weeks, 83, said. “We used to paint probably four or five cars a week. A lot of dealers brought work in. There weren’t a lot of body shops around in the late ’50s.”

Harland Weeks and his brother, Maynard, now 76, are sons of Arnold Weeks, who handed over the reins to them but stayed involved in the business until he died in 1998 at age 99.

On Thursday, Harland and Maynard stood with Harland’s son, Chris, 56, and grandson, Christopher, 30, and watched as the property and the adjacent Arnold Weeks home were auctioned off in a foreclosure sale. The business failed in the years after they sold it and TD Bank foreclosed on the property, which has been vacant for two years.

It was a sad day for the Weeks family, but one they knew was destined to arrive.

“I came to a place where, you buy a place, you work the place, and then there’s a time to sell the place,” Maynard said. “There’s a time to buy, a time to work it and a time to sell — and you don’t look back.”

Harland said his father, who had only a sixth-grade education, worked tirelessly to make the business a success.

“He didn’t know what it meant to work 8-to-5,” he said. “He worked until one or two o’clock in the morning, easy. He had to get the job done for his customers.”

Chris, who is the Readfield postmaster, started working at the shop in the summer, beginning at age 13. He cleaned and sanded cars and earned enough money to buy his own car. Eventually he started buying cars for the shop and fixing them up. He stayed in the business 30 years.

“Towards the end, I was selling cars,” he said. “I was pretty much the buyer and the seller.”

His son, Christopher, was 10 when he began cleaning cars on the lot to make them more appealing to customers. He studied everything about those cars and when a prospective buyer examined one, he touted its features.

“They would give me a puzzled look because they were amazed that this young kid knew the price, year and miles of the car,” Christopher said. “I still remember when I ‘sold’ my first car. The woman was so surprised and impressed with my knowledge, she bought the car.”

BUILDING A FAMILY LEGACY

Arnold Weeks was born in 1899 and his mother died at his birth. He became more or less a ward of the state and was moved from farm to farm, attending school only through the sixth grade.

“He jumped around a lot, so he did good for not having had much of an education,” Harland said.

Perhaps it was an unstable childhood and living through the Great Depression that led Arnold to seek a more stable home life and create a business that would support the family long into the future.

In his 20s he worked at auto garages in downtown Waterville and then went into business with Guy Jacobs at a shop on Charles Street, which ran through what is now The Concourse.

In 1932, Arnold went into business for himself and bought lots on what was then Oakland Road, now Kennedy Memorial Drive. He built a one-bay auto shop, despite the fact that people told him customers would never follow him to “the country.”

Oakland Road was a two-lane dirt road lined by woods and farmhouses back then. Arnold had to clear the land to build both his shop and the adjacent house in which he and his wife, Edna, raised their children. He eventually expanded the shop and Harland and Maynard worked there and learned the trade as they were growing up. In the family’s off-time, they hunted and fished.

Harland recalled wearing a mask as he painted the cars, many of which were two-toned — a popular style back in the day.

“Today’s new paints will kill you,” he said. “At that time, it was enamel. The new paints coming out today are very, very bad for your lungs.”

Harland and his wife, Mary, who celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary this year, ended up living in a house on Carver Street just behind the shop, on a spot where his mother kept a chicken house and raised chickens.

“I raised turkeys there as a boy and made enough money to put myself through college,” he said, adding that he attended Thomas College to study bookkeeping.

The business was rebuilt in 1982. After Arnold died and the business and adjacent house were sold, both deteriorated. The house had always been well maintained and immaculate to the point that Christopher, now of Fairfield, remembers being required to take his shoes off to enter.

After the family sold the property, renters destroyed the house, which is gutted inside. Fire also damaged the home.

“It’s sad, but you have to live with it and go on,” Harland said. “Things happen. I hate to see it go, but you got to go on. You think about the good times and tell the stories and laugh.”

Walking through the dilapidated house after the auction, Chris and Christopher also expressed sadness at seeing a once-thriving family business and home in such a deteriorated state.

“It’s devastating,” Christopher said.

Chris, who lives in Oakland, said earlier that his grandfather would be dismayed to see the change in the property:

“It’s sad — I mean, it’s a legacy in a sense. My grandfather kept the house immaculate. If he was here and he saw this.

“He’s probably rolling over in his grave. He was always a proud person and to see it like that, it’d be very disheartening.”

AUCTIONING A LEGACY

About 35 people, including Weeks family members, attended the auction Thursday.

Michael Carey, vice president of Tranzon Auction Properties of Portland, sought bids from prospective buyers. He said the shop property at Kennedy Memorial Drive and the adjacent house on 116 Merryfield Ave. were being sold as is.

Representing the mortgage holder, TD Bank, Carey ultimately took the highest bid of $85,000 from a man who put down a $10,000 deposit and later said he was representing the buyer and was not at liberty to reveal any information about the buyer or what he plans to do with the property.

Dean Stevens was listed as the property owner before the bank foreclosed. Efforts to reach Stevens Friday were unsuccessful.

After the auction, the Weeks family stayed until everyone left and then took a last look at the place the family patriarch — Arnold Weeks — took such pride in, expecting his workers to toe the line.

Clutching a framed, black-and-white a photo of his father working on a car in the shop in the early 1930s, Harland recalled the dedication with which he did everything.

“He had to get the job done for his customers,” he said. “If it wasn’t done right, he’d make the help do it over. It had to be perfect.”

Christopher, who was very close to his great-grandfather, says he had always hoped to take over the family business and carry on his legacy, but that was not to be.

“I’m saddened I never got the chance to do that,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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