William 'Billy' Neal, 74, owned tavern and one-man carwash

November 21, 1997|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

William "Billy" Neal, a former West Baltimore tavern owner and carwash proprietor who often claimed that cars always "seemed to run better" after he washed and waxed them, died Tuesday of heart failure while visiting relatives in New Jersey.

Mr. Neal, 74, of West Baltimore owned Billy's Best Cars -- a one-man operation run out of a converted, cluttered garage near Riggs Avenue and Stricker Street in Upton.

Mr. Neal owned the carwash from the late 1970s until about two years ago, friends said, then began a carwash and detail business that went to motorists' homes to service their cars.

"Everybody wanted to have their car hooked up, but not everyone wanted to get out there in the cold and bad weather to wash them and make them look pretty," said Leland Warren, a longtime friend and one of the regulars who gathered outside the Upton garage.

"Billy could make a car rise, shine and sing. Seriously. You'd think he thought the car would never get dirty again by all of the work he put into it."

Mr. Neal used what he said was a special cleaning solution that consisted of several detergents -- a potent cleaner that he boasted brought out a car's original glimmer.

"He was like McDonald's and their special sauce with his cleaner, 'cause it was no one's business but his what went into it," Mr. Warren said.

Friends said that when Mr. Neal operated in the garage, he would wash and wax nearly a dozen cars on a good day. The glare off the cars was so bright, you "needed sunglasses to look at them," Ivan Joyner, a friend, said.

Born in Trenton, N.J., Mr. Neal served in the Army from 1943 to 1945 and was a baggage handler and porter for Amtrak and other railroad companies in the late 1940s and 1950s.

He moved to Baltimore about 1964 and was a laborer and brick layer for several construction companies.

Mr. Neal managed Holly's tavern in West Baltimore from 1966 until 1970, when he became a part owner. The tavern was a popular neighborhood hangout for playing cards and listening to music.

"Most of the talking was done by Billy," said Esther Case, a former co-worker. "People would come in, and he'd just talk their ear. Not all of it was interesting, either."

The establishment, which closed in the mid 1970s, also offered spur-of-the moment dance contests that were judged by the owners.

"He always entered the contests," Ms. Case said. "Is there any question who usually won?"

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Mr. Neal is survived by a son, Jerome Neal of Washington; a daughter, Crystal Robinson of Baltimore; and a longtime companion, Mae Kensington of Baltimore.

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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