Whatever is eating the two brothers, it is not clearly traceable to their childhoods, or at least to their childhoods as they remember them. As young boys they were barely acquainted. Their mother, Bessie, now 65 and living in retirement in Ormond Beach, Fla., was married twice, and the boys had different fathers. "But Tom Arfons was really the only father either of us ever knew," Walter says. "Arthur didn't even know we were half brothers till he was in high school." Their childhood seems to have been uneventfully pastoral. "We never did anything together," Walter says, "because I was 10 years older. I took care of him and changed his diapers and all that, and I had to baby-sit for him, but then when he started to go to school I went into the Navy, and soon after I got out of the Navy he went in. So we really didn't get to know each other as buddies till after the war."
"Arthur was the baby of the family and naturally spoiled," says the widow Arfons. "He always had to be the best in everything. He's real smart; he was teachin' his teachers in school. He'd study till 2 o'clock in the morning. He's a genius, Arthur is. He kinda kept to himself as a child. He never played with boys and never went with girls till he came back from the service and then all of a sudden he was married."
Arthur speaks of childhood: "The best friend I had was Ed Snyder; he's my partner now. I couldn't have been anywhere without him. He's been a brother to me more than any brother I ever had. Ed lived on a farm down the road. He moved there when I was 10 or 12. I played with him a little, but old Ed had a tough time and they had work for him to do, and there was no playing in them days. It was the Depression, and kids had it rough. I've actually wondered what happened to me when I was a kid that made me the way I am nowadays and why I do things like I do, but I don't know. I haven't the slightest idea. As a kid I never played baseball, football or nothing. Not only did I never play on a team, I never played them at all. We grew up in the country and there was no other little kids my age around, so I entertained myself. I went to my father's feed mill and Dad let me take one pulley. See, all the power in the mill came from water power onto pulleys, and he give me one pulley, so I run a belt up to the third floor of the mill, and I'd tinker around making shafts run, making a whole bunch of nothing run. That's how I'd spend my time, alone. We were a below-average family in income. We never had nothin'. Maybe never havin' nothin' has driven me a little, I don't know."
In 1946, Arthur and Walter Arfons (then 20 and 29 years old), both back home and working at their father's mill, discovered that they had common interests even though they had hardly noticed each other all through childhood. "We both had motorcycles," Arthur recalls, "and, hell, we became as close as any two guys can be for years. We did everything together. We even bought an old BT-13, a basic trainer, bought it surplus in a basket and put it together. It was a dandy airplane. We used to fly it under the bridges where they were building the Ohio Turnpike. We cut six feet off the wing tips so it would fit under the bridges. The plane got so hot, it'd stall at 95!" Not surprisingly, the speed-crazy brothers turned to drag racers. Their first car was a collection of spare parts from the basement of the mill and nearby dumps and included a 1940 Oldsmobile front, an old Packard rear and an airplane wheel welded to the frame to make it a three-wheeler. Green tractor paint was all they had available, and the announcer at a nearby drag strip labeled the car the Green Monster to the laughter of the crowd. Halfway down its first run, the Green Monster fizzled and quit. That was just about the last failure the brothers had with dragsters. Soon they were weighted down with trophies and earning a fair income from purses.
Of the two brothers, Arthur was the wilder-eyed driver; he could take a car that had an absolute top limit of 165 mph and squeeze 175 mph out of it every time. He enjoyed speed, and he did not always seem aware of its dangers. Once he piled some friends on top of one of his early dragsters and took them for a spin on a lonely country road. Oblivious to their cries of panic, Arthur gunned the car up to 150 mph. Terrified, his passengers insisted on walking home. "I used to have guts in those days," he says in his small voice. "Now I lie awake nights scarin' myself to death about the stupid things I did with the airplane and lettin' those guys hang onto the car. I used to have a lot more guts than I have now. You should have seen me."
Walter Arfons had courage, too, and before heart trouble sent him to the sidelines he had racked up more than 600 runs at 200 mph or faster. But he was a different sort of driver. It is Arthur's theory that his brother's heart trouble might have been brought on by his driving. "Walter was never a natural driver," Arthur says. "He would get so shook that we'd have to lift him out of the car. He'd get the shakes, he'd get pale. It takes guts to drive when you feel like that. It takes more guts than when you don't feel like that."
Without knowing exactly why, Arthur began to feel competitive toward his older brother, even though they were partners both in the racing and in the feed mill. Walter first noticed the animus in 1955. "He had one car and I had another, and we carried another for a spare," Walter says, "and everything we made we split after expenses. So it didn't matter which one of us won. You got so much money for top time, $50 or $100 usually, or if it was a big meet $250 or $500. But I began to notice that if I'd come through with the top time and I had the money earned, he would have to go out and beat my time even though we had the money already. He was endangering the car and his own life just to beat my time! And he done that so many times. And then I wouldn't go back for more, because I knew better. Why should I endanger my life and the car when we've already got the money?"
Once Arthur almost wrecked his car trying to beat his brother's time. It was at a drag meet in Columbus. Walter was in first place with 152 mph, and Arthur lay second at 150. Arthur remembers: "My mother was with us; she used to help us out, paint monster faces on the front of our cars for us, things like that. And she called me over and she says, 'Your brother has got top time. You're always winning. You always have to win. Now stay out of the car and let him win!' Well, when I made my run I got down near the timing clocks, and I remembered her saying to take it easy and don't break the 152, and I had a temper tantrum. I just sorta put my foot clear through the radiator, and I did 167. I tore a wheel off right through the clocks, and it went 60 feet in the air, but I was able to stop the car. And then I remembered my mother had said if I beat Walter she'd never speak to me again. So I went back to the other end, but she was gone."
Says Bessie Arfons: "Yes, I got real angry with him that day. He was winning all the time, and Walter had a nice little car and I guess Arthur couldn't stand for somebody to beat him. Ever' kid has their own pride, regardless of what they are. They want to be top dog."
Says Walter's wife, Gertrude: "Arthur's big problem was he's a bad loser. Lots of people are bad losers, but he's an exceptionally bad loser."