Sixty-five years and counting

Longtime Army surplus store to celebrate anniversary

Ronnie Turner, proprietor of Turner's Army Surplus store in Leary, Texas, stands in his American Military History Museum at the store. Turner will celebrate the store's 65th anniversary July 21.

By Greg Bischof

Texarkana Gazette

LEARY, Texas-Even after 65 years in business, Ronnie Turner- proprietor of Turner's Army Surplus store-said he and his family look forward to more years.

Between 11 a.m., and 2 p.m., July 21 Turner and his family will invite customers to the business to celebrate the 65-year life of this Interstate 30 roadside military surplus outlet. The business was opened in the spring of 1953 by Turner's dad, George Turner, on U.S. Highway 82 near Hooks.

"Through all 65 years we've met a lot of good people and we have made a lot of good friends and we plan to keep doing that," Turner said. "I've loved this business and I will continue to love it for years to come. It's been good to my whole family. If I had to do it all over again, I would."

Sixty-five years ago, the late George Turner opened the business as "Turner's Truck and Jeep Store" which also sold truck and Jeep parts out of its 1,500 square feet of sales space.

"Dad got into running a vehicle surplus business after both World War II and the Korean War, because at that time, military surplus vehicles were about all that were available and people needed whatever transportation they could find-mainly because there still weren't many civilian automobiles-following both wars."

Back in 1953 Ronnie Turner, who was just 11 years old at the time, remembers his dad opening up the wood-frame enterprise. There, young Turner himself became a full-time family employee upon graduating from Hooks Highs School in 1961.

Even throughout the 1960s, the business continued to thrive as a truck and truck parts outlet, largely because of the local log hauling industry and paper mills in the Texarkana area,Turner said.

"Since then, I've had sons and grand sons, a son-in-law and a daughter work here," Turner said.

The business gradually evolved from being a Jeep and truck outlet to becoming a clothing business, selling everything from field jackets to police and prison system gear. Some military items, such as bayonets and canteens continue to sell well because they can be re-used for civilian purposes, Turner added.

Higher traffic volumes on Interstate 30 eventually convinced Turner, who became the store's owner in the 1970s, to relocate it from U.S. 82 to Interstate 30 in 1986.

Since moving to the I-30 location, one of the store's greatest customer attention getters has been the F-111 fighter plane parked outside in front of the current 6,000 square-foot business.

Turner,who got the jet fighter in 1995, said it has been a prime landmark and major drawing card for the last 23 years.

"When people drive along and see this airplane, they've just got to pull off and take a closer look at it, and when they stop they see all the other things we have." Turner said. "It's been the best advertisement we've had. Because of the F-111, we've met a lot of nice people-not only locally, but from all across the country."

Besides the F-111, the fact that the business is still an army surplus store also prompted Turner to start his own military museum, which is attached to the store. What started out as a small historical section inside the store at least as far back as September of 1997, has since grown into a 2,000-square-foot vintage showcase now covering 100 years of American military uniform and weapons history- starting from World War I to today's continuing Middle Eastern conflicts.

Some of the museum's more noteworthy artifacts include century-old Army helmets on up to the most modern head protection. There's also an authentic Japanese Imperial Navy enlisted man's uniform from World War II, along with a Navy pilot's flight gear and rare, perhaps never-seen-before photos recording the attack on Pear Harbor, taken by an ordinary U.S. sailor who happened to be there that day.

"We've had visitors from as far away as Holland and Sydney, Australia, drop by our museum," Turner said. "We've had teachers from local school districts come by and take their students on a tour of the place. I started collecting museum pieces in the 1980s because history has always been a passion of mine."

Looking back on the store's 65-year history, Turner attributed its success to his family's overall attention to being friendly, fair an courteous to customers.

"We also have the words 'Smile Jesus Loves You' on our front door," Turner said. "I feel that what we've been able to do through the years, has been blessed by the Lord."

For more information regarding the store's 65th anniversary celebration on July 21, call 903-832-6985.