The Serial Entrepreneur

By

Steven Dickey Arnold

I am a confessed serial entrepreneur who just loves to start a new business and develop new ideas. Since the age of twenty, I have owned and operated my own businesses. In 1971 a couple of college buddies and I  started a waterbed company in Dallas, Waterbed Systems International.

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus!

By 1980 the business grew to become Dallas – Ft. Worth Distributing, Inc. , #88 on the Inc. Magazine’s Top 100 Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies in America and by the next year, #223 on Inc. Magazines’ expanded list of 500 companies. And that was just the beginning. 

Loco Hills, NM Gusher circa 1950

My father and I started a family oil and gas investment partnership in 1972. Gus Arnold, Ltd., based in Whitehouse, Texas., invests in oil and gas drilling projects, working interests and mineral interests.  We initially focused on the East Texas fields, however we quickly began to expand our horizons with projects in New Mexico, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Texas. Through feast and famine we were able to build a successful diversified portfolio of small interests in over 100 wells by his death in 1982.

I have continued to operate the company as General Partner and we currently own small interests in over 50 wells in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi. Oklahoma, and New Mexico. 

In 1986, my wife and I founded Texas Dabble, Inc.  a Texas corporation, as a holding company in which to operate new family businesses. It’s first endeavor was a donut shop in North Dallas.  Preston Road Donuts was the only Kosher donut shop in North Texas. We are not Jewish, but to remain Kosher, a Rabbi came by once a month to inspect, bless the shop and eat his fill.

When we moved to Kansas City, MO in 1988 to operate our next venture, we closed the donut shop. Our Kansas City operation, One Stop Supply, was a furniture distribution company specializing in waterbeds, bedroom furniture and futons. In addition, we bought out our partner in the Dallas furniture distribution company in 1988. Wait for it……yes we had business operations in Tyler, Dallas and Kansas City, but decided to move to Malibu, CA to get into the feature film business! 

I had studied Broadcast/Film at SMU and UT Arlington during my 2.5 years in college. I did’t finish college, instead choosing to get into business on my own as fast as I could. This is the curse of the serial entrepreneur. No time to waste on school, other people, the economy or even yourself. You must be moving, growing and making things happen, often with the proverbial cart well ahead of the horse. So, off to the infamous, cozy beachy townlette of Malibu, CA and the thrill of producing, writing and directing movies!  

I was able to run our other businesses, plus my growing stock portfolio from our “cabin in the sky”‘ home perched high above the breaking waves in the Santa Monica mountains with a breath taking view of the sky and Catalina Island. The unique home was hand built by actor, Tim Matheson, using “discarded” sets and props from the Spielberg movie “1941.” This adventure in creative shelter was located up a winding narrow canyon road and almost to the summit of the Santa Monica mountains and it ‘s infamous Mulholland Drive. From our bed we could see the bright lights of Los Angeles glowing like so many embers representing thousands of opportunities in the then, free-for-all world of feature film production. 

We established our company, SAFE Productions,  (Steve Arnold Film Entertainment) with a couple of projects and had several in development when my wife’s father became terminally ill. We decided that, as nice as it was living near the beach in Southern California’s favorite get away for the rich & famous, it was not the atmosphere where we wanted to raise our then 8 and 3 year old children. In addition, we wanted them to know their only living grandfather before he passed. So after already moving 4 times in 3 years, we decided to move to Dripping Springs, TX just south of Austin.

Negotiations on the house we wanted drew out and finally collapsed, so already having a house in East Texas that was between renters, we decided to move to Whitehouse, Texas temporarily,……………. 29 years ago and this is where we live today. Same house, temporarily, 29 years later. 

I continued to work on several movie projects we had started in California, along with some new projects that came up while in Texas. 

including the Warner Brothers release “The Specialist” starring Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone

These carried me back and forth to LA frequently for several years, but once these were completed or otherwise terminated, we moved on to other projects.  One of which was to create and produce a TV special entitled “Roll On, Cowboys,” still as SAFE Productions, only it now stands for Steve Arnold Family Entertainment! This one hour, award winning special starred The Official Cowboy Poet of Texas, Red Steagall.

It also included a handful of terrific Texas  cowboy talent, captured live telling fabulous tales through their original songs and homespun poetry while gathered around the traditional evening campfire on the banks of the Bosque River near Meridian, Texas. 

The very same location where many years before, cowboys, cooks and cattlemen would likewise gather to swap tales and begin their long, arduous push of young cows toward the railroad lots in none other than the home of one of our other businesses, Kansas City. This was the Southern gateway to the Old Chisholm Trail as described in many a story of the West in the early frontier days. Men and cattle against the elements, rain, rivers, drought, starvation, loneliness, disease and other men; Red, Black, Yellow and White. It was very dangerous work for what were, for the most part, teenage boys. 

Our fledgling production crew consisted of a 16 track digital audio studio set up in a 16 foot a hay trailer with 2 audio engineers, a sports production truck (with instant replay if needed) 3 camera operators, a camera switch/tape operator and video engineer, my best friend and best man at our wedding just weeks before, Bill Hood as Director, and his wife, Sara as Production Coordinator.

Bill Hood and I on the set of  Roll On, Cowboys
Bill Hood and I on the set of Roll On, Cowboys

We had a number of hard working volunteers, who had heard about the project through the John A. Lomax Gathering staff and other feelers that we put out. They helped with site setup, tending the campfire, chuck wagon, costume and set design, parking, crowd control and feeding this always hungry crowd of production misfits. As Producer, Writer and Creator of the show, I was in charge of everything else including financing, bill paying, hiring the performers and crew, contracts, selecting the material they were to perform, writing the story and script, organizing rehearsals, security, rehearsing and directing talent during the live shoot, post production editing of sound and video, screenings and audience reaction surveys, writing and shooting additional material, re-editing, re-re-editing, artwork, graphic design, promotional efforts, syndication and ad sales, duplication, video and audio tape sales and fulfillment of customer orders. You might say I was Chief, Cook & Bottle Washer on this one. We went forward with the production that night in spite of the fact the local weather babes were predicting rain that evening. 

Songs were sung, poetry spoken, spontaneous jokes made, lines to their own poems forgotten and then miraculously remembered in a waterfall of laughter from their unseen but live audience of family, friends, volunteers, extras, locals and crew. Plus  a well deserved, but good natured ribbing from their fellow cowboy performers. With the final take on tape at almost midnight, cast, crew and audience alike began to mosey around and slowly gather their belongings while bidding one another farewell when we heard the first clap of thunder. 

Was it God giving his approval to the nights activities?. If it was God, He must’ve really liked the show as the clapping of thunder and lightning continued for about an hour midst the torrential rain the weather babes had so vehemently predicted only a few hours before. Those who were moseying just moments before were now scurrying to gather or cover expensive equipment and props, while getting soaked themselves. 

Las Vegas Convention booth featuring Roll On, Cowboys

The show premiered as the Odyssey Cable Network’s “Featured Saturday Night Presentation” about a year later.  Many of those involved watched the final product for the first time at a reception and screening of the broadcast hosted by The University of Texas at Tyler School of Performing Arts in their David G. and Jacqueline M. Braithwaite Recital Hall. 

Then it was on to other adventures. 

I became a Christian and was baptized on Mother’s Day, 1994 at the tender age of 43. Two years later, I volunteered to fill in as interim Youth Minister for the church of Christ where my family had began worshipping. We specifically moved to this new church because of their Youth Minister & Youth Program, only he resigned and moved to a different congregation. Go Figure!

 After about six weeks of “searching” for a new minister, the Eldership offered to pay me to continue as Youth Minister on a part-time basis. They offered to pay me to do a job I would’ve been happy to do for free. In their ultimate wisdom, it became a full time after that, what with teaching 3 Bible classes each week and organizing a Youth devotional in a different home every Sunday evening including scheduling transportation from the church building to the devotional and back again to the church building. Then there was VBS and LTC and 5th Sunday Singings and summer camp retreats and fall weekend retreats, lock in’s, 4 States Singing School and more, oh so much more. It was some of the most challenging and satisfying ”work” I’ve ever done. 

The kids are all grown up now, including our own boy and girl and it continues to amaze me all the things we did as a group. It makes me happy to see them as adults, some with families of their own. They still call me “Mr. Steve” as they did then. A comfortable expression of respect and love I suppose. Just as the young athletes I coached on my son’s baseball and soccer teams from T-Ball and Herd-Ball days up until he reached High School age still call me “Coach.”  That’ll bring a happy tear to my eye even when I’m deep in the throws of a particularly terrible bout of Parkinson’s effects.  

I could go on to tell more tales of other experiences and businesses we’ve had including as a Director of Development, Videographer, Magician, Clown, Game Show Host, Talent Agent, Flower Shop owner, Wedding & Event Coordinators, Caterers, Catfish Cook, eBay Merchant, RV Salesman, Roofing Salesman, Sales Trainer and Business Consultant.

I could also tell tales of another serious condition I’ve gone through and God has helped me overcome. That would be Crohn’s.

But instead, I’ll end this note with a simple Thank You to God and all the wonderful people He’s put in my life. And with a special “thank you, mask man” to every one of you who were there for me when I needed a friend or a Kimosabe or a Tonta, the brave; to simply nod and listen while I spoke my fears and tears away.

Peace and Love to each of you, my friends. Now it’s my turn to sit still and quietly nod knowingly while listening to your aching heart or grateful prayers.

The Revolvers
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