One of Jefferson County’s most unique personalities is nowhere to be found.
James Patrick Arsulich died April 7, 2023 at St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor, Washington, during emergency surgery after battling a series of health issues. He was 66. James was an honest, hard-working husband and friend who handled machining tools, sailboats, a six-hitch team of Percheron draft horses and guitars.
James was born March 10, 1957 in San Diego, California to Thomas and Norma Mae Arsulich, the fourth of five sons: Michael, Steven, Richard, James and Thomas. Their father died when James was 4; the boys were raised by their mother and grandparents until James was 14, when his mother married Robert Lonergan, whom the boys knew as “dad.”
The Arsulich boys and neighborhood friends were known as the Alice Street Gang. The bonds these boys forged run deep, as evidenced by the annual Alice Street Invitational golf tourney.
James attended Crawford High School (Class of 1975) during which he trained as a machinist at San Diego City College. About 1982, James moved to Port Townsend, Wash., to head the machine shop at Cadillac Meter Co. (manufacturer of flow meters). Soon after, Gay Montgomery, whose family settled some 30 miles south at Camp Harmony along Dabob Bay, in the early 1900s, also started at the company.
Sailing was their social introduction. James got a small sailboat and invited Gay and a coworker sailing. In summer 1984, James asked just her for a weekend sail to the San Juan Islands – friendship became relationship. James remained in the Port Townsend competitive sailing scene until 2020.
Gay helped at a farm where draft horses were raised. James visited, joined their trip to the Pacific National Exposition in Vancouver, B.C. and became hooked. In 1986 James told Gay, “Honey, we’ve got to get a team” of draft horses. Gay responded, “You said you wanted a no-strings relationship. Buying a team is a pretty big string.” James replied, “So maybe we ought to get married then.”
The couple were wed in Seattle, and soon after got draft horses. Eventually they had as many as 19 Percherons. Tarboo Farms raised 22 newborns. Their horses and wagon appeared in local parades, at the NW Washington Fair in Lynden, the PNE, Western Washington State Fair in Monroe, Evergreen State Fair in Puyallup, and the Bonner County Fair in Sandpoint, Idaho. James served as emcee for many draft horse shows.
Starting about 2006 they operated Port Townsend Livery & Carriage. James was a natural tour guide. When it came time for in-home care of aging family members, and when James had his first cancer battle, they left the draft horse business.
James and Gay, who worked 22 years as a critical care nurse at Children’s Hospital, were never able to have children. Their warm and giving ways have led them to claim six kids, all learning a strong work ethic at Tarboo Farms. The two trios of siblings who love “Uncle James” like a father are Ashley, Chris and Taylor, and Erika, Kara and Justin.
Railroad operations and history was a big interest. He ran trains with the Port Townsend Southern Model Railroad Club and at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum while perpetually building his own HO layout. His favorite line was the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, where a grandfather had been a conductor.
James was both friendly and gruff. He could banter with the best; rough around the edges with a heart of gold. He was also a natural born singer. A female high school teacher once burst into the boys’ restroom because she heard a gorgeous singing voice. James kept his secret then, sharing his voice and guitar later with family and friends.
Survivors include his wife, Gay; brothers Michael, Steven and Richard; several nieces and nephews; and a lot of friends.
A Celebration of Life for James and his brother Tommy (who died April 6, 2020) is Sunday, July 2, 2023 at the Arsulich property along Dabob Bay.
Donations in memory of James Arsulich may be made to Habitat for Humanity of East Jefferson County, or your local Habitat chapter.