Family reflects on the life and times of Ed Northington as his business comes to an end

by Ray Van Dusen
Monroe Journal

GATTMAN – The children of Ed Northington, a Monroe County trucking mogul who passed away in 2007 from cancer, can agree on the biggest lesson he taught – how to be a hard worker. "The day I got married, I still had to work til dinner," said Wayne Northington, who spent 43-and-a-half years working maintenance for WEJ Trucking. "Some times we'd have to work until 3 or 4 in the morning fixing trucks and be back at work at 7. I remember working 18 to 20 hours a day seven days a week when we were working on the waterway." The trucking company grew from its first truck to a powerhouse of a business, but it will come to an end later this month. From hard times to big promises According to his son, Jim, Ed quit school to work at a sawmill when he was 9 and started driving a truck when he was 10 or 11. "He got a job with Pullman Couch. He was a good worker, so they wanted to make him a foreman but since he couldn't read or write, he quit. He bought a junked up International truck for $600 from Waters Transportation and started hauling in 1960," Jim said. Ed had a chain horse rigged up over a hickory branch in his front yard he used to work on motors. "I've seen him pull a motor at quitting time and have it running the next morning," Jim said. Wayne, who started fixing flats at age 10, remembers building his first motor there when he was 12. Through his trucking company, Ed was able to buy one junk truck at a time until he ultimately built up a reliable fleet and a business spanning across Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. There was one defining job that propelled the business to new heights. "In 1981, he came up to my house and said, 'You won't believe what I did. I met with some folks in Nashville and I promised to haul a million tons next year.' He said, 'They may run us out of the country, but I'll have a pocket full of money.' I said, 'Daddy, we've never hauled 100,000 tons, if not 50,000 tons in a year,'" Ed said. That big-commitment job was hauling rip rap for a stretch of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway from Columbus to Tishomingo County. Dirt poor and dedicated One time when Ed was unable to work for a short time, there was $20 left and a wife and four children at home. "My mother worked at the garment plants, and we didn't get any government assistance. Coy Glenn couldn't give her a bonus without giving everybody else one but would tell her to take fabric home to make my sister a dress or make us boys shirts. He helped her survive," Jim said. Ed's daughter, Shelia Rasbury, said their mother, Myrle, was his rock and inspiration. "He wouldn't have been where he was without her. They were two of a kind," she said. Both of them raced cars, and he even faced off against NASCAR legend Bobby Allison once at Birmingham Speedway. "He was in the whiskey business and the racing business, and that's how NASCAR got its start," Jim said. "Even when he was 72, he got pulled over in Florida for going 110 miles per hour." Even though Ed didn't finish school, he was firm when it came to his children's education. Next to education in the classroom, he was a firm believer in learning by experience. "He was the type who said you were going to do it and walk away. He had me ride with a truck driver one day and told me I was going to start driving the next day. His theory was if you learn it that way, you'd never forget. He taught me more than I could ever learn in school," Jim said. As the jobs and contracts snowballed for WEJ Trucking after the waterway was built, Ed never bragged about the money or even let the idea of having it consume him. "He taught us to get every nickle you can and work as hard as you can. He said, 'If they didn't want to give you a dime, get a nickle,'" Wayne said. Jim remembers the valuable lesson he learned – "Anybody can make money, but the key to it is keeping it." "There's no telling how much he made in his lifetime. Almost everything he'd touch would turn to gold. He'd do stuff nobody else would want to do like hauling rip rap because nobody else was doing it," Jim said. According to Ed's son, Johnny, 90 percent of rip rap alongside local highways was hauled by WEJ Trucking. "We've furnished everything up the Trace to the Alabama state line, helped build casinos and as much as I hate to say, worked at Ole Miss' football field," said Johnny, a die hard Alabama fan. "With every major construction job in the past 50 years, there's a good chance we hauled for it." Through the years, WEJ Trucking has employed numerous people, including some of the long-time employees like Joey 'El Rod' Gray, who's worked there for nearly 30 years; James 'Fox' Perks, who drove there for 32 years; and 82-year-old Aunt Burma Jordan, who worked there for 26 years. WEJ Trucking will creak to an end March 25, as Stevens Auction Company will conduct an absolute auction to liquidate the company's entire inventory. What Ed's net worth is an undisclosed mystery, but his method of getting there was simple – work hard and work often.