When James Simpson was born, Dr. Jesse Meeks of Gainesville told his family he probably wouldn’t make it overnight.
Seventy-seven years later, he’s not in the best of health, but he is one of the most successful businessmen in North Georgia.
Family members stayed and worked with James overnight, after he was born, to help him survive. That was what Dr. Meeks expected. James lost vision in one eye during birth, but that wasn’t an obstacle he couldn’t overcome.
James and his family operate Simpson Trucking and Grading Co. on Candler Road. Their company has taken on multi-million-dollar contracts with Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Interstate 285 and 85 (Spaghetti Junction), Kubota plants off Ga. 365, the battery plant near Commerce, Chateau Elan, schools, hospitals, subdivisions and the widening of U.S. 129 in Gainesville, among many others.
When he can get them, James works 250 people 10-12 hours a day, grading, driving trucks, hauling dirt and other jobs. He has tractors sitting with nobody to run them.
“I don’t want to brag,” he said. “But, we are probably the biggest in North Georgia.”
Others would say the company is one of the biggest contractors in Georgia.
One of the projects Simpson Trucking and Grading has at the moment is grading for a Gainesville industrial park off Fulenwider Road with a road that will reach from Candler Road to U.S. 129. Fulenwider Road is where James grew up.
James has always been a salesman. He told his teacher at Candler School that if he made all A’s, he could get a bicycle.
The teacher told him if he would build a fire in her school room’s stove, she would give him all A’s. He did, and he got his bike. That might have been the first wheels he owned, but there were many more to come.
James also sold candy up and down Candler Road.
He and his mother, Lillian Freeman Simpson, hauled pulpwood to sell in Gainesville in a Plymouth pickup truck. He also got into the scrap metal business with Freeman Russell and hauled asphalt for Shepherd Construction Co.
His interest in grading and hauling started around age 14, when he would dig septic tanks and basements by hand, at first carrying dirt bucket-by-bucket.
“That’s how I learned to love dirt,” James said.
Later, he acquired a front-end loader and began acquiring trucks to haul dirt. Horace Allison of Gainesville Truck Center let him have six trucks and told him if he couldn’t pay for them by spring, to bring them back and park them. James didn’t have to return them.
Now James has 117 trucks total, including pickups and 60 scrapers. His insurance bill on equipment has risen from $2,600 a year to $1.4 million.
“We just growed and growed and growed,” he said.
The whole Simpson family is involved in the business. James’ sons Greg and Gus began driving trucks as soon as they were eligible. His daughter Angie looks after the Simpson homeplace and property on Roy Parks Road, as does James’s wife of 22 years, Betty. Even the grandchildren are involved in the business. Greg is president of the company.
James admits being “a little wild” in his younger days. He loved racing and had his sons driving cars at Lanier Raceway. He loved to ride motorcycles. James and his brother Jackie used to enjoy “getting lost” in the woods ‘coon hunting.
Grading and hauling dirt can be hazardous. James was digging out a basement for Dan Bishop in Flowery Branch, when his bulldozer flipped over backwards.
Except for “being beat up pretty good,” he wasn’t seriously injured. He also didn’t get hurt when he overturned a dump truck at Bud Lunsford’s Lanier Raceway.
James overcame cancer once, but he has stage 4 cancer today. However, before he broke his leg two months ago, he was still out and about, seeing to the company’s business. His attitude remains positive.
“Gainesville and Hall County have been good to me,” James said, “And, the good Lord has blessed me so much.”
Angie said her family are members of Calvary Baptist Church, which James supports generously financially. James also contributes regularly to other churches in his community.
Besides running a successful grading and hauling operation, James oversees a lifelong hobby that attracts thousands of visitors to his South Hall farm.
Anyone driving on that road knows of his hobby — collecting cars. Old cars, many of them rusting and inoperable, line the road. However, it isn’t a junkyard.
The vehicles are neatly arranged in rows, and the grounds are kept in good shape. Around 50 or so are in running condition.
What’s more, car fanciers or just the curious can look them over from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, at no charge.
If you’re interested in purchasing a classic car or parts, you’ll be disappointed.
“I’ve never sold any,” James said.
He has paid as much as $5,000 for some, but many have been given to him.
James has a 1960 Ford Fairlane police car, supposedly from “The Andy Griffith Show.” The collection includes a 1931 Model A Ford from Folsom Prison. There’s a pink 1965 Cadillac that once stood on a stand at Cadillac Ranch in Forsyth County. The owner said James could have it if he could take it down, and he did.
Large crowds, including car clubs, often visit. Last year, more than 4,000 people attended an event on the property that featured 750 show cars. The free event included barbecue and ice cream. Scott Hancock of Cleveland turned an oversized ice cream freezer with a team of mules. The Simpsons ask visitors to sign a school bus he has near the entrance of the farm.
It takes a lot of work and money to keep up his collection. In addition to hiring somebody to keep the vehicles in shape, James pays around $50,000 a year in county taxes on them.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, firstname.lastname@example.org. His column publishes weekly.