Ronald Grant still works on transmissions and rear axles at White’s Tractor and Truck Companies.
Lisa Boykin Batts | Times
Ronald Grant holds an early photo of himself and his co-workers at White’s Tractor and Truck Companies. Grant is the second man in the second row squatting, from left.
Lisa Boykin Batts | Times
By Lisa Boykin Batts
Times Associate Editor
Ronald Grant said he will know when it’s time to retire. But for now, the 81-year-old is content working three days a week getting his hands dirty at White’s Tractor and Truck Companies.
If his health suffers or he can’t satisfactorily do his work as a transmission and rear axle technician, he said he will stop his job of 63 years.
Grant’s bosses — now into the fourth generation of the White-Herring family — are glad to have him around.
Stephanie Smith, whose family currently owns the company, said Grant’s background is invaluable.
“He teaches all these young guys how to rebuild axles and transmissions,” she said. “He’s got knowledge that you don’t get out of a book. You don’t get it out of a computer either.”
Grant was 17 years old in May of 1953 when he showed up at what was then called Dr. L.J. Herring Implement Company — located on Barnes Street in downtown Wilson.
Grant, one of eight children, had quit high school in Snow Hill to help tend the farm with his brother after their father died. It was hard work.
“There’s bound to be a better way to make a living,” Grant told his brother.
He knew Herring was looking to hire a young person, so he went to Wilson on a Friday to inquire about the job.
“The interview lasted probably 10 minutes,” Grant said.
Herring looked at Grant and commented how he was a “big fella” and could probably help out.
He also asked Grant two questions: “Have you ever stolen anything” and “What can you do?”
“I’ll do anything you tell me to do,” was his second answer.
Herring told Grant to be at work Monday morning at 7:30.
Herring immediately put the young Grant to work, training him and setting him loose to see what he had learned.
“I swept the floor, and I changed oil,” he said.
Grant continued learning and improving both in the shop and at a motor truck training center in Atlanta. When the business — then named Herring Tractor and Truck Company — moved to its current location on U.S. 301 in the early 1960s, he was a valued employee.
“By the time we came out here, I could do anything for a truck — bumper to bumper,” he said.
The following year, Grant was asked to be to be service manager. Trucks were coming to the Wilson business from all over the Eastern Seaboard, and the company needed him. Grant hesitated at first, telling Herring he didn’t want to be a manager.
“I wanted to keep on pulling wrenches,” he said.
But he decided to take the promotion and kept the job for the next 17 years — staying very involved with the vehicle repairs.
“I would put my hands on whatever went on in that shop,” he said.
Over the years, the truck repair business has evolved, and Grant changed with the times in how he worked.
In his younger days, to diagnose a problem with a “missing” or “skipping” engine on a gasoline engine, he would pull a spark plug to figure out which cylinder had a problem.
Now with modern electric engines, he can also run a computerized diagnostic test to find the problem.
“The computer tells you,” he said.
His work method has changed as well. Now transmissions are removed from the truck body and brought to him to work on in the tool room. Customers know Grant can find discontinued parts and make old transmissions work again, Smith said.
Grant, a self-described “working man,” has pulled tools from that tool room for many decades now. Smith and her family thought it was appropriate to name the room in his honor and earlier this month had a sign printed and hung over the tool room door.
Smith said they wanted to honor him. After so many years of giving watches, clocks and plaques, they wanted to do something different to recognize his six decades of work.
“That is his tool room,” she said.
Grant, who lives in Stantonsburg, is also grateful to his work family and said he’s never had to worry about a paycheck. He was offered other jobs over the years, but he stood by the company that took a chance on him so many years ago. Grant said he’s never believed in the saying that the grass is always greener somewhere else.
In the last 63 years, the company has stuck with him and taken care of him as well. That became apparent early on.
A few months after he started work in 1953, Grant’s mother died. His father was already dead, so that left the task of burying her to Grant and his seven siblings.
“We children each had to have $100 apiece to put our mama away,” he said.
Grant didn’t have that much money, but Herring let him borrow the money and told the teenage Grant to pay him back when he could.
The company also supported him when his young son died in 1973, and again in 1999 when his wife died. Grant had semi-retired three years before her death. After she was gone, he was lonely.
“There was nobody in that house except me,” he said.
So he took his doctor’s advice to stay busy. For Grant, that meant being at work,
The White-Herring family is grateful to Grant and the many years of service he has given the company.
“We want him to be here as long as he wants to be here,” Smith said.
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