Still trucking: from one J.E. Ladd to another

Dec. 30, 2013 @ 11:28 AM

Since 1882. That’s how long a man named J.E. Ladd has moved people in and around Durham. Five generations of men named J.E. Ladd, plus other Ladds, too. The slogan of J.E. Ladd & Son Transfer is, “We moved your antiques when they were new.” Indeed. When Durham itself was new, J.E. Ladd met people getting off the train downtown with his horse and wagon. It was a dray service then. The first J.E. Ladd passed the company down to his son and then his son and then his son, J.E. Ladd IV, who goes by Jimmy. Jimmy Ladd is going to be 65 on his next birthday, and after moving and driving moving trucks most of his life, 2014 will be his first year of retirement. Next in line is J.E. Ladd V, who goes by Jay and has already worked for his family’s business off and on for 20 years. Jay Ladd and his brother-in-law Rodney Lewis will take over the business and are planning to expand services for the next busy moving summer season.
Jimmy and Jay Ladd talk about the business the way fathers and sons do. Differences of opinion sometimes, but the same goal. Jay Ladd said they’ll get a new truck and start accepting credit cards. He and his brother-in-law, Rodney Lewis, will be co-owners now. Lewis started working for Ladd & Son soon after he started dating Jay’s sister, Lori. “That was 23 years ago,” Lewis said.
Jay Ladd and Lewis will expand hours, including weekends. Jimmy Ladd said five days of work a week was enough for him all these years.
“I’m ready. It’s hard work and I’m ready,” Jimmy Ladd said. Some years they turned down as much work as they accepted because it was so busy. He doesn’t have plans for retirement yet, and his wife will still answer the company phone. “I’ve got to find me something else to do,” he said. Jimmy Ladd’s dad, who went by James, retired but was still interested in the business until his death in 2010. It was hard not to, as he lived on the same street as the office. Jimmy Ladd followed his dad’s advice on running the company – treat employees like you’d want to be treated.
The history of J.E. Ladd & Son Transfer is also a history of Durham. It has been on Benjamine Street for decades, but before that it was at 613 E. Main St., 714 E. Main St. and 101 Briggs Ave. Paperwork from the 1940s shows the Ladd phone number as just five digits. They were the only ones in East Durham to have a telephone for a while. Their business thrived mostly by word of mouth for decades, and they moved everything from household goods to pianos to Durham’s voting machines, which they still do. Once, when politician Terry Sanford bought a piano for his wife as a surprise, they circled the block until the Sanfords had left the house for dinner so they could set it up. The Ladds have bought or been given several pieces of furniture from those whom they moved, including a china cabinet from Julian Carr’s mansion.
Jimmy Ladd was born in 1949 and remembers his great-grandfather, the first J.E. Ladd, who gave young Jimmy candy. Jimmy Ladd’s grandfather – J.E. Ladd Jr. -- moved a lot of safes, and one fell and crushed his leg. They almost amputated it so gangrene wouldn’t set in, Ladd said, but “after a while it got alright. He had a little hop, but was alright.” J.E. Ladd Jr. kept working until his death at age 75.
The land on Benjamine Street, just off East Main Street, is owned by family members and backs up to Woodlawn Cemetery, where Ladds are buried. During the Great Depression, the Ladds had side businesses, too, including a tavern called the Silver Slipper Saloon, long gone and now part of the cemetery. Jimmy Ladd’s grandmother, Lula Bell Ladd, was the business’ bookkeeper and answered the company phone from 1923 until her death in 1995. She drove a truck a few times, too, and they gave rides to people going to Carolina Beach. But mostly it has been the male Ladds doing the heavy lifting.
“We’re built for the job – short and stocky,” Jay Ladd said. His sister Lori went into the medical field, but Lori and Rodney Lewis’ daughter, Savanna, 11, might join the family business.
“I like it,” she said.
“When you get the moving company, what do you want to do?” asked her uncle Jay Ladd.
“Be the boss,” Savanna said.