At 16, Milton Hamilton had never driven a semi-truck, until Harold White, the founder of Harold White Lumber Company, asked him to drive a load of lumber.
"Heck yeah! I can do it," Milton said without hesitating. "I was just 16, I didn't care."
Milton turned that first trip into a 15-year run driving tractor-trailers for the company. Now Milton, 79, is a yard manager, along with his son, Darrel, 59. Darrel started working at the yard at 14 and has worked alongside his dad for 45 years.
Back when Milton started, lumber was loaded and unloaded by hand and horses carried logs around the lot. Darrel remembers when his dad came home after working on the yard.
"He'd be soaking wet. Sweat squishing in his boots," Darrel recalls.
Now automation has streamlined much of the process. Conveyors shuffle sorted wood throughout the mill and saws cut boards with laser precision. A fleet of massive forklifts and front end loaders whirl around the lot. Outstretched tongs hoist thousands of pounds of wood from mill to stockyard, kiln, warehouse and truck.
"The timber industry built Morehead," says Harold's son, Ray, now company president. "Our hearts are in the woods."
Milton and Darrel arrive at the yard at 6 a.m. to oversee the 100-acre and 95-employee operation. The pair barely has a chance to catch their breath once the yard is up and running. Both drive around constantly in their old Jeep Cherokees. Darrel estimates he drives 50 miles a week, shuffling workers among the warehouses and stockyards.
When they’re not in the yard, the Hamiltons can be found in the company's wood-paneled office, calculating orders and taking stock of the inventory. The walls are lined with curled pictures of the trucks Milton used to drive before settling down into working in the yard.
Milton says he has no plans of slowing down.
“It almost feels like home," he says. "I’ve been here so long I don't want to quit.”
Ray says employees are family, not numbers. "Milton will always have a job with us as long as he's fit to work," he says.