Tow to Tow
by Sherrie Norris
The owner of Hampton's Body Shop and Towing Service in Boone for more than 50 years, Hampton was forced into retirement several years ago due to declining health.
He was never one to give up easily, however, and occupied his time with various hobbies before settling on woodworking as his favorite.
Spending quality time with his family was important to Hampton.
He was also known as a dependable friend to countless people through the years and especially enjoyed his association with High Country Travelers, a local classic car club comprised of his fellow automobile enthusiasts.
In an earlier interview with the Watauga Democrat (March 2012), Hampton shared how he started his business with an old 1949 Dodge and two employees when he bought his first body shop in 1964.
"We took care of all the painting, towing and the bookwork for a long time," he said.
As the business expanded, his wife, Joyce Hampton, became office manager.
His sons, Dwayne and Toby, grew up in the business and gradually fell into their father's footsteps as competent businessmen, roles they continue to share today.
In 1999, Hampton suffered a heart attack, which resulted in bypass surgery and the doctor's suggestion to retire.
His need for a kidney transplant soon followed, at which time "the boys" assumed business operations, he said.
Joyce also relinquished her duties as office manager to their granddaughter, Alicia, and the couple retreated to a less stressful lifestyle.
Two years ago, Hampton announced that his "kids" had done a wonderful job keeping it going. At that time, the family business had 15 employees and 12 tow trucks.
He said he was "blessed to have been in a family business for 48 years," and said, "I hope we'll be around for many more."
Unable to continue the work that he loved and had known practically all of his adult life, Hampton missed his hands-on involvement with the business. One might say that he continued it in an innovative way, and on a much smaller scale.
He handcrafted a miniature tow truck, similar to the ones utilized in his family business. It was a novelty of sorts, he said. He presented it to his grandson, Andrew, as a keepsake.
Not one easily satisfied with the mediocre, however, Hampton eventually shifted to a higher gear.
"Long about the first of December," he said, "I started thinking about building another wrecker. I picked up a few odds and ends around the house and the shop, and one thing led to another."
He started with some shipping crates, from which he cut out his version of a Peterbilt cab, onto which he inserted miniature shelving brackets for cab lights.
"I used bolts for headlights and I painted thumbtacks, nail heads and rhinestones for all the other lights," he said.
The windshield and door windows were made from Plexiglas and the bumper from a scrap piece of stainless steel.
His three-stage, fully rotating boom on the back was fashioned from paint-stirring paddles from the body shop and he turned his discarded golf tees into air horns.
Hampton discovered that empty thread spools -- from his wife's sewing supplies -- worked perfectly as winches, as did her bobbins, for pulleys; a small rope became the cable, as coat hangers transformed well into railing; washers became hubcaps; and wood was rounded into wheels.
Piping from the kitchen sink worked well as smoke stacks and other miscellaneous scraps fit into various places, as needed.
"I used the same paint scheme and lettering as what's on our trucks," he said, which, as most area residents know, had to be the company's signature purple and white.
Hampton's finished project, measuring approximately 24 by 6 by 7 inches, finally met his satisfaction.
With the help of neighboring businesses, Precision Printing and Northwest Glass, the familiar Hampton logo was added and the truck was encased in glass.
Hampton's newest handbuilt rig was put on display in the body shop lobby where it continues to be the subject of daily conversation.
Hampton was born April 25, 1937, in Watauga County, a son of the late Darius Sebastian Hampton and Lena Carroll Hampton. He was a member and deacon of Three Forks Baptist Church in Boone.
He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Joyce Hartley Hampton of the home; two sons, Dwayne S. Hampton and wife, Tonya, and Toby L. Hampton and wife, Ellen, all of Boone; four granddaughters, Jessica Stansberry and husband, Scott, of Sugar Grove, Alicia Townsend and husband, Mitchell, of Boone, Amanda Critcher and husband, Patrick, of Greensboro, and Leah Hampton of Boone; one grandson, Andrew Hampton of Boone; three great-granddaughters, Haleigh Lawson of Sugar Grove and Kayla Townsend and Alexa Townsend, both of Boone; one great-grandson, Hunter Townsend of Boone; two sisters, Juella Francis and husband, David, of Johnson City, Tenn., and Muriel Jean Jones and husband, J.B., of Boone; and one brother, Denver Hampton and wife, Avis, of Huntersville. He is also survived by a number of nieces and nephews.
Services will be conducted at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19, at Mount Vernon Baptist Church. The body will lie in state at the church from 1 p.m. until 2 p.m. Officiating will be Pastor David Ricker and the Rev. Ernest Richards. Burial will follow in Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens.
The family received friends from 5:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. Tuesday at the church and at other times at the residence, 394 Critcher Road, Boone.
Memorial contributions may be made to the American Kidney Foundation, 4701 Hedgemore Drive Ste. 810, Charlotte, NC 28209-2280 or to Three Forks Baptist Church, 1922 US Highway 421 South, Boone, NC 28607.
Hampton Funeral and Cremation Service is in charge of the arrangements.