HAMLET — Louron “Earl” Bradshaw, one of Hamlet’s best-known businessmen from days long gone, celebrates his 100th birthday today. He can tell stories of Hamlet’s glamorous rail hub days as though he were still there seeing and hearing it all.
He still drives himself wherever he needs to go and recently passed his renewal driving exam and vision test with flying colors. Now he doesn’t have to have his driver’s license renewed again until 2017.
“That’s what they told me,” Bradshaw said. “I just had my license renewed and they said I wouldn’t have to come back until I’m 103. It’s got no restrictions.”
In addition to taking care of his own business at home, he walks with the gait of a man much younger than himself. He walked from room to room inside his house during a recent interview, never wavering and without a cane or walker. It takes a little something to keep up with him.
“People always want to know my secret,” Bradshaw said. “I like to tell them, ‘eating a lot of sausage dogs!” Bradshaw laughed at his witty reference to the restaurant he owned on King Street.
“I was born in 1915 right on Spring Street, when it was still just a dirt road,” Bradshaw said. “I watched Hamlet bud, grow and eventually die.”
Bradshaw described the Hamlet he remembers from his teens and early adulthood as a place booming with activity.
“At one time, Hamlet had five hotels,” he said. “Can you believe it? Five. We had a lumber mill. If you wanted to build a house for yourself in Hamlet you could get every single part you needed straight from there. And we had some big businesses locate here because of the railroad. Swift and Co. and Armour.”
He said there were at least three or four cafes and “any number of boarding houses.” The economy was good and there was work for everyone.
“That’s because Hamlet was the hub of the whole Seaboard Railroad,” Bradshaw said.
His first business was a fish market he started, but he sold that one to his brother after getting his affairs in order when he received a draft letter summoning him for military service just before the end of World War II.
He went for training, then was told there had been a mistake. It turned out he wasn’t needed after all. So having sold his fish market already, he returned and opened a grocery store that also thrived.
Later he opened Bradshaw’s Tasty Freeze, which later evolved into the sausage dog place that came to be known simply as Bradshaw’s.
“Back then, the school was right across the street, and the kids would either walk home for lunch or come eat at my restaurant,” he said. “They had an hour off for lunch every day. Things were a lot simpler back then. And I had a snow cone machine. Those kids would be lined up from the door to the counter waiting for a chance to get at it.”
Bradshaw said he finds it hard to believe he retired from there 35 years ago.
“I never was highly educated,” he said. “But I have given more young people their first jobs than probably anyone else ever did in those days. All the young people who left working for me went on to have good jobs after graduating high school.”
Bradshaw said that even though a lot of things have changed in Hamlet, he is happy to have known the place. He said if Hamlet were a person, the two would be friends.
“I thank the Lord every day,” he said. “I’ve had a good, good life. And I thank him when I wake up and when I got to bed for giving me another day.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.