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Businessman and sprint car champion Al Hamilton believes in …


By Hal Donaldson and Scott Harrup

Al and Betty Hamilton will always remember Christmas 1985. Businesses and organizations in Clearfield, Pa., took out ads in the local newspaper to thank them for 23 years of charitable work. The community knew Al Hamilton’s entrepreneurial talent had built a lucrative business. But they also knew the Hamiltons were committed to sharing their financial blessing.

Al with driver Fred Tahmer. Al has 348 wins as an owner.

The Hamiltons have never forgotten their own humble beginnings, growing up in families that struggled to survive. They remember Christmases when there were few pres-ents under the tree and little food in the cupboard. Christmas gifts those years could amount to one pair of socks.

"We had no electricity, no running water and we lived in a log cabin my father purchased for $6 a month," Al says of his childhood in the 1930s. "We had a family of five children, four boys and a girl. My dad was a hard-working coal miner. We had nothing."

Betty Mae fared little better. She grew up in a family of nine children in a home with no running water.

But Al and Betty had something of immeasurable worth. The church became a pillar of support early in their lives. They met in Sunday school around the age of 7. Al’s family, originally from a United Brethren congregation, was invited to an Assemblies of God church for a revival meeting when he was young. "My mother was the first to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit in our family," he says.

During those early revival meetings, Al learned a vital lesson in giving to God. "I was sitting between my mother and father," he remembers. "We had to drive 16 miles back and forth to this church. They were taking up a special offering and I heard my dad telling my mother, ‘We only have $2 and I feel we should give it.’ My mother said, ‘Well, how are we ever going to get home? We don’t have any gas.’"

His parents put the money in the offering and the family walked to their car after the service. A man approached them.

"Tom," he said to Al’s father, "the Lord spoke to me in the service and I feel I should give you this." He handed Mr. Hamilton a $5 bill.

"From that day on," Al says, "I knew — and I’ve never forgotten it — that you can’t outgive God."

At 15, Al left school to work with his father in the coal mine. To make a little more money, he would go to work at 4 a.m. to manually pump water from the mine so the workers could begin digging at 6. He shoveled coal in the mine the rest of the day. When his father’s back was broken in seven places during an accident, Al began working above ground. He saved enough money to get an old pickup truck, gathered coal from nearby strip mines for 50 cents a ton, then sold it house to house to heat furnaces.

Al worked 16-18 hours a day while Betty cared for their children. One of their first homes was a converted chicken coop with no refrigerator or electricity. It rented for $7 a month.

"Betty never complained about where we were living," Al says. "She’d live anywhere."

Even on their meager earnings, Al and Betty always tithed. God honored their faithfulness by guiding Al’s steps in the coal business.

"I remember one time when I was working in partnership with a coal broker. The first job he put me on, I kept looking across the valley and I thought to myself, There is coal over there. I guess it was God speaking to me. I went to the broker and asked if he owned that land and he did. He said, ‘Al, we’ve looked for coal there many, many times.’ But I walked over to the mountain anyway to see for myself. Ultimately we found a 5-foot seam of coal there. We got permits and mined that entire hill, which was just God-sent," Al says. "There’s no doubt in my mind. God can do anything. I can name literally hundreds of times when God has spoken to me and said, ‘Al, this is what you should do.’ "

By 1963, Al had formed the Al Hamilton Contracting Company with five employees, a dozer, a straight shovel and a farm tractor. The company grew during the next two decades to become the third largest bituminous coal producer in Pennsylvania, with 230 employees, millions of dollars in equipment and millions in annual sales. The company’s 17 sites produced 850,000 tons of coal per year.

Al was always looking for ways to go the extra mile for his employees. He would dig a house foundation, lend a vehicle when needed or provide financial assistance. He was also an involved citizen in Clearfield, contributing time and money to many causes, including Christmas gift drives for the local children’s home.

The church remained a central focus for the Hamiltons. They were involved in several building programs for Assemblies of God congregations. When one pastor auctioned off a lifetime collection of coins to raise money for a building, Al bought it. Then, when the building was dedicated, he presented the collection to the pastor.

The Hamiltons currently attend Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Middletown, Pa.

"Al and Betty are very faithful members of the church," says Pastor Howard Garman. "They’re faithful not only in coming, but in prayer and support of the church. They’re a vital part of the church program."

For Al, God’s greatest gift has been his years with Betty. Her prayers have supported him during times of decision, her love has undergirded him and their children, and her faith has inspired him repeatedly. "She’s a jewel," he says, "and she has stayed on her knees praying for me."

Al’s gift of business wisdom guided him to purchase numerous companies facing bankruptcy. Their failure became his success. And he was also obedient when he felt his own company should make a transition. With coal prices falling, he retired from the coal business. But God continued to bless, even in his "retirement."

Moving to Lancaster, Pa., Al began doing business with an auto auction site in nearby Manheim.

"I got a phone call from them asking if I would consider building them a parking lot because I owned some ground," he says. "So I built them a small lot. They wanted another, then they wanted another one and another one. Today, I have thousands of their automobiles renting space on my parking lot, and they’re the largest auto auction site in the world. It’s just been phenomenal."

Even in his recreation, Al has built a national reputation. He has owned sprint cars for more than 30 years, his drivers are nationally recognized, and in 1989 his records were recorded into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum in Knoxville, Iowa.

"Al is a gentleman and a kind, family man," one tribute read in part. "He has great respect for others in the racing fraternity, just as they do for him. Trackside, he is considerate and polite but very excitable when that No. 77 is out on the track and ‘hooked up.’ "

At 71, Al Hamilton has lived a full life. Like Paul the apostle, he has learned to live without and with plenty. He gives God all of the credit.

"God has had His hand on me," he says. "I know I’ve made many a mistake and I’m so sorry for all of them, but He just looks after us all the time. Sometimes I ask Him, ‘Why me, Lord? Why did You do it with me?’ I can’t even fathom it."

Hal Donaldson is editor in chief of the Pentecostal Evangel. Scott Harrup is general editor.


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