James grew up in Kansas and spent most of his life in Shawnee County. After attending school in Tecumseh, he joined the United States Navy and spent time overseas aboard the U.S.S. Gardiners Bay in the 1950s prior to returning to Kansas.
James ran several small businesses covering a diverse range of activities including operation of a wrecker/ tow truck, waterproofing of basements, and farming (which he was involved with his entire life in some manner). He was a long time employee of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad.
Illness plagued him in later life and led to many years of painful movement which slowed his normally busy schedule prior to his passing in 2009.