By LINDA KELLETT
C-S-E News Staff
t was 1936, the height of the Great Depression. A gallon of gas cost about 10 cents; Franklin Roosevelt was to win a second term of office; Jesse Owens was to capture four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics; the Great Plains states were being choked by dust storms; the unemployment rate hovered around 16.9 percent; and Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Emperor Hirohito were seizing ever-greater power in Germany, Italy and Japan.
Less than a decade after the “Black Tuesday” stock market crash, Melfred “Jake” Roosevelt incorporated a local enterprise that would span three generations and provide employment for dozens of area residents over its 75 year history.
M.W. Roosevelt and Son co-owner Warren “J.R.” Roosevelt Jr. recently reminisced about the company’s humble beginnings under his grandfather’s capable leadership.
He said, “What we’ve been told is Ö our great-grandfather passed away, and [Jake] was the oldest [of four boys]. He went to my great-grandfather’s shop and continued running it. At that time, they worked on farm tractors.”
J.R. continued: “One day, the bank president for the bank in Fultonville came to my grandfather and asked him to take a look at his car — one of the first cars in Fultonville — because it wasn’t running. My grandfather walked over to the bank and determined it needed a fuel pump.”
Jake was able to locate a replacement part in Albany, however he lacked the funds to purchase it, J.R. said. “That bank president fixed him up with a $100 business loan. That was probably the beginning.”
The knowledge that his grandfather, “who started with nothing” yet was able to build a successful family business, motivates J.R. today, he said.
“He was a gentleman,” said J.R.’s wife, Justine. In her 30 years of marriage to J.R., she said she never saw Jake angry or talk down about people. “He was always there to help,” she recalled.
From the outset, Jake’s business, established in the area of Riverside Drive in Fultonville and later moving to Main Street in Fonda, was involved in the towing business, said J.R. In the years since, the company has expanded into Schoharie County; and its fleet of vehicles has grown. In addition to light, medium, and heavy-duty tow trucks, and a tractor and trailer, the company has acquired other equipment used for vehicle recoveries.
In the early days of the business, Jake became a “sub-dealer” for Johnstown Dodge, selling Chrysler products and earning commissions on sales from his Fonda Garage location. Eventually, he became a dealer in his own right, said J.R.
In the 1950s, Jake’s brothers moved on to form their own businesses in the Southwest; and about that time, Jake moved his shop to the intersection of Routes 5 and 10 in Palatine Bridge, where it became The Corner Garage until its December 1961 incorporation as M.W. Roosevelt and Son.
In the 1960s, Jake switched to Chevrolet Oldsmobile, said J.R.
Jake’s son, Warren Roosevelt Sr., joined the company in the mid-1950s and assumed a leadership role in the early 1970s, said J.R. The company expanded into the Schoharie County community of Cobleskill, where they’ve been continuously providing towing services for about a quarter of a century.
In August 1997, M.W. Roosevelt and Son moved to the company’s present-day location at a former Niagara-Mohawk facility on Erie Boulevard in Canajoharie.
“We sold the Chevy franchise in March of 2005 to Fucillo,” said J.R.
He continued, “We’ve never been just a car dealer. We’ve been known as a vehicle repair shop that sold cars. Seeing that we had such a good strong repair facility for cars and trucks, we became affiliated with NAPA for auto-care center and parts.”
Currently the Canajoharie-based company employs around 25 full-time and part-time employees, including four auto mechanics, four heavy-truck mechanics, and four body-shop technicians. All are National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)-certified technicians.
Family members include J.R. and his wife, his brother, Greg, and Greg’s wife, Laurie. Other family members involved with the business over the years included Warren’s former wife, Nancy, their daughter, Kimberly, and son-in-law, James Post.
“We’ve always had families — generations of families that work for us,” said Justine. “Through all of the good and bad, we’ve never laid anyone off,” added J.R.
That’s a record — and a tradition — they hope to maintain beyond their company’s 75th anniversary year.
M.W. Roosevelt and Sons is open for vehicle repairs and body work Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with 24-hour towing services available seven days a week.
“We are the oldest towing service for the New York state Thruway,” J.R. said, noting the company has provided service on the Thruway between Amsterdam and Herkimer for over 30 years. Additionally, they provide towing for all major motor clubs, including AAA, with which they’ve been affiliated for more than 40 years.
J.R. noted the company has also had a long affiliation with the Fonda Speedway. Additionally, his father is a board member of a Chattanooga, Tenn., towing museum, and has numerous other professional affiliations. He was a charter member of Towing and Recovery Association of America and a founding member of the Empire State Towing and Recovery Association.
Among J.R.’s most memorable vehicle recoveries were those connected with the 1987 collapse of the Thruway bridge into the Schoharie Creek.
“It was very sad,” said Justine.
M.W. Roosevelt and Son is located at 210 Erie Boulevard in Canajoharie. For more information or to make an appointment, call (518) 673-3214.