Superintendent of Public Works Harry Weed was born in Amityville and has spent his entire life on Long Island, where he currently lives with his wife, Joanne. His family is strongly rooted there as well.
“My great-grandfather lived there, my grandparents lived there, my parents lived there, and I was there until about two years ago,” he said. “My great-grandmother was a Hungarian refugee, and came over here during World War I. I remember my great-grandfather telling me stories about how people used to come to Amityville by horseback.”
Another common thread runs through Harry’s family as well: racing. His father and grandfather were both volunteers with the Amityville fire department and participated in its racing team.
“My father [also named Harry] worked on different race cars, such as sprint and stock cars,” Harry said. “So for me, that was what I always wanted to do. I always went with my father from when I was five or six years old. I was his shadow, and learned from him.”
He remembers that he did his first engine rebuild at the age of 12. His father told him it was time he learned, and learned the right way.
“I was always around trucks and equipment,” Harry said, “When I was a kid during the summer, instead of going to summer camp, I would go to work with my father and ride on the bulldozer and be around whoever was running the crane.”
Harry’s father bought their first race car when young Harry was 13 years old. After school and on weekends, they used to travel to race midgets. They covered the northeast area, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania. At the age of 17, Weed finally became more than an observer.
“In New Jersey, the racing club that we ran with used to have a strict rule that you had to be 21 to drive,” he said. “At that time was when they changed the voting age to 18 years old, and there were a couple of people in the club who said — look, we’re going to be sued if we don’t drop our age limit to 18 because it could be discrimination.”
The club voted to change the bylaws to allow 18-year-olds to race. At the conclusion of the meeting, Harry had bought an associate’s license, and planned to change it to a mechanic’s license. However, when they asked Harry if he wanted a driver’s license, he said, “Yeah, I do.” So they issued him a driver’s license to race at the age of 17. He went to his father and reminded him of their deal that he would drive the car as soon as he got his competition license and showed him the license.
His father’s only question was: “They didn’t actually check to see how old you were?” When Harry told him that they didn’t, he just said, “OK.”
“So I actually started racing in high school at 17, competitively, with the midget cars, traveling around Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts,” Harry said. “That summer I turned 18 and was legal, but from May to July, I ran illegal as a 17-year-old.”
Weed noted that his father worked to pay for racing by completing repairs of trucks and heavy equipment on the side.
“The one thing that my father would never do — and it was ingrained in me when I was growing up — was that you didn’t take away from the household budget to run the racecar,” Harry said. “Family came first and racing was a luxury. It was your toy, in a way, so in order to pay for that toy, we did other things”
Harry, accompanied by his father, raced up to 20 or 30 times a year. Since he passed away six years ago, however, Harry only runs in about half a dozen select shows a year and describes his record as “fair.”
“But back in the day, we always ran in the top 10, but on a shoestring budget,” he said. “We were running against some pretty high-dollar teams that were able to buy the best of everything, and basically we did all of our own engines. We were competing against guys who were spending $25,000 to $35,000 on an engine, and we were putting engines together for a couple thousand dollars, and running the same sets of tires for three or four nights instead of putting a new set of tires on the car a night. We had a lot of fun, and we gave those guys fits. They knew we were there.”
Unfortunately, Harry noted that they never had enough to really run for a championship.
“Every time we were up in the top three or four in points, we had some little mishap — we got wrecked or blew an engine and just didn’t have the resources to get right back going,” he said.
From Flying to Construction
Another of Harry’s passions was flying, and when he graduated from high school, he had intentions of becoming a commercial airlines pilot. He chose a flight school that was near his home, since his mother had cancer and he wanted to be nearby. However, during his first year, he noticed that they were sending a lot of pilots back from Vietnam.
“I kind of saw the handwriting on the wall that in order to get any commercial airline time, you would have to have service time,” he said. “With all the pilots coming back, the market was going to become flooded, so it was time to look in another direction.”
Before starting his second year of flight school, Harry’s mother needed an operation. He decided to use his college money and help pay for the operation, and told his parents not to worry — he could always go back to college.
“My mother being around in good health was more important than worrying about going back to college,” he said. “I was looking to change to possibly a civil engineering degree at the time. I started working and never went back to college.”
Harry’s job was as the general manager of a specialty company that built racecars and custom cars.
“We had an engine dynamometer,” he said. “We built racecars that were sent to Sweden and all over Europe. The owner decided that he had had enough and that he was going to retire. When he sold the business, I started working in construction.”
Harry’s first job in the construction industry was with Muncy Excavating, the contracting company in Amityville that his father had worked with for more than 20 years.
“When I graduated high school, that summer construction was still at a boom and they had problems finding operators,” Harry explained.
He worked a summer job there, with such duties as servicing the equipment and fueling. When he applied for apprenticeship school with operating engineers, he was sent out on a couple of jobs, then ending up working for the company when he was finished.
Harry noted that he was with Muncy until 1982, when Ken Muncy sold the business to a new owner. He worked for him until things began to slow down.
“It was questionable whether or not I’d make my benefit hours,” Harry explained. “My daughter was young, and with a small child, the last thing you want to be is without any medical benefits. I had dressed the bulldozer that Amityville beach used every couple of years, so I talked to the superintendent of Amityville at the time.”
Harry’s grandfather, Arthur, had just retired from the Amityville Highway Department a few months before, and the superintendent offered Harry a job. His first thought was that he would have to take a pay cut, but he soon realized that the job would be year-round with benefits.
“At the time, there was a lull in construction, so in September of 1982 I went to work for the Village of Amityville,” he said.
Weed first worked as part of the construction crew, then moved up to crew foreman. Next, he became the general foreman for Amityville, a job which basically involved serving as assistant to the superintendent. In 1985, Weed became acting superintendent when the superintendent left. Ken Muncy, whom he had worked for before, ended up filling the vacant position.
“His starting date was the Monday after Hurricane Gloria hit, so we had to handle that debacle,” Harry remembered. “He sort of had a baptism by fire: he was learning what DPW was all about, even though he was in the heavy construction industry his whole life. But the private sector and public sector are two different things, so he wound up sort of being my assistant as we handled the Hurricane Gloria cleanup.”
In 1988, Harry was named superintendent of public works for the Village of Brightwaters. He remained at that job for 11 years, then moved into the superintendent position at Rockville Centre in June of 2001. The position is appointed each year by the mayor.
A Unique Village
“This is a very unique village,” Harry noted. “It’s as close to a small city as you can get. This village has its own power plant, we generate our own electric, our own water. We take care of our own sewage — we pump it out to Nassau County, which treats it. We have our own police department. We have a full recreation and senior center. The services that this village has are all encompassed under one umbrella. The only services that we actually bring in from the outside are telephone, cable television, and natural gas. The rates here for electric are probably half of what people pay for using another supplier.”
Within the Rockville Centre department of public works are four departments: the highway division, which does all road maintenance and tree-trimming; the sewer department, which takes care of the pump stations, sanitary, and storm sewers; the sanitation department, and the central garage. There are a total of 54 employees, including full and part-time. In the summer, another 10 to 12 employees are added.
Harry noted that the central garage has seven bays, and all of the trucks are housed indoors.
“This is a pretty unique facility,” he said. “A lot of thought went into the design of it. The superintendent that was here many years ago had a lot of input into the construction of this building. As a result, we have everything basically under one roof among the five divisions with highway, sanitation, sewer, administration, and garage.”
Harry’s “right-hand man” is his deputy, Don Graham.
The central garage is run by foreman Richie Bivona. Six technicians service more than 250 village vehicles, including police vehicles, fire trucks, recreation center buses, parks and recreation equipment, and all the highway equipment and garbage trucks.
Peter Schmalenberger serves as highway foreman. His division includes 12 employees who handle 54 center-line miles and a few walkover bridges. They also are in charge of the village’s signs and parking meters, line striping, snow plowing, tree-trimming, and leaf pickup.
Harry noted that leaf pickup has changed. Instead of picking up loose leaves, each resident is given biodegradable paper bags to collect the leaves, and pickup is done from mid-October through the end of December.
The highway division also handles curbs and drainage, but larger road reconstruction projects are contracted out.
“The majority of the work we do involves patching,” Harry said. “There are a number of special events, such as a street fair with craft sales in parking lots, that the highway department prepares for, such as putting up a parking area.”
Harry noted that there are currently 12 snowplowing routes, and the department uses only salt to treat the roads. Since there are a lot of dead-end roads, a few of the trucks run only the dead-ends.
“We have to keep the firehouses clear, as well as the police headquarters and village hall,” he said. “Long Island snowstorms are never a constant — we could have it raining in the morning and then the temperature will drop like a rock, and it will snow heavily. It’ll start as a real dry, fluffy snow, and then we’ll get a breeze off the bay and warm things up, and the next thing you know, you’re pushing this real heavy, sloppy snow. You just never really know what a snowstorm is going to do here.”
Mike Lecesse is the sanitation foreman, and his division includes 25 employees. The department is unique in that it has its own transfer station. They haul garbage from the transfer station for two municipalities — the Village of Lynnbrook and the Village of East Rockaway.
Two-man crews run five days a week, and a nighttime commercial sanitation crew also picks up in the late afternoon and early evening for all the area’s restaurants and stores. Since a commercial crew also is needed on Saturday, the men rotate their overtime to handle the weekend pickup.
Anthony Campion serves as the sewer foreman, and there are five employees in that division. Their primary responsibility is a regular schedule of maintenance of the 65-year-old sewer lines. Sewage treatment is handled by Nassau County.
The department of public works also includes an office staff of four.
Harry reported that the department’s overall budget is $3.8 million, with the breakdown as follows: central garage: $360,000; fuel: $380,000; sanitation: $2.5 million; sewer: a little over $100,000; highway: nearly $214,000; and street administration: $135,000.
After five years now, Harry said that one thing that he would like to do is change the appearance of the front of the building.
“My feeling is that when people come into the village, this is the first municipal building they see,” he explained. “It’s kind of the gateway as you head east on Sunrise Highway going into the village, and I’d like it to be a bit more appealing than it is now. I’m working with the mayor, Eugene Murray, who is past president of the New York Conference of Mayors. He goes to public works school every chance he gets, and he understands the importance of public works and how it can make an elected official look like a hero or a zero. If garbage isn’t picked up or if the pothole isn’t fixed, then public perception can go bad in seconds flat. So he understands our needs, and he’s been a pleasure to work for.”
Harry noted that there are a lot of things to like about his job, and he continues to enjoy it.
“Every day is a new and exciting experience,” he said. “It’s always different in one way or the other, and I like that. The change of seasons brings on a different challenge — storms and so on — it can be fun. It’s how we can beat that challenge that makes this so interesting.”
When Harry first started his job, there was a major sanitary sewer collapse at one intersection where five streets meet. The village administrator, Ron Wasson, had just started his job as well.
“It was a baptism by fire for him, too,” Harry noted. “He was the former inspector of the emergency services unit for the New York City police department, and was very much an integral part of the 9/11 cleanup. He went from being one of the top guys when it came to hostage situations and rescues and so forth to being on the major news stations dealing with a sewer collapse and what it was doing to traffic, which was backed up on Sunrise Highway to almost Brooklyn. He went from being a critical part of people’s lives to being a critical part of people’s lives in a completely different way. Everybody that worked for him in the New York City police department gave him a hard time saying — oh, so you’re now the king of poop — but he was good about it.”
Harry is thankful that he doesn’t have to handle his job alone.
“I’m lucky,” he said. “We have a good crew of guys and they take pride in their work and I appreciate what they do. I try to take care of them, and in turn they take care of me by getting the job done well.”
Sometimes Harry does enjoy taking a little time to get away.
“Occasionally, I like to go upstate — go out in the woods where there’s no phones — peace and quiet where there are no residents calling up wondering when we’re going to redo their road,” he said. “Basically, I have 25,000 bosses out there. But this truly is a great village to work for. I’m lucky…they let me run my show here.”
About the Village of Rockville Centre
The vote was 139 in favor, 79 opposed by the citizens of Rockville Centre, Queens County, when they took the first step toward the home rule and self determination in 1893.
Even before the citizenry took the momentous step of approving incorporation, Rockville Centre was a thriving south shore community.
From its roots as a village for the Reckouackie Indians, to its settlement as Near Rockaway, in the 17th century by Dutch and English pioneers, to its Revolutionary War persona as a hotbed of Toryism, Rockville Centre grew and prospered, so that by 1870, the local press was urging a home rule referendum.
New Rockaway included what today is Rockville Centre, as well as Oceanside, Lynbrook, and East Rockaway.
Population increased slowly through the 17th century, but with the erection of DeMott’s Mill on Smith’s Pond, Rockville Centre’s position as a commercial center for the south shore began to emerge.
The revolutionary fervor sweeping other parts of the 13 colonies seemed far removed from the inhabitants of Near Rockaway, until June 1776, when a skirmish at DeMott’s Mill turned neighbor against neighbor as the forces of independence swept through a fiercely loyalist community.
The community stability and growth of services, which are the hallmarks of today’s village, also were an integral part of its early development as a thriving residential and business center. By the dawn of the 19th century, there were six mills serving the needs of the region’s farmers and miners, and the area near what is, today, Lincoln Avenue and Merrick Road, was a developing shopping area, with a variety of tradesmen, including a blacksmith, a carriage maker, a furniture store, a carpenter and an inn.
As the century unfolded, perhaps the single most important event, other than incorporation, in transforming the hamlet into the thriving village it is today, occurred when Robert Pettit, in 1849, applied to the United States Post Office for permission to open a post office in his general store. Several names for this postal address were rejected in Washington, including Smithville, Smithtown, and Rockville, but the addition of “Centre” created what the Post Office agreed was a distinctive-sounding designation.
Pettit had chosen the name to honor Mordecai “Rock” Smith, a Methodist preacher and community leader, whose father had operated DeMott’s Mill. Smith was a blacksmith, a farmer, and the justice of the peace.
Once “Rockville Centre” was on the map, it became the site of real estate development, and newspapers touting its accessibility by stagecoach from New York City, and the existence of postal service, as well as the abundance of shellfish and game, suggested that there were 300 homes, a few stores, two schools with eight teachers, and churches used by Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, and Roman Catholic worshippers, in an area of under 2 sq. mi.
Back in 1925, the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) ran at ground level, through downtown Rockville Centre. Front Street was wide enough at that time to permit two-way traffic with sufficient space in the center to provide some convenient parking for some residents commuting to New York City.
The safety and convenience of having the railroad tracks run overhead has narrowed Front Street.
Today, 100 years later, 24,727 residents enjoy life in a thriving community of 3.3 sq. mi., with 9,200 housing units, more than 400 retail and service shops as well as professional and corporate offices, seven parochial and public schools, a college, and 15 diverse religious denominations. There are more than 150 acres of parks, ballfields and playgrounds, and a municipal government, which provides the most comprehensive range of services anywhere on Long Island.
(The information in this section, about the Village of Rockville Centre, courtesy of the town’s Web site at http://www.ci.rockville-centre.ny.us/) P