Highway Superintendent Fred McCagg and the Town of Nassau

Mary Yamin-Garone

Fred McCagg is a self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades. When he’s not doing his job as highway superintendent for the town of Nassau, Fred runs Dynamic Sports Adventures, is a New York State Outdoor Licensed Guide, the Youth Committee chairman for the town, head of a nature club for elementary school kids, conducts an annual wilderness program and is in charge of the town’s trail system.

And that’s just for starters.

“I have been doing martial arts since I was 14. I have fourth degree in Combat Hapkido, fourth degree in Taekwondo and multiple black belts in other disciplines. I have certifications in systems that aren’t belted. I am in the World Karate Hall of Fame, was an International Police Defense Tactics instructor and taught West Point cadets in military combatives. I also owned Kinderhook Martial Arts/Kinderhook Taekwondo for eight years and recently taught a women’s self-defense class.”

Fred was born in Great Barrington, Mass.

“It was just me and my mom. When I was about one or two we moved to Castleton. We went back and forth between Nassau, Schodack and Castleton. We lived around Nassau Lake until I was 10 before returning to Castleton. We were on welfare from the time I was eight until I turned 17. I lost my mom to cancer right after I graduated from high school and lost my 17-year-old daughter from my first marriage, Danielle, to cancer in 2008. She was my sweetheart, my driving force for just about everything I did. She still is.”

After graduating from Maple Hill High School Fred earned an occupational certificate in forestry and wildlife through the Cooperative Extension.

“That’s where I learned to run a backhoe, bulldozer, chainsaw and logger.”

Next he started building houses for Harris Construction in Castleton. “I did housing, framing and site development.”

From there he worked for Goold Orchards running their liquid operations.

“We supplied cider to the local Grand Union, Bruegger’s Bagels and Hannaford. I drove the delivery truck. That’s where I got my CDL and school bus licenses. I left Goold’s in 1992 and did some part-time paving, drove a truck and worked for Hudson River Construction. I also was trying to get into the municipalities.”

Before Fred could make that leap he started his own construction company, A-Okay Home Improvement. He also worked part-time for the Schodack Central Schools as a maintenance man/bus driver.

So how did he end up behind the super’s desk?

“I started by fulfilling the term of the previous highway superintendent who resigned. They appointed me in November 2006 and I ran for election the next year. I was on the town planning board for several years so they [town board] knew I had a highway background. I also had 12 years with Rensselaer County Highway Department. Prior to that, I worked two years part-time for other towns.

“I wanted the job because I wanted to be my own boss. Make my own rules, my own mistakes, good or bad. I wanted to make my own decisions. At that time, I had enough time in this town and knew enough about it that I thought I could help.

“Now here I am in my 8th year. I’ll probably stay until I’m 62 if I get re-elected. I’m 54 now. There hasn’t been opposition in the past, but you never know. According to the records I’ve seen, I’m the second-longest running highway superintendent. If I run for re-election and win, I’ll be the longest.”

Fred and his bride, Lani, are still newlyweds. While only married for a year, they’ve been together for 15.

“Actually it’s a funny story. When we were young our families camped together. She would always run away from me. ‘There’s little Freddie, the pain in the neck.’ Lani was good friends with my cousin and after she got divorced she started going camping with us again. One day she was ready to leave and I asked my cousin if she’d ask Lani if she wanted to get ice cream or go out with me sometime. I saw the look on her face. She went over to the car and came back laughing. I took that as a no. Another year later and finally…”

Fred is a member of the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways and vice president of the Rensselaer County Association of Town Superintendents of Highways. In his spare time he enjoys outdoor activities.

“Hunting, fishing, camping and hiking. Not so much hunting anymore because I don’t need the food. When I was younger I actually needed it.”

When he finally does hang up his superintendent’s hat Fred wants to be remembered as “being concerned and caring and improving the town while staying within the budget. I listened to the residents’ concerns and addressed them the best I could.”

All About the Job

As the highway department’s “top dog,” Fred is responsible for maintaining the town’s 62.5 lane miles of road; 30 of which are gravel and the rest are paved. That translates into seven plowing routes that take about three to four hours to complete.

“I remember those first few winters. They were rough. I didn’t realize that we had trucks that were 20-plus years old that wouldn’t start and wouldn’t run. There were hydraulic issues. I actually had to borrow trucks from other towns and shuffle things around.”

Good thing he doesn’t have that problem anymore. Last winter 99 inches of snow fell on the town. That meant lots of salt. “Our salt shed holds 2,000 tons. In 2013, we emptied it three times.”

An eight-man crew helps Fred serve the town’s 5,000 residents. His staff includes Bob Giles, senior mechanic; Don Denue (MEOH/temporary foreman); Scott Miller and Rich Stevens (MEOHs); Earl Hammel (MEO2); and Steven Fleming, Roger Latham and Jeremy Hunt (laborers).

“I’m supposed to have one laborer, a truck driver and a heavy equipment foreman, but we had a lot of attrition this year. Guys resigned to go for better jobs and my working foreman retired. Right now I don’t have a foreman or a deputy highway superintendent. That will change come next year’s construction season. Two of my guys have been here just over a year. When the other guys left I bumped them up to HEOs to get them running equipment and performing foreman duties. The newbies don’t have their CDL yet.

“I’m fortunate with these guys. They’ve lowered my stress significantly. I constantly tell them to do their job. Realize that you’re a public employee and you have to show respect no matter what and keep up the good work.”

Under Fred’s dutiful eye, the town of Nassau’s highway department runs on a total operating budget of $1,057,365.80 that includes salaries, employee benefits and an annual CHIPS allocation of $124,998.

To fulfill its responsibilities the department uses a convoy of equipment consisting of:

• 1966 Ford tractor Model 3400 with truck broom

• 1980 Cat 120G motorgrader with 2001 York rake

• 1984 International dump truck with Sampson and wing plows

• 1988 Ford tractor Model 6610 with rotary mower head

• 1989 International dump truck with Sampson and wing plows

• 1990 Mack RD 690S tandem (no plow)

• 1990 John Deere 544E wheeled front-end loader

• 1990 Cat front-end tracked loader

• 1993 Mack RD 690S tandem with dump body and Viking plow

• 1995 Cat 140H motorgrader with 1985 York rake

• 1995 Hamm 12-ton vibratory dirt/asphalt roller

• 1999 Samsung 170W rubber-tire excavator

• 2005 Ford F350 with flatbed and plow

• 2008 Ford F350 PU with plow

• 2009 Chevy 3500Hd with Fisher plow and Swenson sander

• 2011 International dump truck with Viking and wing plows

• 2012 John Deere 624K wheeled front-end loader

• 2012 Ford F550 with MG dump body and Western plow

• 2014 International dump truck with Viking and wing plows

When asked how he budgets for new equipment Fred admitted, “I don’t. That’s the truth. We’re a poor town and it’s a struggle to pay the bills. The problem with our town is we have two villages and all the tax money goes to them. We have two businesses [in the town] — Camp Schodack and Burden Lake Country Club. All the others are in the village so it’s hard to generate tax money.”

Fred primarily use state contracts to buy equipment.

“We save quite a bit that way. There’s no going out to bid. You can automatically use the contract. There are multiple vendors for regions and product. Nowadays, you can piggyback off other counties and towns. You can use state, county and town contracts if they’re worded correctly. Our senior mechanic, Bobby, also saves us a lot of money. He’s a great welder/fabricator. A tailgate went on one of our Macks. To buy a new one was about $4,000, Bobby bought the metal and made it for $800.”

Fred hopes to add a backhoe to his fleet soon.

“We don’t currently own one. Instead, we have a wheeled excavator with a huge arm but it’s not really applicable to a lot of things we do. That’s going to be the challenge around here for the next few years — to come up with equipment replacement and maintenance programs. We’ve been working on it, but the economy has to turn around. It’s creative budgeting and a little juggling so you can use your unexpended funds.”

While Fred agrees that today’s vehicles are more efficient, they’re also harder to work on.

“As we improve our fleet we’ll probably have to send them out for major engine work and things like that because of all the pollution control and electronics on them.”

Technology also has impacted Fred’s job.

“Everything is done electronically. I keep track of everything — fuel, salt, equipment. I do three- to five-year averages. Doing so helps out budget-wise, too. That’s the problem with a lot of the highway superintendents who don’t have the ability or don’t want to have that ability. If the technology helps you to plan these programs and you can keep track, why wouldn’t you want to?”

Looking back, the most rewarding part of the job thus far for Fred has been widening some of the town roads.

“There used to be an old dirt road where school buses would literally get stuck in the mud. It’s nice to hear the residents say it looks great. It’s that appreciation after you do a job.”

One of the most important parts of the job is keeping things professional.

“When I took office I wanted to improve communications. Now we have a highway Facebook page. There wasn’t a town Web site before and now all our financials are posted on it. Any complaints are addressed right away. The important thing is getting to the citizens’ concerns in a timely manner and as best we can.”

What is Fred’s least favorite part of the job? “Winter.”

About the Town

of Nassau

The town of Nassau was formed from portions of Schodack, Stephentown and Petersburgh on March 31, 1806. lts original name was Philipstown, in honor of Patroon Philip Van Rensselaer. The name was changed to Nassau on April 6, 1808.

Its natural beauty is evident to any visitor. This beauty is found not only in its rolling farmland and mountains but also in the numerous creeks, streams, ponds and lakes that have aided the settlement and development of the town over the last 200 years.

Arguably, Nassau’s first permanent settlers were Joseph Primmer who settled in the area known as Hoag’s Pond in 1760 and Hugh Wilson who located near the present site of the Village of Nassau. Other early settlers included John W. Schermerhorn, near East Nassau; John McCagg, near Brainard; Henry Post, about three miles east of the present Village of Nassau; Thomas Hicks, Titus Huested, Abraham Holmes, Major Abijah Bush, Daniel Litz, David Waterbury and Reuben Bateman. Major Bush served in the Continental army during the War of the Revolution, crossing the Delaware River with General George Washington.

One of the most famous early visitors to the area that is now Nassau was missionary David Brainard who came as a missionary to the Indians in 1743.

For many years, the leading hotel in Nassau was maintained by Peter Van Valkenburg. Its first proprietor was a man named Strong. Many visitors were entertained at this hospitable establishment. Among them were the Marquis de Lafayette, and Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain, who spent portions of several summers there. Martin Van Buren, William L. Marcy, De Witt Clinton, Lewis Cass and Generals John B. Wool and Alexander McComb were also frequent patrons. Lafayette’s visit to the hotel was made in 1825, when he made a tour of the United States.

As in any small town in 18th Century America, the medical profession was central to the fabric of Nassau’s community. Dr. Joseph Gale, who located at East Nassau, is believed to be the first physician to practice within the present limits of the town. Dr. James H. Ball, settled in the northern part of the town in 1790. He held several important offices and served in the State Assembly in 1812 or 1813.

The earliest lawyer in the town of whom there is any record was Samuel B. Ludlow, who opened an office in Nassau after 1815. Soon after, lawyers Cyrus Mason and Henry Ludlow were also in practice. Fenner Ferguson, a native of the town, was admitted to the bar in 1838, but soon after removed to Michigan, where he became a territorial judge and a delegate to Congress. Later attorneys included Judge Hugh W. McClellan, Robert H. McClellan, a former Surrogate; Judge B. Smith Strait. General John B. Wool resided in Nassau for many years as did John A. Griswold. Griswold, born in Nassau in 1818, moved to Troy, New York where he became Mayor, United States Congressman and candidate for Governor of New York.

The first official town meeting in Nassau was held April 1, 1807, the day following the organization of the town by the Legislature under the name of Philipstown. The meeting was held at the tavern of Pliny Miller. In true democratic form, the following were chosen as the first officers of Nassau:

Supervisor, Jonathan Hoag; Town Clerk, William C. Elmore; Assessors, Fenner Palmer, Joseph Finch, Elijah Adams, Joseph S. Gale, Titus Huested; Collector, Charles Mason; Overseers of the Poor, Samuel Gale, David Waterbury; Commissioners of Highways, Fenner Palmer, Enoch Benedict, James H. Ball; Constables, Charles Mason, William King, Ebenezer Martin; Fence Viewers, Enoch Benedict, Fenner Palmer, Benjamin Mason, Titus Huested, Timothy Sibley, Gershom Tabor, Samuel Knapp, John Turner, Jeremiah Macks; Poundmasters, Jonathan Hoag, Abijah Bush, Isaac Dunham; and 39 Pathmasters.

The discussion of the early history of Nassau is not complete without a brief discussion of its contributions to the Anti-Rent War. It was in Nassau that the Anti-Rent War in Rensselaer County had its center for many years. The farmers of Nassau are said to have been the first to resist the attempts of the Patroon in an effective manner to collect their cruel rents on the lands worked by farmers of the day.

Nassau has a proud military history. Its burial grounds hold the remains of veterans of the French and Indian War and many of the early residents fought in the War of the Revolution. Among the early settlers who served their country in this struggle were Major Abijah Bush, Simeon Griswold, Dr. James H. Ball, Robert J. W. Burroughs and Guy Lester.

In the War of 1812, Nassau was well represented. Major-General John B. Wool, one of the most respected soldiers in eastern New York in those days; Captain Simeon Tifft, Captain David St. John, Rensselaer Bateman, Reuben Rogers, Varnum Babcock, Jacob Cole, Jeremiah Tift, Thomas Tobias, Isaac Wheeler and George Launt fought to protect the early Republic.

Nassau sent her full quota of men to the front during the Civil War and a large share of them lost their lives in the service. The list of those dying to protect the Union included: Jonathan Hoag, Judson Hoag, Rensselaer Palmer, Edward Stickles, Eleazer Knap, Marshal C. Knap, Asbury Bacchus, Arnold Dennis, Charles H. Ashley, Noah Ashley, Paul Roberts, Peter Roberts, Palmer W. Dunham, George Horton, Thomas H. Payne, James Brown, Darius Morris, James Dodge, Cyrus Gardner, Lyman Ostrom, Russell D. Ashley, Hiram Hotaling, Willard Reed, George Bailey, William Lasher, George Sheldon, Herman Beckstine, William Shofelt, Washington L. Taylor, Henry J. Knap, Henry Loppy, Andrew Trumble and Ceno Ooh.

Nassau has proudly continued her service to our nation sending numerous men and women to protect freedom and America’s shores through the wars and engagements of the last 200 years.

From its earliest days to the recent past, Nassau was essentially an agricultural town. However, early inhabitants took advantage of the splendid water power afforded by the various streams flowing through the town. The first manufacturing enterprise of which there is any knowledge was the grist mill of John W. Schermerhorn, at the outlet of Tsatsawassa Lake. Soon after this mill was established a tannery was started by Jesse Smith. About 1778 Morgan Harris operated a large grist mill at East Nassau. Soon after 1800 Winthrop Root had a tannery at the same place, and about the same time a collar factory at that point was operated by Peter Van Buren, James Turner, Erastus Hemingway and others. An early saw mill and grist mill in the area of the Village of Nassau was run by Fenner Palmer. This was burned in 1817 but was afterward rebuilt. About 1830 William P. Hermance had a significant carriage factory in the Village of Nassau where for a quarter of a century or more from thirty to forty men were given lucrative employment. The extensive paper mills of J. D. Tompkins on Kinderhook Creek, near Brainard, were established about 1847 by John B. and Peter C. Tompkins, who began the manufacture of straw paper there. The site was occupied early in the century by Marks’s saw mill and subsequently Page’s shingle factory was added. The mill was enlarged in 1854, under the proprietorship of Mr. Davis. These mills for a long time were one of the principal industries of the county outside of Troy. Another paper mill was established about 1855 by John Bullis the Village of Nassau. Gershom Turner had an early cotton factory at Brainard. ln 1842 the Nassau cotton mills at Brainard were established by Seth Hastings of Albany. James Allen started a major foundry in the environs of the Village of Nassau about 1860.

There have been several other industries in the town from time to time, but these mentioned have contributed most prominently to the formation of Nassau as it entered the 20th Century.

From the early days of settlement, the largest village in the town was located at what is now the village of Nassau. The village was located on the Valatie Kill in the southwestern part of the town. Nassau was originally known as Union Village. lt was a famous summer resort in its early days and its hotels frequently entertained distinguished guests from various parts of the United States and other countries. The village received its first charter March 12, 1819. A new charter was granted April 17, 1866, conferring additional powers and duties upon the village. The post office was established about 1811.

East Nassau is located in the southeastern part of the town on the Kinderhook Creek. John W. Schermerhorn was one of its most conspicuous early inhabitants, and in his honor the hamlet for many years was known as Schermerhorn’s. Mr. Schermerhorn was the proprietor of the First tavern at East Nassau. Pliny Miller was another early innkeeper. William Root opened a general store there as early as 1780. The post-office was established about 1830 with Jared Root as postmaster.

Hoag’s Corners is situated in the northeastern part of the town on Tsatsawassa Creek. Its early inhabitants and industries were a vital part of Nassau’s early development. Robert Martin and William Hoag were early tavern keepers there, beginning business about 1822. Mr. Martin also had the first store in the Hoag’s Corners, running it in connection with his hotel. The area’s post office was established in 1835 with William B. Hoag as postmaster.

Brainard is in the southeastern corner of the town and was named in honor of Joseph Brainard, who built a bridge over the Kinderhook Creek at that point. lt was first called Brainard’s Bridge. The Nassau cotton mills, for many years a prominent industry of the town, were located there in 1842. Gershom Turner is said to have been the first proprietor of a store at this point and the first tavern was kept by Henry Stoddard about 1810 or1812.

Dunham Hollow is located in the northeastern part of the town. lt was named after Isaac Dunham, who settled there about 1800 and built a hotel and saw mill. An early hoe factory was owned by Jacob White and the first saw mill by a man named Adams. The first store was owned by Joshua Coleman.

North Nassau is in the northern part of the town. The first tavern was kept by a man named Burdick about 1810. William C. Elmore had an early store and tavern there. The post office was established about 1844 with James H. Ball as postmaster.

Alps, so named on account of the mountainous character of the area in which it is situated, occupies the northeastern corner of the town of Miller’s Corners is a small hamlet in the northwestern corner of the town.

You can also view previous issues of Superintendent's Profile.

Jump to Profile: