He sits behind a metal desk in his office. A smiling skull and bones with a pirate patch hangs on the wall.
There's nothing pretentious about the man and his surroundings. With Malta Highway Superintendent Roger Crandall, what you see is what you get: a down-to-earth man who takes great pride in what he does. He loves his family. He loves the town where he lives and he loves getting up every morning and doing his job.
Born in Long Island, Roger and his family moved to Malta when he was three.
"My father was in the Air Force stationed at Mitchell Air Force," he said. "He married my mother, who was from Schuylerville, and her father had a dairy farm. They moved up here from Long Island where they bought a house.
"I want to say I was surrounded by good people all my life," he added. "My grandfather instilled values in me. We spent a lot of time together at his dairy farm. I'd work there during school vacation doing machine work, feeding cows and cleaning up after them, baling hay. When I got older, I started a lawn mowing business down here when I was around 10. Then I went to work at a service station. The owner took me under his wing like a godfather. He was a New York City Italian from the Bronx. Grew up peddling vegetables, drove a taxi and mindful of his family. He took a liking to me and made me a working manager at a 24/7 service station right out of high school. As a manager, I was in charge of the help, the money, ordering the gas. Ours was the first or second highest volume on the Interstate right here at exit 12 in Malta."
Then came the energy crisis of the 1970s.
"My dream at that time was always to have my own gas station," Roger said. "Through my time managing a gas station, I learned business and the importance of surrounding myself with good people. As the energy crisis came, he told me he needed to come back to work. So, there was a chance I was going to get laid off or I could work second shift. I took the layoff and went to Hudson Valley Community College for electronics at night. Don't know why I did that. It doesn't fit into my repertoire. After that, I got a job with a big construction company, Shultz Construction. I worked there from March to November, when I was laid off.
"I started my own business in 1978. My parents encouraged me and just like that, I was in the excavating business. I bought a backhoe, tractor trailer and grew from there. Got up to one or two employees and that business ran for over 30 years. I'd do custom homes, people doing their own houses, sort of conservation work for farmers and light commercial. You know, I had one or two employees, but it was always me hands-on. Some of my contractors decided to go out of business, move, died, whatever and the business was starting to die off and I was somewhat semi-retired."
That's when things began to change.
"My uncle, a former highway superintendent, asked if I was interested in becoming highway superintendent," he said. "My answer was ‘no.' He said, ‘You keep the foreman and you'll be the highway superintendent.' Again, I said, ‘I'm not interested.' So, he started grooming his foreman. He eventually retired and the foreman took over. At the time of his tenure, or the guy before him, the department was the envy of the county. They had everything they needed to work with and things were well managed. Then things went spiraling down."
So how did he end up behind the super's desk?
"They came knocking on my door — again — and asked if I was interested. I said I lived in the town since I was three, so I'll do it for the community. And here I am. When I first showed up, the secretary, who'd been here for many years, said she had three days left to retirement. It was like starting my business all over again. I didn't come up through the ranks. I wasn't an employee. I ran against him. Beat him successfully. Everyone knew the issues. I told them what I could do. I ran in 2009 and took office in January 2010. My secretary, Nancy, worked for the planning department. I didn't really know her, but she was interested in getting over here. And we have a great relationship.
"Basically, we were left with nothing because he did nothing as far as putting records back in to what was done. There was a space of about six or eight years. So, we had to start from scratch. Every year it got better and better. My goal here is that it's better when I leave than when I came."
Roger has been married to his wife, Sandra, for 40 years. This is what she had to say about her husband.
"I'm proud of the job he does," she said. "He works well with the other towns, police and fire departments. The job was made for him and I love seeing him succeed."
Roger is a member of the Saratoga County Highway Superintendents Association and the New York State County Highway Superintendents Association.
In his spare time, Roger enjoys spending time with his wife and participating in motor sports.
The town of Malta's highway department boasts an old and new garage.
"The old building was built in 1989," he said. "This one is five years old. It's about 18,000 square feet. Part of that building was to have a staging area where the department could stage product because it's somewhat limited of how many acres it has. This is a good site for us because we're centralized in a town. Our salt shed holds roughly 750 tons and we use about 3,200 each winter."
As the highway department's "top dog," Roger is responsible for maintaining the town's 147.4 lane miles of road (73.50 center lane), all of which are paved. That translates into nine plowing routes that take about three and a half to four hours to complete.
He's also responsible for:
Roger also has changed the road standards to challenge resolution.
"I changed them because the roads were falling apart and they were getting more traffic," he said. "Just to upgrade them from a 10-year road to maybe a 15-year road. They hadn't been changed and now we have all this infrastructure — sewer water, storm capture sidewalks, change the right away."
All this is done by Roger's 15-man crew who serves the town's 16,252 residents: working supervisors Steve Gori and Brian Cline; HEOs Jason Vedder, Rob Gizzi, Time Goman, Fred DeVoe, Tony Garland, Paul Miller, Mike Metzger, Mike Coon, Will Preece and Shane Quackenbush; mechanic/HEO Rick McGeever; welder/HEO Matt Armer; and administrative assistant Nancy Fodera.
"They're a great bunch of guys who I respect a great deal," he said. "I probably don't thank them enough."
Under Roger's guidance, the town of Malta's highway department runs on a total operating budget of $2.8 million that includes salaries, employee benefits and an annual CHIPS allocation of $158,900.
With all these responsibilities, what has surprised Roger the most?
"How dysfunctional a place could be," he said. "There were three factions in the employment here, that wouldn't even take break together. They just didn't like each other. It was brought over by my predecessor. I guess some people still have some issues from that. One faction would meet in the break room, another in the shop and one would go to a local coffee shop for break. To try to bring that together, I tell everybody I was tried by the vendors first month. I was tried by the employees. I was tried by the town board and I was tried by the residents in all different ways. It was like trial by fire. They were trying me all the time.
Is the board better now?
"I'd say I get along fairly decent with the board," Roger said. "I think that every supervisor should read the little red book that every superintendent has to go by law. We get through it. I have to say that I probably get along decent on the board. I'm not fighting with them because I can speak my piece."
Has anything disappointed you?
"The disarray … because I come from working as an excavator. You work with a plumber, an electrician, a mason, everybody works together to get the job done. And it's like everybody was doing anything they could to not work together."
Most memorable experience?
"When the supervisor wanted to shut down a private road because he was getting complaints of traffic. That would be a memorable experience because we have a computer chip fabrication business in Malta that employs a lot of people. When I came here, within a year, that business was firing up. We went from like 52 or 54 miles a road to 79 miles in a short amount of time. It was a kind of an explosion. Now they've turned some of those roads back over to the county. You had 3,000 construction workers and another 3,000 workers coming in. Now they're going to build another chip facility in the Luther Forest development area.
"I'm trying to think of the right words. To get my employees to respect what they've done and be proud of what they've accomplished every single day."
Like most highway supers, when it's all said and done, Roger wants to be remembered for "doing a good job, helping people and keeping the town roads safe."
What more could the townspeople ask for?
The first inhabitants of Malta were the Mohawk and Mohegan Indians who migrated to summer hunting and fishing grounds on the shores of Saratoga and Round Lakes. The earliest European settlement was in the southeast corner of the town centered on a malt brewery, bringing about the name Maltaville, and eventually Malta.
One of Malta's earliest settlers was Michael Dunning, who purchased a large plot of land in the area now known as Dunning Street around 1774. Dunning set aside an open tract of land where the militia would train annually. These troops fought in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. When not engaged in war, training was more of a social event where people could enjoy the company of their neighbors.
The town of Malta was not officially established until 1802 when it separated from the town of Stillwater. On April 6, 1802, the first town meeting was held to elect officers and pass the first town ordinances. The minutes of that meeting are still in the custody of the town clerk. Many significant events have occurred here. In 1837, Elmer Ellsworth, the first Union officer killed in the Civil War and a great friend of the Lincoln family, was born here. From 1898 until the late 1930s, Tommy C. Luther created the beautiful "Luther Forest," a 7,000-acre private forest preserve that now is the site of more than 1,700 homes as well as Global Foundries. During the 1940s and 1950s, this same area was home to the Malta Rocket Test Station, where the rocket engines that carried America to the moon were first tested.
Throughout most of its history, Malta was a small rural town, but this began to change with the construction of the "176 miles that changed everything;" i.e., the Adirondack Northway or Interstate 87. Planned as part of the great post war interstate system, construction began in the mid 1950s but did not cross the Mohawk until 1959 with the opening of the Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge. By 1963, traffic was moving as far as Lake George and by 1967, on to Canada. But it also was moving to Albany and all points throughout the Capital District. People discovered that they could work anywhere within a 50-mi. radius and still make it home in time to see their children's baseball game. The great exodus from city to suburb was on.
Clifton Park may have been the first community along the road to feel its demographic effects but it was soon followed by Malta. While the 1960s saw a whopping 229 percent increase in the Clifton Park population, Malta witnessed a more modest, but very respectful increase of 71 percent. During the 1970s, the percentage increase of Malta was actually larger than its southern neighbor (Malta 82 percent, Clifton Park 61 percent) though the numeric increase still leaned heavily in favor of Clifton Park. The 1980s saw this trend continuing with Malta's population increasing by 67 percent. By 2000, both communities were witnessing a more modest and almost equal rate of growth: Clifton Park 10 percent and Malta 11 percent during the 1990s. The 2000 census counted 32,995 residents in Clifton Park and 13,005 in Malta. The pre-Northway population (1960 census) of Malta being 2,223, the town has experienced an increase of 10,782 citizens (485 percent) in the near 50-year period that the road has passed through town.
The village of Round Lake is a unique and historic part of the town. The area became popular in 1868 when several Methodist laymen purchased a tract of land on the west shore of the lake as a site for camp meetings. The Rensselaer & Saratoga Railroad Co. erected a station nearby. The first week-long meeting attracted 8,000 people while the second, a year later, drew 20,000. As the years passed, the meeting became more educational and cultural. Cottages were constructed to replace the tents that had housed the first visitors and an auditorium was built for the meeting site. In 1888, the camp acquired a Ferris-tracker organ, originally built in 1847, and organ consorts are presented each summer. Property was owned by the Methodist Association until 1969 when the area was incorporated as the village of Round Lake. P