PLATTSBURGH — From creating a back-yard cat corral to completing a 10-year project fencing off thousands of feet of hazardous mineshaft openings — including securing a notorious Adirondack murder scene — there's not much related to fencing that Lee Emery of C&E Fencing LLC in Plattsburgh hasn't seen over the past 50 years.
"Prior to 1962, a mutual friend of his and my father started to put in fence," Emery recalled, adding that they began with a shovel, a hard bar and a rickety hand-made trailer.
"He was employed by the state, and they both decided to have a side business," Emery said.
His father, Donald, and his mom, Betty, wound up taking sole ownership and setting up shop at 4926 South Catherine St., just across the bridge to the north of their current location. They started off installing for Montgomery Ward, Sears and Agway at a time when Sears was the largest residential fencing installer in the country.
Residential fencing was the primary focus for the first 10 years, and the company began taking on its own accounts. Then they started branching out, doing commercial jobs for hospitals, schools and mills.
"We took it over in 1990," Lee Emery said of he and his wife, Jody. "I was working part time for him on and off and was employed by the state, also."
When his dad became ill and he began approaching retirement as a correction officer, the transition seemed like a natural one.
"The business was doing very well," Emery said. "I looked forward to keeping it in the family."
Six years ago, with the business expanding, the building they now occupy, the former Golden Arrow Bus Line garage at 12 Sherman St., came up for sale.
"We were just across the bridge," Emery said, adding that his father had driven a bus for the company, one of several jobs he had nearly 50 years previously. "We had a little history with it."
In fact, about 40 years ago, Donald had been hired to fence the building in.
Of course, when they purchased the property in 2006, the fence was still in perfect working order.
One thing having the larger location has allowed them to do is expand their business to include residential and commercial snowplowing. They've also noticed a number of innovations as the fencing business has grown.
"As in any business, the products available, especially at a residential level, have increased," Emery said. Vinyl has been leading the way along with composite wood and ornamental aluminum and wrought iron.
One of the most remarkable jobs they've handled was in the woodlands in the Hague, Mineville and Moriah areas, sites of the historic iron-ore industry in those regions.
"International Paper employed us for a 10-year period to fence in mine shafts," Emery said. "It was really something. They didn't want people falling in."
You'd be working and there would be a three-foot hole in the ground covered with bushes, he said. If a rock was dropped down the holes, which were generally air vents for the mine shafts, you couldn't hear it stop bouncing.
One worker nearly fell in but was caught at the last minute with a shovel. Often, the only way you knew one was nearby on a hot day was the draft of cold air coming from deep in the ground.
They also fenced off the 30 by 60-ft. holes that formed the main mine shafts dug into the side of the mountains.
"The bat conservatory agreed to pay half the cost to fence in the mine-shaft openings," Emery said. "The paper company knew they'd never be able to do it so cheap. They didn't want anybody bothering their special bats."
Perhaps the most interesting assignment during that time was fencing off a mine-shaft crime scene involving famous Adirondack serial killer Robert Garrow, who terrorized the region during the 1960s and '70s and was the subject of what at the time was the largest manhunt in New York history. Garrow threw one of his female victims down the mine sharft.
Another harrowing assignment was fencing off the edge of a 90-foot cliff in Chateaugay, the site of a privately owned hydroelectric project.
But not every job has been that dramatic. Emery recalled a task for a cat lover with a dozen cats that involved installing a large backyard enclosure compete with roof and a cat door.
They've also enjoyed doing school projects, corrals and play areas for kids, including portable baseball backstops and hockey nets.
One job in Keene Valley involved a customer who put in a pool but didn't like the noise made by the pump.
"We put in a double-walled fence with insulation in the middle," Emery said.
A neighbor also had a chicken coop, and when the fence was installed it had an added benefit. The owners couldn't hear the pump or the chickens, either.
"I enjoy the different locations and the different people we meet," Emery said.
C&E Fencing covers a large territory from the Canadian border to Ticonderoga and west to Massena and some parts of Vermont.
One of the most difficult situations they face involves property disputes. In these cases, sometimes fences are built and then have to be removed.
"You feel bad for both parties, because the truth lies somewhere in the middle," Emery said.
Fencing projects can also involve some hard digging, getting to a site and finding it's all rock. For years, it was good exercise.
"When I bought the digging machine, I think I gained 40 pounds," Emery said.
The company employs three to five workers, and two sons and a daughter also help out.
He's most proud of the fact that the family-owned company has run continuously for more than 50 years.
"I would be hoping the business would be taken over by a third generation," Emery said.
Email Bruce Rowland: email@example.com