"WE", is a story spanning three generations of a family engaged in the Auto Trim Industry that eventually led to the creation of "Electron Top". Our Dad, Fred W. Strauss Jr., deplored the use of the word "I" in conducting business. He often reminded us of a book that Charles Lindbergh wrote about his solo accomplishment crossing the Atlantic in 1927 that was named "WE", in recognition of the support received from others. Our story cannot match that of Lindbergh's heroic deed in significance, but "WE" hope it will keep us ever mindful of the help and support one gets from family and business associates. Sometimes help comes from strange and unexpected places. When you look back on your own accomplishments, you will probably realize too, that you didn't do it alone.
The late Henry Yudt (1897-1989), our Grandfather, was born in Hungary and started his apprenticeship at age 12 in a carriage factory in Budapest. During World War I he did upholstery for aircrafts. In 1920 he came to America and while learning to speak English worked in the custom auto body building shops that flourished in New York City at the time. By 1930 he went into the Auto Trim business as "Richmond Hill Auto Top" in a rented store in Queens, NY. In 1948 a new building was erected directly across the street from the original shop. The original trim shop, in business for over 60 years, was operated since 1965 by his son Henry until closing its doors in Fall 2001. Henry Yudt Sr. was a craftsman and businessman of the highest caliber and he was the first "HALL OF FAME" recipient in the Auto Trim Industry.
Fred W. Strauss Jr., of a later generation than Mr. Yudt, was trained as an aircraft mechanic, and went to work for Grumman Aircraft Co. in 1940. He worked until 1942, when he enlisted in the Navy flight program to fulfill a life long ambition to become a Naval Aviator. After being commissioned as a Naval Aviator in 1945, he married Henry Yudt's daughter, Catherine, our Mother. Upon returning to civilian life in late 1947, he returned to Grumman until mid 1948 when he went to work for his father-in-law in the Auto Trim Industry. Henry Yudt Sr. and Fred Strauss Jr. earned a fine reputation as operators of one of the most successful custom trim shops in the New York area and in 1955 Fred W Strauss Jr. (Our Dad) became the first President of the Auto Trim Association of New York.
In 1958-59 a few years after the introduction of vinyl coated top materials, the electronic fused (heat sealed) seams appeared on factory tops. This created a problem for a complete custom trim shop, like Richmond Hill Auto Top. It meant that "WE" would have to buy our tops from the larger less quality oriented manufacturers, or invest in heat seal equipment and learn how to use it. During the same period of time in the late 50's, the mixture of old and new ideas grew gradually from making convertible tops by cutting, fitting, and stitching each and every top individually, to a unique semi-modern pattern and production method. "WE" chose to buy heat seal equipment and were probably the only custom trim shop to heat seal their own tops. Almost before the equipment was in place, (knowing the reputation of Henry Yudt Sr. and Fred Strauss Jr. for quality and craftsmanship) "WE" were approached by several jobbers who were interested in selling tops made by"Richmond Hill Auto Top".
THE BIRTH OF Electron Top
In 1960, out of one of the oldest trim shops in the northeast
"Electron Top", was born. "WE" chose Marbeth Fabrics to do selling for us and enjoyed several years of steady growth. In the early 1960's , Marbeth Fabrics reorganized. Marty Karzmar lost his partner Jack Rosenthal and "Electron Top" was left without a selling organization, so our Dad did the selling. In 1965 Dad bought an airplane, a Cherokee (180) and flew around visiting customers. I'm sure some of you still remember his visits, since most of you are still valued customers. For the next few years he left the manufacturing in the hands of some good key men. However, in the normal evolution of things one key man left Electron and became a very successful marine canvas man. A year or so later our foreman was offered a job as a service manager in a family owned Toyota dealership near his home (an offer he couldn't refuse). So our Dad rolled up his sleeves and went back to the hands on production and pattern making with special attention given to Mercedes and other Imports.
He vowed never to stop working with his hands again and never did. Dad always said :
"The harder he worked the luckier he got!"
THE THIRD GENERATION
"WE" all have fond memories of working for Dad as young children on days off and during summer vacations from school. Some of our jobs involved rolling wire-on for 5 cents each, packaging end tips with screws for a penny a piece, hand cutting swatches, and pasting sample cards for 25 cents each. "WE" also engaged in sweeping the floor and picking up hog rings in the trim shop, which "WE" did not get paid for. Most fathers would like to have their sons and daughters join them in a family business. Our father was no exception. Dad was receptive, but the boys and Kimmy wanted no part of the regimentation that a training program under Dad's scrutiny would bring. They had enough of that through their school days.
Craig (Skip) was not overly enthusiastic about academics in school, but he excelled in mechanics and electronics. He was thrilled by any opportunity to take apart, put together, or modify anything that had an engine or battery. He built a dune buggy, rebuilt a bulldozer for Dad, and learned how to fly airplanes, both full scale and radio controlled. After some interesting jobs, mostly connected to the automotive industry, Skip took some electronics and computer programming courses. Skip realized that computers could satisfy his desire to work with his hands without getting them dirty. His thirst for knowledge, never ending ambition, and love for new technology brought the new age to
Electron . Skip is responsible for all the computer programming, our computerized cutting machines and the composition of our advertising, catalog and top patterns. Dad told Skip during one of his projects "Read the book!", he never stopped, and continues to amaze us with his vast knowledge and capabilities.
Fred III (Rick), a few years older than Skip; spent some years in the Army where he became a medic attached to a helicopter outfit. After an honorable discharge he pursued some college, became a manager of an ambulance company and rescue team; an EMT, certified parachute rigger, skydiver, and a certified scuba diver. All these great accomplishments couldn't support his life style so he decided that he would give Dad another chance. Rick, besides being loquacious, is a very ingenious sewing machine operator and is responsible for many fixtures and special procedures.
Our Dad Passed Away February 2002
" We miss him terribly! "
Kimberly (Kimmy) I'm much younger than my brothers, but in 1988 I joined them at Electron after working several years at JFK International Airport as an Import Manager. One of my jobs at Electron was to put this story together. It was enjoyable, but not nearly as much fun as greeting customers on the phone and managing the office. Each month I spend quite a bit of time putting the newsletter together which we try to mail monthly.
Dad was inducted into our industry's "HALL OF FAME" in 1986 and retired at the end of 1987. He spent most of his spare time flying Radio Controlled Model Airplanes with a bunch of very active Seniors. Dad and Mom spent most of their later years driving together between their different houses enjoying the company of wonderful friends in each location."WE" were always delighted when Dad visited with us at the shop and joined in the discussions. "WE" derived a great deal of support from him as he shared his 53 years of experience in the Auto Trim Trade. Dad gave us the Motto, "Our Reputation is Tops!". He said that he saw it on a truck that did kitchen counters. It makes no difference because it has become our incentive and responsibility.
Mom has recently joined us in the office. Its exciting to have her here. She was always at Dads side during the birth and raising of Electron and a ballast for us kids at home while Dad was busy with the company. She has seen Electron Top grow from the beginning.
"WE" are proud of our Dad and Grandfather; who gave us a strong foundation upon which to build, with strong principles and skills to use as tools.
"WE" are not the beginning, nor the end."