Locksmith opens up as he recalls career

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Joseph Kenneally stands in from of the wall of keys. Photo by David Lee

GREENPORT—The most important thing you should know about a door lock is whether it’s locked before you shut the door.

Sounds simple, but how many times have you been on the wrong side of a door you thought was unlocked?

When people in Columbia and surrounding counties find themselves in that predicament many of them call Joseph Kenneally, a/k/a, City Locksmith, who has been opening locks on all kinds of things people want to get into for the past 34 years.

Recently, Mr. Kenneally, 70, turned over the keys to his City Locksmith business, headquartered at 191 State Route 23B, to Jeffery Waterhouse. Jeffery is the son of the man who used to own 347 Warren Street, Hudson, where City Locksmith was originally located. Back in the early days, Jeffery was just a kid more interested in running around in the shop than actually running the shop, Mr. Kenneally said.

Still, something in those early memories must have clicked with young Jeffery, who will now be the man answering locked-out calls in the “iconic City Locksmith truck” as Mr. Kenneally calls it.

The well-recognized truck has appeared in numerous news photographs, and has been seen at places were the locks were being changed for one reason or another, whether it be to prevent some crooked ex-partner from entering or to keep unsuspecting employees out of a business that had been sold. Mr. Kenneally recalled when a local chain of convenience stores changed hands and he was employed to change the locks in some of them unbeknown to employees, who were not told in advance they were being let go.

One day he parked his truck outside and went into one of those convenience stores only to be met with a look of horror from the clerk who told him she had a family to support.

Relax,” he told her, “I’m just here for a soda.”

Mr. Kenneally was not always a locksmith. He started his career in the trucking business in 1973. Then he opened up a commercial cleaning service. After that he started City Glass Service, which replaced glass of all types, but also installed commercial doors and windows in car doors.

Many times the locks on the doors needed adjustment or repair and Mr. Kenneally, who calls himself mechanically-inclined, took the locks apart to see how they worked and found it interesting. The progression to City Locksmith seemed natural.

Now locks are moving from mechanical to electronic, leaving some feeling “not as secure having all that information in a computer,” Mr. Kenneally said.

He recently got a call from a client who wanted his locks switched from digital to mechanical because “if anything were to happen and I don’t have a battery, I can’t open it up.”

A lot of people have a false sense of security about locks, particularly deadbolts on outside doors, said Mr. Kenneally. It’s not about the construction of the locks but how they are installed. If the plate is put on with two-inch screws the lock won’t have the power it would if installed with longer screws.

Perhaps the most unusual request Mr. Kenneally had was for help opening a crypt in the old part of Cedar Park Cemetery. The crypt was built into the side of a hill and sealed by a heavy steel door. The family plot needed to be opened, but someone had misplaced the key. Built sometime in the 1800s, the lock was likely made by a blacksmith who forged and filed things down and produced one key.

If I can’t unlock it, I’m going to do the least amount of damage I can to get you inside,” Mr. Kenneally said. He used a power saw to cut through door, slice the bolt and remove the lock from the door. Then he fashioned a new key by placing a blank key into the lock and moving it around to make slight marks, much like what a dentist does to check for a proper bite.

“You just have to go by feel,” he said, adding, “It’s like solving a puzzle.”

Another memorable episode in his locksmithing career came in late July 1999 with the 30th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival. Thousands of vehicles belonging to festival-goers were parked in fields on the outskirts south of Hudson near where the fish farm is now, with revelers shuttled to the festival in buses.

As the festival wound down and people returned to their vehicles some discovered they had lost their keys or locked them in their cars. Those who couldn’t find them called a locksmith. Mr. Kenneally and a mobile locksmith from Greene County spent Sunday through Tuesday popping the locks on car doors, then disassembling the steering mechanisms to create keys people could use to get home. They worked on hundreds of cars.

A few years after he started City Locksmith, Mr. Kenneally acquired Propst Hardware from Ed Card in 1999. Propst was a local locksmith and hardware business in Hudson dating back to the late 1930s. But even though he sold the business, Mr. Card was not ready to retire and insisted on working at City Locksmith.

When Mr. Kenneally asked him to take some time off, Mr. Card stubbornly told him if he didn’t work he’d die.

So while Mr. Kenneally was out on road calls, Mr. Card continued to answer the phone, cut keys, rekey locks, set up master key systems and serve walk-in customers five days a week until he died at the age of 98 in 2015.

What Mr. Card did for him, Mr. Kenneally plans to do for Mr. Waterhouse.

Many people have told him “If anyone can cut that key, it will be City Locksmith,” Mr. Kenneally said. “I enjoy working on locks and will stay here as long as Jeff will let me.”

To contact Diane Valden email

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Joseph Kenneally turns over the keys to the City Locksmith business to Jeffery Waterhouse. Photo by David Lee

 

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