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A lifetime well spent toppling obstacles

WILSON -- Floyd "Red" Clark, a child of the Great Depression, wasn't burdened with a sense of entitlement when he pushed hard into business during the post-World War II days.

"I started out with nothing," he says in an inspiring new biography titled by his name and subtitled: "A Blueprint for Overcoming Obstacles."

Clark is self-taught when it comes to reading blueprints. He established his first company, Niagara Erecting and Sheeting, in 1954. The 1958 Niagara Power Project gave a big boost to his company, and his business has continued to thrive despite the fact that many industrial companies have left the Niagara Falls area.

Four of his five children have entered Clark Rigging's and Rental's work force, purchasing cranes, adapting to changing times and journeying to jobs in other areas.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Lou Michel of Wilson, an award-winning reporter with The Buffalo News who penned Clark's book, will give a reading during a meeting of the Lions Club of Wilson. The gathering takes place at Wilson House Restaurant, Lake and Young streets in the village. The public is welcome.

You also can meet Clark at 7 p.m. Oct. 1 in Wilson Free Library, 265 Young St., at a talk sponsored by Friends of the Library.

Proceeds from Clark's biography benefit the library.

Michel also is co-author of "American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Tragedy," a New York Times best seller.

In the Clark book, he writes, the "Depression had been a cruel and unrelenting teacher when it came to lessons in survival."

Photography in the biography illustrates Clark's vast community service, including a certificate honoring him for saving lives of a U.S. Coast Guard crew on treacherous Lake Ontario waves. Then there's a picture, with other volunteers, about to hoist a new Greenwood Cemetery sign onto graveyard entrance pillars.

Hoisting is something Clark well knows about, as photography also shows his 500-ton "Big Crane." A crane is also seen on the book's back cover at the Lockport headquarters of Clark, Rigging and Rentals. Branch offices are in Rochester and Syracuse, helping to serve Central New York, the Southern Tier and Northern Pennsylvania.

And on the front cover? Clark himself hard at work at his desk, where he sometimes started the books at 9 at night. Never underestimating the value of hard work, Clark's been a follower of the "early-to-rise" school. Having joined the Navy with his parents' permission as a teen, Clark's also pictured in his later years wearing cap and gown attending his 2002 long-delayed Wilson Central High School graduation in his 70s, proving that extra effort pays off in the end, and it's never too late.

Niagara Q&A recently talked to Clark about his life.

>Is it true you were showing families of tourists around the Falls even before you hit your teen years?

Yes, it was fun, I'd get right in the car with them, and we'd drive first to Niagara Falls, and I'd show them the Bridal [Veil] Falls on one of the islands there that many people never saw. Then we'd drive down for a visit to Fort Niagara. I must have been 8 or 9 at the time, earning 50 cents. And sometimes even a free lunch! We lived right on 56th street. I was an eager beaver. Dad had a garden, where he'd grow tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers -- and I'd go and sell them in a wheelbarrow.

>Your biography portrays you starting out in business with an "A-frame truck that had a 15-foot-high boom on the back of the flatbed." Were you nervous about working the levers?

I was young enough -- nothing to it, just up and down. I wanted to do something.

>What do you credit your success to?

Having a good father and a good mother. I couldn't stand it in school. I'd go and get teachers lunches. It bothered me that I wasn't good in school, when we lived in city. But then we moved to Ransomville, and I went to a one-room country school. I was 15 years old in the fifth grade. And I started to learn things, I learned a lot. Everyone was smaller than me, I was the biggest one in the class, and the teachers had me wash the windows.

>Why is your biography dedicated to your wife, Mary Jensen Clark?

I got married to a good girl. We had our arguments, but with five kids we kept pretty busy.

>What would you tell others who are struggling with obstacles?

Keep going! Life's what you make it.

Have an idea about a Niagara County-resident who'd make an interesting question-and-answer column, or an issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240

e-mail: lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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