Joe was a master craftsman who passed away in 2016, a wood worker, metal worker, etc.
His father was a mechanic who, in 1946, built an Esso service station on Route 20 in Duanesburg. His mother ran a luncheonette next to it, and they rented cabins to travelers.
In 1977, he opened a business, Horseless Carriage Restorations
He found he was able to do paint work, and figure out the wood, but for the mechanical components, his only choice was to try to make them. Joe started buying equipment, and eventually put together an entire machine shop.
In 1985 when he was 35, he re-enacted the epic 1903 Olds overland traversal of the country, wetting its wheels first in the Pacific Ocean and then, 40 days and 3,800 miles later, in the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1989, he opened The Merli Carriage Manufacturing Co., building authentic reproduction pushcarts, display vehicles and wagons, primarily for the retail trade that has since produced period push carts and carriages for businesses across the United States, including Disneyland, Busch Gardens and Paramount Studios.
He was a genius when it came to building old style wooden carts, railroad baggage wagonsn and Victorian pushcarts for retail marketing displays with breathtaking precision and detail. It was an art.
While Joe's first effort, a curved-dash Oldsmobile he had built to drive, became an AACA Grand National winner, the project also launched him into the early Olds restoration and reproduction parts business. It was the beginning of a decades-long quest, to recreate the first five Olds motor carriages ever built.
He didn’t quite know what to do with the 1950s-era, General Motors locomotive, but knew he couldn’t allow the 60-ton steel beast go to the scrap yard, so he purchased the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Engine No. 5762 and had it hauled back to his shop and his vision for the Canal Street Historical Society began to manifest itself.
The locomotive was going to be a walk-in ice-cream stand next to his fully original general store, for his little "village" that he was slowly building on his property. He dug a canal and put a steel knockdown carriage bridge over it.
He first thought about building a replica rail station around the engine as a tribute to early-20th century American industrialism. Then Schenectady’s Wallace Armer hardware store closed in 1997 and Merli’s vision grew.
He had a stockpile of vintage streetlights, a period general store, a restored railroad equipment shack, a boxcar... his main shop was a typical, centralized factory setup, with the woodshop in front, machine shop crammed with equipment behind that, followed by the forge and blacksmith shop.
“I feel like I’m putting something back in America, representing the craftsman, and a time gone by that a lot of people remember,” said Merli
He even found a 1940 Silk City Diner, by Paterson Vehicle, the same New Jersey company that made the Miss Albany Diner on Broadway, the former 9 and 20 Diner at the junction of Rte’s 9 and 20 near Castleton on Hudson, south of Albany, and Countryside Diner in Schodack, NY, a stainless steel and porcelain 40-by-14 foot eatery he acquired from the village for $1.