So we talked about the entirely lost community of Hoffmans, and then then we talked about Hatcher’s greenhouses that used to be there. But there was another business that got its start in Hoffmans, and went on to be one of the Capital District’s legendary enterprises in certain circles.
Thanks to Dean Splittgerber, who reached out to us with an incredible Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph of a train at Hoffmans that was featured in Life Magazine in 1943, and then casually mentioned that his grandfather ran the Hoffmans gas station. Well, the Splittgerber name was familiar to us – our first story on Hoffmans mentioned that a Frederick Splittgerber was proprietor of a general store, as well as the postmaster, on the site of the former hotel that burned in 1918.
Frederick Splittgerber, according to his 1966 obituary, was born in Germany and had lived in the Schenectady area since 1910; he died at 87. We know from his wife Augusta’s obituary in 1952 that Fred and Augusta Splittgerber conducted a general store and garage at Hoffmans for 19 years. Later Fred and Augusta lived on Riverside Avenue in Scotia. They had sons, John and Frank; Frank and John continued the store and garage in the 1930s and ‘40s. When John married in 1946, it was noted that he was the Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealer for Schenectady, Montgomery, Fulton and Saratoga counties.
For a few years, John Splittgerber was noted as a motorcycle rider, a member of the Amsterdam Motorcycle Club, and was noted particularly for an event that appears to have run for a few years – the annual Hoffmans climb. And, for doing stunts. In 1940, he did what was described as a “board wall crash,” which we can only assume was what it sounds like it was. In 1939 (and other times as well) he rode through fire. The Sept. 16, 1939 Amsterdam Recorder reported:
“The notices say that Garageman John Splittgerber is scheduled to ride through a Tunnel of Flame at the Hoffmans hill climb Sunday. (And if that doesn’t fumigate his skunk-battling uniform, then he is going to throw away the outfit).”
A defense worker from the Watervliet Arsenal won it in 1942, with a time of seven seconds, “two more than it did when he equaled Westerberg’s mark for the 140-foot strip that runs up the side of a slope at a 40-degree angle.” (Westerberg set his record in 1940, in front of 1000 spectators.) Splittgerber, “one of the sport’s most enthusiastic supporters in this section,” took fourth nine and two-fifths seconds. “Splittgerber’s daredevil stunt of riding through a wall of burning barrels went over big with those who saw it.” The event included flat track events on a quarter-mile oval as well. He was also involved in a motorcycle polo game in 1944.
At some point the motorcycle dealership moved to Scotia, at 122 Mohawk Avenue, but by 1960 it had moved out to Central Avenue. Splittgerber may have been a tough name for a business, but the name Spitzie’s proved popular, and Spitzie’s Harley-Davidson dealership remained in the family until earlier this year. If you want more on the story of the dealership, Dean Splittgerber Sr. provided an oral history you can check out on YouTube.