Hampstead man savors life 'Up on the Roof' NORTH--Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

January 20, 1993|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Contributing Writer

Step into the world of Ed Martin. He installs what most folks incorrectly call "tin roofs."

The proper name, he informs a visitor, is a "standing seam roof."

Mr. Martin, president of Martin Sheet Metal Inc. in Hampstead, is neither a tin man as depicted in the Barry Levinson movie of that name nor a tin man in the "Wizard of Oz" sense. He's more Jack Kerouac and Garrison Keillor than a roofer.

When he was 7 years old, he began walking and crawling across numerous roofs in Carroll County with his grandfather, who was in the roofing business. Ever since, the old Drifters tune "Up on the Roof" has had deep personal meaning for him.

The song could certainly be the roofers' anthem, he said, "but that would depend on the weather."

Mr. Martin is a genuine, 21-karat character who, in his office on lower Gill Avenue, across the railroad tracks in Hampstead, surrounds himself with cacti, a jade tree that is flourishing in a bay window and a stack of books on tape.

"I'd rather listen to books on tape than the radio," he said. "I hate hearing the same song over and over again."

His library contains such titles as "The Red Smith Reader," Carolyn Chute's "The Burning House," works by Kurt Vonnegut -- a man to whom he bears more than a passing resemblance -- and Isaac Asimov.

This Renaissance man, at age 46, has sandy hair that is slowly turning color, a weather-beaten face and glasses that give him a Beat poet look.

He makes his living installing roofs.

"My grandfather and father started the business back in '36," he said. "They threw a piece of gutter in the back of the pickup and slowly drove through Hampstead advertising that they were in the gutter-hanging business."

Things were tough in the depths of the Depression, he said, but the two men were able to hang on because they also were able to install roofing and furnaces. More than a half-century later, the company is still doing the same thing.

"My grandfather moved here to Gill Avenue in 1912 from the country," he said. "My dad, Elwood C. Martin, who is 81, is still active in the firm and lives nearby. I live in my grandfather's house, and I guess you could say we have a little compound of Martins here."

But it was his grandfather who influenced him to climb a ladder and take a look at the world from that perspective.

"The greatest sin in my family is being lazy," he said. "I've been climbing on sheet metal roofs since I could climb a ladder and that was when I was 7 years old. I guess I simply stretched my horizons rather than playing in the dirt with the other kids who were that age."

He graduated from North Carroll High. After a stint at the University of Baltimore and a tour of duty with the army, he hit the road.

"It wasn't a desire to leave Hampstead," he said, "but rather a desire to see what was out there. You have to look around sometime in your life, and I looked at everything west of the Mississippi for five or six years and when that was done, I came back here.

"I always knew I'd end up in this business," he said with a laugh.

He and his brother, Rob, who installs heat pumps and furnaces, run the business today.

He is a man who finds beauty in metal roofs, whether they are made of steel or copper. He loves the challenges they represent. The fact that they can be fixed with a soldering iron and last for years gives him satisfaction.

"If I get a call about a metal roof, I know right where to look," he said. "Of course, it throws people off when I show up to look at their roof without climbing a ladder. They think I should be on a ladder but I know where the trouble spots are and can tell from the ground."

According to Mr. Martin, Thomas Jefferson was the first in the United States to use the 40-pound terne roof, a roof that has seams, when he built Monticello. A terne roof is made of highly compressed metal sheets that weigh 40 pounds per sheet and are composed of 80 percent lead and 20 percent tin. They were common in Europe where Jefferson must have first observed them. They quickly found favor in this country in the late 1700s and remain popular today.

"My grandfather always said that they made houses fire-proof since sparks from a chimney couldn't set fire to the roof as they could a wooden shingle roof," Mr. Martin said.

The metal roof has many advantages, according to Mr. Martin. They are light, half the weight of shingle roofs. Installation is done without nails and the joints are soldered so the roof is very tight; of all roofs, metal expands and contracts the least.

"There are tin roofs in Carroll County that are 150 years old," he said. "All you have to do to maintain them is keep them painted. That's it."

According to Mr. Martin, the only enemy of a metal roof is wind.

"The big wind back there in December took a lot of roofs off, so we've been busy putting them back on in Baltimore, Carroll and Howard counties. What takes them off are wind sheers, and man I'm thankful for wind sheers. It keeps me and my men working," he says with a laugh.

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