Tuck's Service Center, first black-owned business in Carroll, celebrates 50 years

It was a hot June afternoon in Union Bridge, and Perry Jones was in the garage, sitting in the driver’s seat of an SUV elevated perhaps 8 feet above the ground, his nephew Archie Jones at work below on the rear drive train.

Here and there a phone would ring as they worked, piercing the background hum of shop equipment and a box fan in a window. And the intermittent squawk of the fire scanner added its unusual voice to the repair shop round, since Perry is also a volunteer firefighter.


This clearly wasn’t just any garage. It was one of the service bays at Tuck’s Service Center, where Perry has spent similar afternoons for more than 50 years.

“Back in 1966, I think I started working here, so I’ve been here all my life,” Perry said.

At that time, Perry and his father, Perry Jones Sr., or “Tuck,” both worked for Jim Singer, who owned the service station, then a Gulf station. Until 1968, when Tuck decided to make a move.

“He had worked for the gentleman prior to that for about four years and then he decided if he was going to work for them and they weren’t here, he was going to buy the business for himself,” Perry said of his father. “It happened to be May 1, 1968, just a couple of weeks [after] the death of Martin Luther King.”

Which means Tuck’s is now celebrating its 50th anniversary, something Perry said escaped his notice until just before the date rolled around.

“To tell you the truth, I never even gave it a thought until — I guess it was the middle of April,” he said. “I was watching TV one night and they were doing a documentary on TV on the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, and then I said, ‘well, hell, that was like two weeks before my dad took the business over.”

It was, as far as Perry is aware, the first licensed, black-owned business in Carroll County.

“People had barbershops and worked in their own garages and all, but they weren’t licensed businesses in the county,” he said.

Today, Tuck’s is still a family affair. Since Tuck died in 1980, Perry and his brother Archer, and now nephew Archie, have continued the tradition of repairing vehicles from the small service center on Main Street. They pull some customers from Taneytown and Keymar and New Windsor and even Westminster, but it’s the people of Union Bridge they live to serve.

“It’s kind of hard to do in a small town of 1,000 people, but we have some very good customers that have been with us the entire time that we’ve been here,” Perry said. “Union Bridge is like a family rather than a business because we’ve been here so long and everybody relies on us and we rely on them.”

That’s apparent when Perry takes a breather to sit on the bench in front of the shop, waving to those he knows who drive by, or drive up.

People like Eugene Curfman, president of the Union Bridge volunteer fire company and a longtime Tuck’s customer.

“My family moved to Union Bridge area in the early ’60s, so probably at least, close to 50 years. I remember when their dad had the business,” he said. And for any small business to keep going after 50 years, he said, “that’s an accomplishment.”

Not because there haven’t been a lot of challenges, but because there have been, going right back to the very beginning.


“I remember some pretty difficult times back then in 1968,” Perry said. “When the name changed from Singer’s Gulf to Tuck’s Gulf, at that time, those couple of weeks, we did lose some customers, because it was a difficult time with segregation and stuff like that. We lost some white customers and we also lost some black customers.”

It didn’t take long, maybe a year, for that to stop, Perry said, but where human challenges dissipated, Mother Nature showed she could do as much or more to challenge a business owner’s constitution.

“We had the major flood of 1972, that was Agnes in ’72 — where we are sitting right now there was nine foot of water here,” he said. “It about wiped us out.”

Then in 1975, Hurricane Eloise brought another flood that brought waters four feet deep into the service center.

“I know what the people in Ellicott City are facing,” Perry said, “whether you want to come back into a business, you constantly get flooded in.”

But the Jones family did come back in. They had, after all, rooted themselves in the Union Bridge community.

“In 1973, my dad was here and he got on the city council, the town council, and he was on the town council from ’73 until ’80 when he died,” Perry said.

Perry was asked by the town if he would serve out the remaining 11 months of his father’s term on the council.

“I stayed there for 11 months and that turned into 11 years on the council and then 12 years as mayor, and four years as county commissioner and then back in 2010 as mayor,” he said. “This is 2018 and I’m still mayor.”

And the public information officer for the fire company — Perry has been a firefighter for 47 years, and Archer, too, for nearly as long, according to Curfman.

“You have got to be a jack of all trades to make a small community like this work,” he said. “Arch, a lot of times we get daytime fire calls and he’s the driver.”

“The fire company guys are just like family,” Perry added. “If one of us has a problem we all have a problem, so we all look out for each other.”

And really, looking out for people is what Perry believes has allowed Tuck’s to keep running for so many years.

“The main thing is when you’re in a small town like this, you have to treat customers fairly,” he said. “You have to depend on your customers to come back. Repeat customers. You can’t do it for free, but then you do a good job and a price that’s fair and equitable.”

It’s the sort of thing that builds community, and sustains a small business, a small town, Curfman said.

“They do good work, they are reasonably priced. I mean, I don’t know how many times I’ve had them do something minor for me and they’ve never charged me for it,” he said. “That’s just the kind of people they are. They would give the shirt off their back to you if you needed it. They’re just good people.”

And as good members of the community, Perry said, they plan to stay.

“We’re going to try as long as we can to carry the business along as a family business,” he said. “We made it our home, we lived here and we’re going to continue to stay here.”