When Clayton Limousine Service first opened for business, its vehicle had horsepower – real horsepower.
The Spring Lake-based business, which was founded in 1917 by Jesse Clayton, started with a horse and carriage. Today, the company has 20 cars including limousines, hearses, and sedans. Brothers Rich and Tom Clayton, who now own the business, still work in the same 8000 square-foot building where their grandfather, Jesse, housed his horses.
Clayton Limousine Service today does funeral livery, proms, weddings, wait-and-return trips, and private limousine work, such as driving a customer to see a medical specialist in New York. The company once offered taxi services, but Tom Clayton drove the last cab in 1970.
It's been a family affair all along. When founder Jesse Clayton died at age 51, his wife, Josephine, ran the business. Their son, Walter, was 16 when his father died, and he joined the business after graduating from high school in 1939. He became the owner in the 1950's. Walter Clayton worked as a driver while his wife, Esther, manned the telephones.
And it was not easy work. “You worked your business, and that's all you did,” said his son, Tom. He remembers his father earning about $100.00 per week when he bought the family's home in the 1950's.
In 1992, Walter Clayton passed Clayton Limousine Service on to his two sons, Rich and Tom. He died in 1995.
Rich Clayton grew up knowing that he would join the family business. He started as a driver in 1964 when he was 17 and drove for nearly 20 years.
Tom, however, had promised himself that he would never join the business. “It was just something that never interested me,” he said.