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Prolock's History


Professional Lock and Key
A History
Jay Musselman

Like most small businesses Professional Lock (and Key) had a very humble beginning. Started by my parents, Earl and Dorothy Musselman in1969. Prior to starting the business, Earl had been working two full time jobs; a construction job in Northern Virginia. by day, and at the Washington, D.C. bread bakeries at night. (As a result of a hunting accident,  Earl was unemployed for over two years). The history2 family moved in with my Grandparents in order to make ends meet. The family got by on food from Granddad’s; John L. Musselmans, my namesake; huge garden in Stafford Co. VA. We sold tomatoes and even crabs to make ends meet. Hunting and fishing also kept food on the table. Looking back, it was a very healthy lifestyle.

With a wife, and four kids, living with his parents in Stafford, in his middle thirtys, dad went searching for a job. Back then not many companies would hire you at that age; people didn’t jump around from job to job, employees were very loyal. They considered you an investment; if a company took the time to train you, they would do so when you were young. Companies also expected you to stay with them until retirement.

There were some disability benefits; they would pay an employer for on the job training. While not able to find anything in Fredericksburg Va., dad looked up north. After being continuously turned down, he was in Springfield Va., on Backlick Road; having some car trouble, he looked across the street and saw a locksmith sign. He went in to use the phone and with his curiosity up and nothing to loose, he asked to speak to the owner. The owner's wife said he was too busy. Dad offered to wait, and wait he did, in fact it was most of the day, the shop was closing when Mr. Baldino came out and spoke to him. He was impressed with dad's patience and determination, originally stalling him hoping he would just go away. After talking with Mr. Baldino he was still a little hesitant of making that small business leap of hiring his first employee.

There was a couple of deciding factors, dad offered to work for free until he could hold his own, and disability would pay for his training. Dad was told to start in the morning! It was the break he needed. We are still very grateful for the chance Mr. Baldino gave the family. One break sometimes thats all it takes!

Against all odds, with only eleven months of training, dad took the family wagon, a 1967 Ford Fairlane, and turned it into a mobile locksmith. That put an end to the family outings, like the drive-in movies and our treasured vacations to Ocean City, Md. our next vacation wouldn’t come for another seven years.

However, Professional Lock and Key was open for business; a true Mom and Pop operation, my mother handled the business end while dad did the locksmith work. Mom came up with the business name and logo. The Mom and Pop operation grew very slowly. Without established credit, and no assets, like a home, it was impossible to get a loan. This forced them to buy things only when they had cash money. A philosophy that forged a very firm foundation. The business later turned down bank offers for loans, mostly feeling like, where were you when I needed you? That attitude allowed us room to cut back and survive when things got tough. As anyone in a family business, especially a Mom and Pop, knows, when there are cut backs, the family is the first to go without! Being in the locksmith business, we were sometimes called upon to close places down. We saw first hand many businesses and homes failed due to over extended credit. These were important business lessons. My parents always said, the tallest buildings are not always the strongest.

Dad would drive up to Washington DC to Blaydes Lock, a long time distributor, before they would open with cash in hand, pay for the locks and drive back to Fredericksburg Va., an hour each way. He would do all this, and still be back early enough to start the days first job. In those days, if you wanted a key cut, he would bring his little key machine into your house or business, set it on your table, plug it in to your outlet, and cut your key!

Professional Lock and Keys first new van was a 1971 Dodge. It was a beautiful truck; they bought it from Carl D. Silver Plymouth-Dodge, a dealership on Princess Anne St. Talk about humble beginnings! The van cost $3,100. It was fire engine red with real gold leaf lettering, with chrome slotted mag wheels, old riverboat style scrolling. BAD! The Professional Lock logo came about by my parents sketching out different ideas on notebook paper, and it remains the same today. To see the logo on the racecar would have made them proud I'm sure, especially being first runner up at a national event, and close-up coverage of the car on Speed Channel!

oldVanOur first service call rate was $6.50 and in a town that didn't even need a locksmith, charging that would literally get you into a fistfight. No one in this town locked their house or car, no one! Mr. A.V. Warren worked with us for twenty years. He told the story; when he was a young man, his family would vacation at Fairview Beach, and back home they would leave their doors unlocked and the windows up and in the event of a storm the neighbors would come over and put the windows down. Mr. Warren did so much for us over the years and was essential to our success. Hardly a day goes by that we don't think of him.

I started riding with dad when I was 10 and by the age of 12 was picking things up pretty quick; I paid attention, and after awhile I knew which tool to hand him before he needed it. I would help with the clean up, running back and forth to the truck. Customers were impressed with a 13 year old picking the lock on their house also a little worried!

By the time I was 15 and 8 months with only a learners permit I was driving around one of our new employees, who happened to be in his thirties. I was training him; this allowed me to drive everywhere! The van was a green 1974 Dodge, it had a three on the tree, manual brakes, manual steering and of course; no A/C!

Earl Musselman built quite a reputation as a safe-man. Back then, safe crackers were a very tight nitched group; trade secrets were closely guarded, not like today with all the information and equipment available. He didn’t have the money to buy the proper safe light or drill rig. This is one of the reasons he became so good, he would be damn sure of his measurement before drilling. He would use a straight light, the type used by locksmiths; and a regular Black & Decker high-speed drill. Jack Hardy and Bob Mulbach two of the legends in the Washington, DC area, taught dad a lot, they told him you can't open safes like, no one can! You must have the proper tools; dad told them you could if you don't have the money to buy the tools. When drilling a hole in the safe, you have to drill through the hard plate, it's a protective plate made to keep you from drilling. The angle has to be right. This is tough even with the correct tools. Your hole must be perfect, a little off could make for a very bad outcome mistakes that could be corrected by using a safe light; one with a bright light and clear optics and different angled views. The proper drill rig also helps, the type that mounts to the safe with a lever rig to apply the ever-important pressure.

I can remember being on a post office job, a big old, round lug door Mosler, it was locked up, and was being a beast. After many drill bits and me pushing on his shoulder for added pressure while drilling, he sent me to the truck to get a 2x4 block and an old snow tire chain from under the seat. We proceeded to make our own drill rig, it wasn’t pretty and I don't think dad told Bob or Jack about our little makeshift rig, but we got her open!


Professional Lock opened its first shop in 1973 on Cambridge Street, (U.S Route 1) in Falmouth, VA. We rented from Lyman White who really went out of his way to help us; he became a great friend of dads. My sister had chickens at home and actually sold her brown eggs at the shop. We had as much money coming in from the eggs as we did from keys! Dad built the counter at our new shop taller than usual, I asked why since I was so short? He said because when he goes out on a call and leaves me there I want to make it difficult for someone if they were to try to grab you. Wow! Nice to hear if you're a 14 yr old, running the shop by yourself. We didn’t have heat in that building, we ran one of those nasty kerosene heaters; it was cold as hell in the mornings. We didn’t't have hot water either and in order to flush the toilet you had to take a hose from the sink and fill the back of the toilet up, then flush. It sounds like we were roughing it, but at the time we thought we had it made.

Chris Embrey and I started full time right out of high school, ca.1977-78. A life long and faithful friend for over 44 years, Chris is a major contributor to the success of the business. He is one of the most knowledgeable technicians in the industry. He runs the automotive division. His son, Billy, worked with us briefly, before his untimely death, a terrible loss.

All the family members have worked here one time or another. My mother, my sisters, my brother, Jerry and his wife, Alonna, all helped build the company into what it is today. Jerry owns and runs Chancellor Lock. Jerry and I had been running the business for more than 13 yrs. We all had the long hair back in the 70's and 80's. Dad never gave us a hard time about the hair; he said he would have wanted his long if he were young. We grew tired of that old shop and were rapidly outgrowing it. Dad was semi-retired at the time. Jerry and I found this nice building that Crit Sullivan had for lease. It was in Chatham, the site of our current location, we went to dad with the idea and he said NO! He didn’t think we were ready for that commitment. We fought and argued and finally against his wishes; Jerry and I signed the lease personally. Then without telling him, we rented a U-Haul truck and moved his business on a weekend. On a Monday in August 1987 Professional Lock was gone! Well not gone, but it wasn't in Falmouth anymore! Our location changed from Falmouth to White Oak. It turned out to be one of the best business decisions we ever made, dad eventually agreed.

One of the most amazing records this company has is the fact that someone has been available 24hrs a day 7 days a week for over 40 years! Only the people who have run emergency calls truly understand what it's like to be interrupted in every possible situation there is in life, not to mention the interruption of sleep itself. Hats off to all you who do it have done it, and thanks to our guys doing it now. In the early days dad was on call 24/7, imagine the personal sacrifice. There were no cell phones, only pay phones, and answering machines, you would finish a call, go to a phone booth, call your answering machine, if you didn’t't have anything else you would go home. As soon as you walk in the door there would be a message on the machine and right back out you would go! Bobby Thacker, from Professional Building Maintenance, tells the story to this day about him and dad getting called out at 3 a.m. on the same job, a cold winter night during a full blown blizzard, Bobby looked at dad and said what in the hell are we doing out here? I don't think I can print dads response, but Bobby's reply was I know, we're building a business, you crazy #**^@&$@@!@

hist9As many of you know, running a business is not always easy, especially a Mom and Pop family business. The hard times require strengths you never knew you had, and in a family business, to remain a family is sometimes overwhelming. We have been through more than most. Billy, my brother-in-law, has become quite the safe-man, dad would be proud. The whole family worked here at one time or another, they have since moved on, I thank them for their valuable contributions, myself having been fired and quit many times has managed to remain. The employees, over the years, have been caught in the middle many times and can tell some stories I'm sure. We kids have managed to remain a family, which is the most important thing. Mom and dad had been separated for many years were divorced in1981. She passed away in 1995. Dad passed away in 2004. Both are missed.