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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Cramer Brothers, Jim and Arnold, Recall the Family Oyster Business

A week or so ago, I had the pleasure of joining Jim and Arnold Cramer in the Kitchen of Jim Cramer's West Creek home. We spent an hour or two chewing the fat about Jim and Arnold's recollections regarding the Cramer Oyster Company which was started by their grandfather, Arnold "Bisquit" Cramer. It was quite an experience listening to the two brothers reminisce about the "good old" days. Now and then the recollections didn't quite match up, as Jim is nine years older than Arnold and remembers some things more vividly. Both have great memories. Though there was some minor bickering about a point or two, throughout the afternoon I witnessed a lot of brotherly love and respect.

Jim (right) and Arnold Cramer debate a childhood memory in Jim's West Creek kitchen. (July 24, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

About half way through our visit, Jim went in the other room and came out with two large ledger books and a handful of small, 4 by 7 inch, payroll books from the Cramer Oyster Company. "These tell the whole story", Jim exclaimed, as he plopped the books down on the kitchen table. "The Cramer Oyster Company was the biggest operation in the area and the largest employer in New Gretna until Viking Yachts."

The ledgers spanned the years 1930 to 1947 and contained a meticulous account of the wide variety of companies who bought shellfish from the Cramer Oyster Company. They listed the date of purchase, the kind and amount of shellfish purchased, and the price paid. The number of companies that did business with the Cramers was amazing as was the amount of oysters and clams sold. A quick review of the ledgers seemed to support Jim's contention that the Cramers had the biggest shellfish operation in the area. I surely wasn't going to argue the point.

The top of the first page of the large ledger showing 1930 sales to Smack and Howard. Perhaps a Baymen out in the Blog-O-Sphere can tell us the difference between "prime" and "culls".

As I turned the pages of the ledgers, I would occasionally come across some papers that had been tucked in it's pages - bill heads, gas receipts, repair bills, etc. Some are reproduced below.

A bill head from the Cramer's New Gretna operation.

A bill head from the Cramer's Tuckerton operation.

The old Cramer Oyster House still sits on Tuckerton Creek in the rear of the Cedar Cove Marina on South Green Street. (July 24, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)
A 1939 gas receipt, from the Cramer's Tuckerton operation, signed by Jim and Arnold's father, Harold, who was running the business at that time. 208 gallons of gas, at 6.6 cents per gallon, were purchased for a total of $13.73. If Harold were around today, he sure would be getting pump shock filling up his pickup's tank.

A 1946 receipt from Horner Brothers Service Station in Tuckerton for the purchase of two tires and a tube by Harold Cramer. The bill came to $32.68 with a $2.00 credit for an old tire.

The four small payroll ledgers listed, by week, the employees with the hours they worked and the wages they were paid from 1941 through 1945 and 1948-49. They are a treasure-trove of familiar New Gretna and local area names. Some are new to the Blog, but others are Blog regulars. See if you know or are related to any of these hard working men listed in the Cramer payroll books. If so, let's hear from you!

A page from the 1943 payroll book listing the half year earnings.

A page from the 1941-42 payroll book.

A page from the 1948 payroll book.

A page from the 1949 payroll book.

Jim was generous and trusting enough to let me take the precious family books home to scan for our historical computer archives. For that, I am thankful. I'm looking forward to my next visit with the Cramer brothers when I return the books. Hopefully, I'll be treated to more interesting stories. It's never dull around the Cramer boys!

Pete S

PS - I was able to tape record about an hour and 15 minutes of our conversation. It makes for some pretty interesting listening.


  1. Well, I see at least one familiar (family) name-Eugene Mathis and I assume that is my grandfather. Did all these men work as salaried regular workers or did some of them work part-time or occasional workers?
    Beverly Mathis Robinson

  2. Beverly,

    Yes, that's your grandfather "Booter". Some of the workers were regulars, but most appear to be seasonal or part time workers. It was hard work but a good opportunity to earn some much needed hard cash.

    Pete S

  3. Prime oysters are the larger ones usually sold. Culls are normally put back in the water for further growth, but some people like them (including me) because they are more tender and make better oyster stew.

    Arnold Cramer