Cramer and Associates, Inc. (formerly Cramer Brothers, Inc.) has been building/repairing bridges, culverts and dams for over 50 years. The story begins when Del Cramer, of Neosho, MO, graduated from high school and moved to Storm Lake, IA to live with his brother-in-law, Howard Bayse, and to attend Buena Vista College. Del later transferred to Iowa State where he received a B.S. degree in Agricultural Engineering in 1950.
During the summers and after college, Del worked for the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) as an inspector. He and another inspector, Harold Oliphant, decided construction didn’t look too difficult and started their own company. They built some culverts and very small bridges. They needed some money and Harold’s brother, Sock, joined them forming Oliphant, Oliphant and Cramer.
One of their earliest jobs was a subcontract from Schmidt Construction to build three cattle passes. Another early job was a triple box culvert in Buena Vista County. Later, Del recalled, Sock Oliphant turned in bids on thirteen small bridges in Linn County, near Cedar Rapids. They were read low on all thirteen and knew they were really in the bridge business. They bought a new Lorrain TL25LC crane and a concrete production plant to mix concrete on site.
In 1953, one of the Oliphant brothers passed away and Del joined a new partner, Russell Bayse. Russell was a brother to Howard Bayse and had some business experience owning a store in Newell, IA. Russell borrowed $10,000 from a banker in Newell foolish enough to loan it to him and they formed Cramer-Bayse Construction.
In 1956-57 Cramer-Bayse built three overpasses along I-35 south of Des Moines. Starting in 1960, they built eleven bridges in Kansas City, MO. They bought several cranes beginning with two American 399’s and moving up to an American 599 in 1960 which cost $38,000.
By the early 60’s, Del’s father, who everyone called Pop, and three of Del’s brothers worked for the company.
There was Dale, George and Don. The fifth brother, Dallas, became a Vet and opened up shop in Stockton, MO where he still resides. By then they had bought a few 50-Ton, American 5299’s and thought they were ready to build anything. A new freeway was being built in Des Moines called I-235 or The MacVicar Freeway. The Cramers built several of the overpasses including 6th Avenue, 19th Street, Cottage Grove and Harding Road.
Also in the early sixties, a young engineer from Iowa State named Harold Tompkins went to work for the company and built several large projects beginning with the 1st Avenue bridge in Cedar Rapids.
Cramer-Bayse Construction dissolved in 1963 and, at age 53, Russell retired to Florida where he lived almost to be a hundred. Del and his brothers began a partnership called Des Moines Bridge. They operated that way for a short time and then incorporated in 1965 under the name Cramer Brothers, Inc.
The company expanded across the state of Iowa. They built several bridges in Council Bluffs including putting the decks on three river bridges…I-80, I-480, and I-680. Cramer Brothers also did quite a bit of work in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids. In the mid-to-late ‘70s, they joint ventured with Jensen Construction to build the “5-in-1”.
George Cramer led the way in building this project consisting of double-decker, twin bridges and a dam on the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids.
Times were pretty good for the Brothers and they were looking for investment opportunities. They bought airplanes and farms. Outside of work those were the closest things to hobbies the Brothers had. Del enjoyed farming and they all liked to fly.
Also in the early ‘70s, a new repair process for bridges was developed. It’s called a high-density, low-slump bridge deck overlay and is also known as “The Iowa Method”. We just call it “overlay”. The process involves grinding ¼” or more off the surface of the bridge deck, jack-hammering all the delaminated concrete off the surface and around the rebars, and then installing a 1.5” to 2” layer of new concrete. A special, mobile concrete mixer is used to mix the concrete on-site. Also, a unique paver is required which uses a lot of vibration to finish the concrete that has a very low slump of 0 to 1”. This method can add 25 years or more of life to a bridge deck. Iowa and Kansas have used it extensively and several other states have done it quite a bit. It’s especially useful in states where a lot of salt is used in the winter time. The dense overlay helps keep the salts from getting to the rebars where corrosion will deteriorate the deck.
Cramer has overlayed more bridges in the Midwest than anyone else. Overlay has taken Cramer to Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and Missouri.
In 1978, the Cramers incorporated another company called Cramer and Associates, Inc. It has an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) and is merit shop. Cramer Brothers, Inc. did work for another few years and then dissolved. Cramer and Associates, Inc. has continued to grow to this day.
The ESOP is a retirement benefit for all employees that work at least 1000 hours during the year. A contribution is made by the Company to the employees at the end of the year. The amount can vary but is usually equal to 5% of the employee’s wages. The big benefit, however, is that the ESOP grows as the Company profits grow. Currently, 40% of the profit is going to the ESOP each year. Many of the employees have very large nest eggs waiting for them at retirement.
Tragedy struck in 1983, when Dale Cramer was killed in a car accident. Although the company shuffled the work load around and worked through it, the real loss was felt on the personal level of losing a loved one and the impact that loss had on Dale’s wife and three boys. God doesn’t promise to keep us from all trials in life, but He does promise to go through them with us.
The building of new structures slowed down in the 1980s. However, the overlay market was doing better. So, Cramer transitioned away from new construction and towards rehabilitating and overlaying bridges. It was, and still is, very tough work, but at least there weren’t seven to ten bidders on every job.
Don Cramer would take a “pour crew” from the shop as well as gathering some help from other jobs to make the overlay pours. He made virtually every pour. In the thick of the season, pours could be happening in every corner of the state on four or five days of the week. They would leave at three or four a.m. to be able to start pouring at seven and turn around and do it somewhere else the next day.
The exceptional planning and coordinating of the overlay work along with motivated employees made Cramer a leader in the overlay market. The company could, and still does, compete for every overlay in Iowa from tiny bridges in the country to mammoth overlays like the I-74 Bridge over the Mississippi River in the Quad Cities.
In 1989, Cramer and Associates, Inc. made another shift by moving half the company to Topeka, Kansas for a two-year job of widening and overlaying bridges on I-70. Koss Construction, a concrete paving company, felt they were being locked out of getting major paving jobs in Kansas because they weren’t getting the best bridge quotes. George Cramer tells how Koss snuck him down to Topeka in their plane the night before the letting so the competition wouldn’t know he was there. Koss was the low bidder and George led the bridge work for the next two years.
The Kansas work also introduced the Company to hydrodemolition. Cramer worked closely with subcontractors who would use water blasting robots to remove the deteriorated concrete on the bridge deck. Hydrodemolition is still used today, but limitedly. Hydro has some benefits but also creates quite a mess of cement-water to deal with.
The Topeka job was followed by a two year job in Wichita with Koss and then a few smaller projects. Richard Schoene, an engineer Cramer hired from Iowa State, and Dan Cramer, George’s son, were emerging as gifted job superintendents during the Kansas work. They would play a key role in the company’s future.
Also in the early 1990s, Cramer and Associates, Inc. widened and overlayed several bridges on I-80 in Des Moines. At that time, Del Cramer’s son, Robert began working full time after graduating from Iowa State in Construction Engineering.
As Del looked to the future, he wanted to transition to the next generation. Richard Schoene, Dan Cramer, Robert Cramer and Jerry Marker (the Company Controller since 1964) were all added to the Cramer and Associates, Inc. Board of Directors in 1991 and the four of them became the Management Team. Towards the end of the 1990s, the company needed a plan for the founding Cramer brothers to retire and to empower the Management Team. Several transition plans were proposed and rejected until, in November, 1999, Dan and Robert hired RSM McGladrey, Inc. to facilitate the making of a transition plan. Within 24 hours, the Board had an agreement whereby Del, George and Don would retire from day-to-day duties and then from the Board over the next six years. The Management Team would continue on the Board of Directors as well as adding Mike Cramer, Don’s son, who manages the Shop. Each of the three remaining founders’ families continue to own about 20% of the company stock and the ESOP owns the remaining 40%.
The transition has worked out very well for all parties which, unfortunately, can’t be said very often. Most of the time second-generation companies flounder, but Cramer and Associates, Inc. has flourished.
Though Cramer’s work in the 90s continued to be dominated by rehabilitations and overlays, the floods of ’93 in Des Moines meant many new flood walls, gates and pump stations needed to be built to protect the low parts of the city. Then, in the beginning of the 21st Century, the work was dominated by the replacement of the MacVicar Freeway, I-235 in Des Moines. A total of 77 bridges were to be replaced or rehabilitated from the year 2000 to 2007. Cramer bought a traditional style 100-Ton American Crane and a new Terex-American 110 Crane as they transitioned back to building new bridges.
But, more importantly, the workforce had to transition to new construction as well.
The Company had some superintendents with ‘new bridge’ experience but hired more engineers out of Iowa State as supervisors for expansion. Cramer also trained more carpenters and operators. The typical crew was no longer a supervisor with a bunch of laborers who could jackhammer. The ‘new bridge’ crews needed the same motivation as the ‘overlay crews’, but needed more skills to get the job built.
Some of the bridges Cramer and Associates, Inc. built on I-235 were of traditional construction and a normal schedule. However, many were fast paced, involved a lot of night work (due to lane closure restrictions), and/or had a unique design. For example, Cramer built two out of three of the blue, basket handled arched pedestrian bridges.
Cramer replaced the Harding Road and 19th Street bridges that were originally built by the first generation. During the demolition of the 6th Avenue overpass, a laborer brought Dan Cramer a tag he had found wrapped around a rebar and cast into the concrete bridge deck.
It was a rebar tag stating the size and length of the rebar when it was purchased in 1964 and was made out to Cramer & Bayse Construction!
Cramer and Associates, Inc. had completed about a third of the structures work on I-235 when it wound down in 2007. Cramer also learned to manage large, complex projects. Cramer was the lead manager of MEGA3, the $43 million project at I-235 and E. University Ave in 2005. Similarly, Cramer led the MEGA1 Downtown project, a $93 million freeway replacement including grading, pcc paving, bridges, MSE walls, storm sewers and other utilities, lighting, and signing.
From then on, Cramer and Associates, Inc. has been ready for the future whether it entails a lot of rehab work, overlay, new structures, or all three.
Working in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, South Dakota and Kansas, the Management Team has grown Cramer and Associates, Inc. into a medium sized company employing over 150 people. It has grown from $6.7 million in self-performed work in 1994 to over $47 million in 2017. When you add in the subcontracted work, Cramer and Associates, Inc.’s volume averages over $70 million.
After the completion of I-235 in Des Moines, the Iowa DOT put its focus on the Council Bluffs Interstate Corridor (CBIS) where I-80 and I-29 join together. Cramer teamed up with Hawkins Construction of Omaha and United Contractors of Johnston for the first major project. The team was so successful on that extremely challenging job that they went on to bid several more projects together. They missed one to another team but were then successful on a $103 million project, a $40 million job and a $104 million one. These projects involve grading, paving, bridges, walls, lighting and signing plus many other disciplines including major traffic control work that all have to be managed and coordinated. Cramer has supplied the lead Project Manager on the last 3 projects mentioned above.
Cramer and Associates, Inc. has a reputation of building the messier, tougher, more complicated projects in the area. This is a result of Management being intimately involved in the work and of hiring motivated, skilled Superintendents to run the jobs. Although some of our strong Superintendents have risen up through the ranks, we have had a lot of success in hiring Construction Engineers as Superintendents. But Management doesn’t just send Superintendents off to do the job. Co-President Dan Cramer and engineers Marty Jorgensen, Mark Leusink and Chad Coalbank each oversee four to six crews. Therefore, whether the job requires extra engineering or extra planning to meet an accelerated schedule, Cramer and Associates, Inc. enjoys the challenge.
The Board of Directors
Dan Cramer, President/Chief Operating Officer
Besides overseeing five or six Superintendents himself, Dan is responsible for making sure all the work gets done. Dan has over thirty years experience building bridges over rivers and over heavy traffic and rehabilitating bridges of all types.
Robert Cramer, P.E., President/Chief Administrative Officer
Robert is a 1990 Construction Engineering graduate from Iowa State and has his professional license in Civil Engineering. He has worked full-time for Cramer and Assoc. since 1990. Robert is responsible for the estimating, engineering, and management of the office.
Lisa Croyle, CPA, Controller
Lisa brings over 30 years of diverse tax, audit, and financial accounting to her role as Controller at Cramer and Associates, Inc. She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Iowa Society of Certified Public Accountants. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Accounting at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in 1986. She has worked in both public accounting and industry. In 2007 Lisa accepted a position in the accounting department of Cramer and Associates, Inc., where she became Controller in 2018. Lisa currently manages all accounting functions and personnel at Cramer and Associates, Inc.
Marty graduated in engineering from Iowa State. He worked for Cramer and Associates, Inc. during the summers of college but went to work for Kiewit right out of school. After a few years, he returned to Cramer as a Superintendent and is now a General Superintendent overseeing 4-6 crews. He has been back with Cramer for over 20 years. Marty is finishing the management of the largest contract that Cramer has done by itself, the $39 million replacement of 3 bridges on I-29 in Sioux City.
Mark is a 2000 Construction Engineering graduate from Iowa State. He went directly to work for Cramer and Associates, Inc. where he quickly became a Superintendent and was promoted to General Superintendent in 2007. He is overseeing 4-6 crews and has been the Project Manager for the Hawkins-United-Cramer joint venture on the I-80/I-29 Corridor project in Council Bluffs.
Brian graduated from Iowa State University in 2000 with a Civil Engineering Degree. He worked for the Iowa DOT for four years and received his professional license in 2004. That same year, he went to work for Cramer and is now the Chief Estimator and performs most of the engineering.
Brian joined the board in 2018.