Faces in the Crowd — Dick Cramer
An antique chandelier hangs beside Dick Cramer’s workshop in the back of Northstar Lighting. He’s in the process of repairing it, his large, working-man hands managing to spark life back into the delicate filigree and tender glass of the old beauty.
“I’m Truckee’s oldest lighting repairman,” says the wry 70-year-old, “and because I’m probably its only repairman, that means I’m the best.” A chuckle ensues and Cramer stands up to shake hands with the interviewer.
“My name, Dick, well, back in the 30’s, it used to be famous because of Dick Tracy. Now, things have changed,” he says with a wink.
“And, Cramer, well, my family’s name comes from Mannheim, Germany, and I’ve traced them back to the 1700’s,” says Cramer. His ancestors were musical contemporaries of Ludwig van Beethoven, and he’s now a sometime musician himself, dabbling on a keyboard.
There are dozens of other lamps sitting around his workshop, all saying, ‘Fix me!’ in one way or another. Dick patiently tackles each one. “I like working on the antiques, there’s usually a part missing that I’ll have to machine and then ‘treat’ so that it looks antique, but I do all kinds,” he says. The most interesting job he’s done was to convert a 1902 New Jersey fire hydrant into a table lamp.
Cramer has been the ‘rebuild, repair and restore’ man at the lighting company for 14 years. It’s a trade he learned from his father-in-law, Joe Baisa, an emigrant from Spain who was the last silversmith on Geary St. in San Francisco. Joe’s daughter Barbara Lou became Dick’s wife over 50 years ago, and they share a home they built in Tahoe-Donner. Together, they’ve raised three children: Michael, 45, office manager at Boice Realty in Truckee; Rick, 44, a geologist in Granada Hills, CA; and Ann Cramer Brown, who raises Newfoundland hounds over in Nevada City.
Cramer was born in upstate New York, and as a child lived in various communities around that state. “I lived for awhile with my Polish grandmother, who didn’t believe in electricity or indoor plumbing,” he says. His experiences with an old-fashioned grandmother, who didn’t allow electricity in her house until the late 1940’s, makes him feel lucky today. “In my lifetime I’ve been able to experience life from the ‘old ways’ to this modern computer age. This gives you perspective,” he says.
After spending 18 years in research and development at the RayChem Corporation in Menlo Park, California, Cramer and his wife retired in Truckee. “She liked the town and so we moved here,” he says, “I like it, too, but not so much the snow and cold weather. I had plenty of that in New York state.” Cramer says wherever he hangs his hat is home. “A person can be happy in any job or any town, if they want to be,” he says, “it’s a choice.”
Before the RayChem Corporation, Cramer says he never held a job for more than four years because he’d learn what he could and then would want to move on to something else. “I was looking for something (as a career), but I just couldn’t find it,” he says “but I’ve never been out of work for more than two weeks, and that was because we were on strike.”
His varied work life saw him learning the plumbing, sheet metal and electronics businesses, among others. “The first job I had in Truckee was with the Sierra Mountain Cemetery,” he says. Cramer says he was fired from that job because he was spending too much money digging up historic graves in order to accurately catalog the plots in which the town’s ancestors were buried. He smiles when he recounts that story, “I don’t hold any grudges, that cemetery is a fascinating place and I had fun working there. I came on over to Northstar Lighting after that and I pretty much do what I want here in restoring these light fixtures.”
Cramer looks to the future a lot these days. “I’ve attended lots of Bible study groups. It’s interesting, you know, the Bible is history, religion is history,” he say. When asked if “the future” meant the ‘afterlife,’ his eyes brighten and he says, “yes, I hope there’s an afterlife, I think there is…I mean, all this kindness and personality in people…it has to be something that goes on.” But he remains unsure, so he’s setting his mind to learning about it, which is his usual approach to life.
Seeing the delight that Dick Cramer takes in restoring light to people’s lives in his workshop, it isn’t hard to imagine that he’d enjoy finding himself on the Constellation Crew someday, working to keep those lights twinkling in the night sky.