Waterman Becomes Seafood Wholesaler

June 1, 2001
In the mid 1980s, Joe Spurry Sr, a waterman on the Chesapeake Bay, brought in so many crabs that he couldn't sell them all locally. He started delivering

In the mid 1980s, Joe Spurry Sr, a waterman on the Chesapeake Bay, brought in so many crabs that he couldn't sell them all locally. He started delivering his extras nearby to Annapolis and Baltimore, Maryland. The distribution operation grew and took an increasing amount of time. Finally, Spurry sold his boat and devoted full time to the wholesale business, the Bay Hundred Seafood Company.

“My father — in fact, my whole family — is from a line of crabbers,” says Joe Spurry Jr, who joined his father in the business in 1986 after completing four years in the Marines. Guy Spurry, Joe Jr's brother, still works as a waterman, Spurry adds. Waterman is the title those who catch crabs and tong up oysters on the Chesapeake give themselves.

“My father started distribution with pickup trucks and ice, and then bought some reefers,” he says. “Today we run seven refrigerated trucks — six Hinos and one International. All have Morgan bodies and use Thermo King MD-II or KD-II units.”

Bay Hundred Seafood started with a processing plant in McDaniel, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore, about an hour and a half from Baltimore. It is still in operation. Crabs are cleaned there in summer, and oysters are shucked in winter. Next door, the company opened a restaurant and seafood market, Chesapeake Landing. It recently opened its second restaurant, Chesapeake Cove. It is a few miles east of McDaniel, in St Michaels. All total, the company has 125 employees, Spurry says.

Distribution expanded soon after Bay Hundred Seafood opened in 1984. Customers in the Baltimore-Washington area began asking for a year-round supply of hard shell crab. However, Maryland's season typically runs from April through November.

“My father started making trips as far away as southern Georgia, all the way to the Florida border, to pick up crabs. That's about 11 hours one way,” Spurry says. “Now we buy all over the East Coast, from New Jersey to Georgia. We use the same trucks to pick up that we use for delivery. Locally, we buy from about 50 crab boats. Most are docked on Tilghman Island. When we can't buy from local watermen, we buy from seafood wholesalers in Georgia and North Carolina.”

The supply of crabs slows in the winter and deliveries slack off, Spurry says. From mid-October to March, Bay Hundred Seafood concentrates on shucking oysters.

Summer Is Prime Time

From June through October, Bay Hundred Seafood's six full-time drivers keep very busy. In fact, the company hires part-time drivers during peak delivery season. “They are on the go all day,” Spurry says. “One driver jumps out of the truck when he finishes, and another driver jumps in.”

Live crab has a short shelf life — just two days — so Bay Hundred Seafood must keep its trucks rolling. The company also delivers processed crab, which has a one-week shelf life. “We buy one day and deliver the next,” he says. “The faster we get to our customers, the better. We serve restaurants, seafood markets, and other wholesale distributors.”

The company tries to hold the number of stops per run to a maximum of 12, Spurry says. Trucks typically leave at 8 am and return by 6 pm. When supply from local watermen runs short, Bay Hundred Seafood purchases from nearby wholesalers. Pick-ups are made throughout the day. “Most of the time, drivers do both pick-ups and deliveries,” he says. “We go out nearly every day.

“Memorial Day weekend, we'll go bananas. And that fast pace will continue all summer. Some days we may deliver to 50 different stores. Other days, we deliver to 10 to 12 customers, maximum. Many times, a driver delivers the full load in only two to three stops.”

Live crabs are packed in bushel baskets. A 16-ft truck body holds a maximum of 300 bushels. Truck refrigeration runs at 45° F during live delivery. Processed crab is packaged in one-pound plastic containers. The containers are packed in fresh-water ice in 50-lb cardboard boxes. The ice keeps the processed crab at about 32° F in a refrigerated truck.

“We go to Baltimore six days a week and deliver to Washington DC five to six days a week,” Spurry says. “On Wednesdays and Fridays, we deliver to Ocean City, Maryland, and to York, Pennsylvania, and surrounding areas. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, we cover the Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware, areas.”

To offset expenses, Bay Hundred Seafood often hauls bait and fishing supplies outbound to Brunswick, Georgia. When required, the company makes this run three times a week. Drivers deliver the supplies, stay overnight near Brunswick, pick up a load of crabs the next day, and return to Maryland.

Dependable Trucks

The Hino trucks are dependable and economical, Spurry says. The three most recent purchases are new model Hino FE cabovers, with a gross vehicle weight rating of 25,995 lb. Bay Hundred Seafood specifies Hino's standard LJ06S six-speed overdrive synchromesh transmission.

The trucks have torsion bar suspension, providing a smooth ride, says Fred Roser, sales consultant for Elliott Wilson Trucks in Easton, Maryland, which sold the trucks to Bay Hundred Seafood. Other driver-friendly features include tilt steering and a dual braking system.

Spurry does most engine oil changes himself, at 7,500-mile intervals. During peak delivery season, trucks are serviced at Elliott Wilson Trucks. The dealer also handles major repairs.

The newest truck has a 22-ft refrigerated body from Morgan. The others are 18 footers. They have aluminum outer skin, glassboard interior wall lining, two-panel rear doors, nonskid aluminum flooring, and 36-inch aluminum scuffplates. They have three inches of insulation in the walls and ceiling, and four inches in the front wall and floor. The floor is reinforced with oak strips under the rear 48 inches to protect it from material-handling equipment. With four extra crossmembers, the rear 48 inches has cross sills on six-inch centers, compared to 12-inch centers from the reinforced section to the front wall.

Bay Hundred Seafood also runs two 1987 Hino FD trucks rated at 23,000-lb GVW, an International 4700, and a Hino FB with a 17,600-lb GVW rating. All except for Hino FB have 16-ft bodies. It has a 12-ft box.

“Trucks are a critical element of our business,” he says. “We must have reliable trucks to provide quality service; the faster we can deliver crab, the better. The trucks provide a tight turning radius for city work and are driver-friendly. They also get good fuel economy, between 11 and 14 miles per gallon.”

Bay Hundred Seafood's trucks have eye-catching graphics that serve as advertisement for the company. “They are rolling billboards,” Spurry says.

The graphics designer was Richard Morton of Morton Signs in Easton, Maryland. He has since retired. “My father probably designed the first truck 15 years ago, and the graphics haven't changed,” says his son, Jeff Morton, company president. “We hand-paint part of the graphics on the trucks.”

Blue, red, and gold markings include the hand-painted company name in script and block letters at the top of the truck body and blue waves at the bottom. Vinyl decals centered in the middle detail company products, “Oysters and Hard Crabs.”

“The decals last longer than the paint, but overall the truck designs are durable,” Morton says. “We repaint trucks when they start fading. One person can repaint a truck in about a day and a half. The last time we repainted one was about a year ago.”

About the Author

Foss Farrar

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