The R.A. Ribb Rake Company is a Family Affair
By David A. Bailey (Previously printed in the 2017 Goose Hummock Outdoor Guide)
As a wash-ashore of nearly twenty years now, I have come to enjoy just about everything about the Cape Cod outdoors, and I have to say there is no activity more family friendly than clamming. There is nothing more iconic than rolling up your pants and digging around the flats for fresh tasty clams. Seeing your kids’ faces as they enjoy a meal of steamed shellfish they helped harvest and put on the table, is priceless. With a few simple tools, and a license from your town shellfish constable, anyone can hit the beds and start scratching up dinner.
One of the lessons my father taught me, and I later learned for myself as a chef, was to always use the right tool for the job. When it comes to clamming, most of the tools are not that crucial. You can get a basket and a nice float ring or you can just use a five gallon bucket or empty onion sack. You can invest in nice waders or you can just go in shorts and bare feet. That’s what makes this activity so fun an easy for everyone to enjoy. That being said, if your really want to be a successful clammer, there is one tool that you want to make sure you don’t skimp on; the rake.
There are many rakes out there, from a few small companies up and down the East Coast making decent rakes to quick cheap foreign knock-offs. But the gold standard of rakes are those being produced by a small family run shop in East Harwich called the R.A. Ribb Company, home of Ribbs Rakes. Ribbs Rakes have been the first choice for professional shell-fishermen on Cape Cod for nearly forty years, and they are still being produced one rake at a time, by hand in their quaint little shop tucked away off Route 137 in East Harwich.
The shop is run by Maggie Ribb, whose husband, Ron started it back in 1978. Since her husband’s passing in 1996, Maggie has kept the shop going with the help of her two daughters, Greta and Kersti, and a few very talented helpers. She has seen to it that the same high standards of quality Ron set all those years ago are still reflected in every rake that bears the Ribb brand.
Rob Ribb started making rakes in his little blacksmith shop nearly four decades ago, welding the steel wires together and hand bending them around an old press that looks a bit like an iron hitching post. The old rig still sits around the shop as a reminder of their beginnings. He had developed quite a good reputation among commercial fishermen when, in 1983, Ron heard of a manufacturer in Port Jefferson Long Island going out of business and selling their equipment, most of it dating back to the 20s and 30s. With the purchase of the used hydraulic presses, punches and benders, Ron was able to take his shop to the next level. With the invention of his own jigs, and the new presses, Ron developed the variety of rakes still being made in the shop today. Ribbs Rakes, already a favorite among commercial fishermen was now able to make all kinds of rakes. One of his ideas was to make smaller rakes for the recreational clammer. These new presses and benders, allowed him to expand the line and include a variety of styles as well as sizes.
After Ron’s passing, Maggie, and her daughters, only 15 and 13 at the time, made the hard decision to keep the business going. It wasn’t easy, but one look in Maggie’s eyes as she talks about the business, you can see how much it means to her. Since taking the helm she oversees all aspects of the business from receiving the raw materials, to coordinating deliveries, and dealing with both commercial and recreational customers. “I take every account personally. If a customer has a problem or special request, I see that it gets taken care of.” Maggie stated with pride.
Even with the help of daughters Greta and Kersti who are retuning home to the family business, Maggie couldn’t have succeeded with out a little help. Grant Grenier of Harwich started with Ron decades ago, and stayed on continuing to produce great quality rakes. “Grant makes some of the best rakes in the world.” Maggie boasted. As Maggie is shows me around the shop, Grant, supervised by his lovable black lab April, is busy welding a custom rake for a commercial clammer. “Many of the fishermen have their own designs that they come in with and we are able to take their ideas and produce a rake that they are happy with”, Maggie went on to say. “Many times, they will bring the same basket back to be repaired or have a new handle put back on so they can keep using it.” “You name it and we can build it” Grant chimed in.
Shortly after Maggie took over the shop, unforeseen health issues almost closed the shop. “John Linnell, one of the original bullrakers, came in to tell me not to give up. He said that ‘Cape Cod needed Ribb’s Rakes.’” Maggie stated. Touched by the support of the shell fishermen, Ribbs Rakes gives back to that community by supplying rakes for BARS (Barnstable Association for Recreational Shellfishing) and the Wampanoag Summer kids programs.”
In another corner of the shop I heard the pop of an arc welder. I was then introduced to Shaun Hennion, the newbie of the team having only been with Ribb for just a few years. He was tacking together the basket for a ‘turtleback’ rake, one of their most popular recreational rakes due to its small basket which makes it easy for anyone to use. With amazing precision, Shawn spins the basket around the brace, popping quick welds at all the joints and snipping off the ends. After a little filing the rakes are ready for their handles, made from Maine Northern Ash.
Using USA made materials is very important to Ribb and always has been. When I asked why they didn’t make a stainless steel rake, Maggie replied “Because we could not find the quality of steel we wanted that was produced in the US. End of story.” It goes beyond the lumber used for the handles. All of the steel is made in the States. After they are completed, the final touch is putting a little “Made in USA” sticker on them. Maggie informed me that she “likes to know how the rakes are displayed so that we can make sure the sticker is right-side-up.” That’s how much attention is spent on detail.
Ribb Rakes can be found year round at the Goose Hummock. In addition to the ever popular ‘Turtleback Scratcher’, there are the 7, 9 and 11 tooth Recreational Rakes, the Widemouth Basket Rake, the Snappin’ Turtle, which boasts longer teeth, the Baby-Back, the Mini-Mini Bullrake, the Chatham Scratchers and a Sand Eel Rake. For custom commercial rakes, you should reach out to Ribb for more information at 508-430-5225 or visit www.ribbrakes.com.
After saying my good-by’s and thank you’s to Maggie and her ‘family’, and a quick pat on the head for April, I stepped out the shop door and back into the age of smart phones, computers and robotic mass production, already feeling nostalgic for the simpler way of doing things. Ribb Rakes is not in any hurry to jump into the 21st century if it means sacrificing the quality standards that Ron Ribb set nearly 40 years ago.
Stop by the Goose Hummock and check out all of the Ribb’s Rakes we have in stock.