Ag Pride 2022: Trey Tetrault–Small business, big project
In early 2022, during the Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns, people who were staying home started learn new skills and pick up new hobbies. Then-13-year-old Trey Tetrault of Vetal, South Dakota was one of those. He decided to learn how to weld, basically on his own, but under the guidance of his dad and grandpa, and he didn’t start with a small project either. He designed and began building fence line autogates for ATVs and side-by-sides.
“I was kind of self-taught, but my grandpa was always there with me and then my teacher helped me in the welding shop, too,” Trey says.
Trey jokes that he was tired of being the “gate getter” while buzzing around in the side-by-side on the family ranch, so the idea to build one just came to him. He also needed to make some money to pay for his team roping entry fees.
Inspired by the autogate near their house, Trey started working on a design specifically for ATVs or side-by-sides that sits in a fence line, sort of like an elevated cattle guard. The smaller vehicles can drive over the six-foot-long bridge that he reinforces with sucker rod to support their weight, but cattle can’t walk over it.
“Ever since he was little, he’s just always been tinkering with things,” his mom, Tab Tetrault, says.
This year, Trey is 15 and attending his first year at a new high school, where he finally has a shop and welding teacher, but Tab says that even before he had proper instruction, he was able to perfect some welding skills on his own at home by building four auto-gates for their ranch. Now Tab wishes they had auto gates in every pasture they drive the ATV to, especially after a helper bar on a very tight gate bounced back and almost hit her mother-in-law in the face, something that definitely would have injured one of Trey’s younger sisters.
“The first one that he built and put in the fence line, the gate next to it would be open and we would still go drive over the auto gate because Trey built it and at such a young age and we were like, this is so cool,” Tab says. “So, when he asked if he could get a wire feed welder, that’s when my husband said we would go in halves with him and it just kind of went from there.”
Seeing an opportunity, Trey started advertising the ATV auto gates on social media and started getting orders. While he isn’t the first to make an auto gate for ATVs, his design is unique and he takes custom orders as well, meaning his gates can fit any terrain, situation or size of vehicle.
Right now, he’s working on tweaking his design to fit an order for a four-door side by side, since the clearance and length of the vehicle would bottom out on his original design. He can also customize the width and overall size, or even the way the autogate attaches to various fence lines to fit virtually any situation or landscape.
Trey says they are handy to have in pastures close by the house that you might be driving the side-by-side into frequently, like calving lots for example, or to have going into pastures that bigger vehicles couldn’t get around the terrain as easily as a side-by-side could.
“For us, we have a lot of pasture that’s open and we don’t feed in, or for the guys that have a pasture close by they can put them in a deep draw and still drive a side-by-side over them where a pickup or tractor wouldn’t be able to go,” Trey says.
So far, Trey has made about 11 total autogates, and they take Trey about a day of labor to weld one autogate, a process that he’s honed by now and can do in the shop at the ranch. He’s still a busy ranch kid though, and some orders take longer to complete than others while he works in shop time between school, ranch work, football, rodeo, golf, FFA and student council.
“The ones I’ve made for us I don’t really count in my total because they were a lot of trial and error,” Trey says. “I started doing the math and figuring out I could make them smaller and still drive the side by side over them so I learned they wouldn’t take as much material.”
And right now, when material is so hard to find, or so expensive when he does find it, less material is beneficial for his bottom line, considering he only profits about $400 per autogate. But when he does work on his side business, Trey has developed a system to be as efficient as possible, cutting all the materials first and welding the top together, then flipping it over to weld the bottom and to weld the legs on, then flipping it back over to weld the anchors and finally the sucker rod that reinforces the drive over part.
When Trey started on the business side of his welding venture, his parents told him they would be there to offer advice, but encouraged him to do it all on his own. Tab says she helped him with the banking side, like keeping records and balancing his checkbook, but beyond that, he has been self-sufficient.
“I’m super proud of him,” Tab says. “He caught wind of some pipe that he could afford, which has been super hard to find with everything happening in the world, so he figured up how many sticks he could get with what his budget was, he’s made phone calls, he’s put it on Facebook and anybody that calls they call his number, they don’t go through my husband, Tee, or I, it’s 100 percent Trey’s deal. Sometimes we are like, okay, you need to come back down to 15-year-old level, you’re acting way too old for how old you are.”