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It’s no great revelation that modern agriculture rides on wheels. Without tractors, trucks, combines, and stock trailers, the world of farming and ranching would be vastly different. While farmers and ranchers are an industrious lot, capable of doing a lot of their own repairs, when it comes to axles, bearings, wheels, hitches, and advanced welding, they often need help from a pro.
Situated in the trees midway on the north side of Gasser Road just outside Riverton is one of the longest operating welding and trailer shops in Fremont County.
Jerry’s Welding, named for owner Jerry Sauer, is a family business with Jerry and his son Jeff always busy in the shop.
Jerry, a 1955 graduate of Riverton High School, didn’t intend to become a welder as a young man. He joined the Navy after graduation, serving as a Boatswain’s Mate on the USS Burel AKL, a light auxiliary cargo ship from 1955 to 1959. If you’ve seen the film “Mr. Roberts, starring Henry Fonda, and James Cagney, it’s the same type of ship, and the film was made in 1955 as well.
Serving as a Boatswain’s Mate proved to be great training for a young man who would eventually operate a welding and trailer shop that handles all sorts of unique jobs. A Boatswain’s Mate is often described as a “Jack of all trades” in the duties they encounter each day onboard ship.
After an Honorable Discharge from the Navy, Jerry began working construction in the greater Los Angeles area.
“We put stairs and balconies on two-story apartments all across the area,” Jerry said.
He was working on apartment buildings in Watts on August 11, 1965, when one of the largest and most violent race riots in American history broke out.
“I didn’t notice anything,” Jerry said. “I just finished my shift and went home. When I turned on the news I was surprised to see a riot going on.”
He met his wife Barbara while working in California. They were married in Rawlins in 1966 and were married for 52 years until she passed in 2018.
In addition to Jeff, they have two other children, Carol Zodrow of Tampa, Florida, and Rodney Saulters who lives in California.
Jerry and Barb returned to Riverton, where Jerry went to work in the uranium mines in the Gas Hills with Lucky Mac.
“I didn’t get into welding until I went to work in the Gas Hills,” Jerry said.
The mines were booming in the 1960s and 70s, but Jerry decided to step out on his own.
“I got tired of the bus ride out to work every day,” Jerry said.
In April 1978, he started Jerry’s Welding.
“It was slow that first year,” Jerry said. “You have to get a name for people to come.”
Jeff started working with his dad just a couple of years later.
“I started working in the shop when I was 13,” Jeff said.
The business slowly grew, with welding and fabrication providing most of the work.
Jeff graduated from Riverton High School in 1985 and went to Casper College.
“I had a welding scholarship,” Jeff said. “I took welding classes at the Career Center with Les Fossey. He was all right.”
After a short stint in California with his brother, Jeff returned to Riverton and went into full-time business with Jerry in 1988.
“Jeff started here when he was 21,” Jerry said.
Business fluctuated with the boom and bust of oil and gas, the price of cattle and hay, and other economic factors, but all of those industries need good welders to keep the trailers and trucks rolling. The Sauer’s work on farm equipment as well, but everything is done in the shop.
“We didn’t want a welding truck, we like things right here,” Jeff said.
In 2003, the company took a big turn, entering the trailer parts and repair business. It now constitutes about 80 percent of their business.
“We bought the trailer parts store from Diane Moss,” Jeff said. “Now we spend most of our time on trailers.”
The original shop was 20×40 feet, big for 1978, but it has since expanded another 10 feet in width and another 40 feet in length. The original building was constructed by Wayne Major of Major’s Equipment.
When they moved into trailer parts, they added another 20×40 building to the east for the showroom.
If you drive to Jerry’s Welding you’ll notice the front lot filled with trailers, trucks, and equipment waiting for repair. In the back a few dozen yards is the machine shop with a large garage door, and to the right is the trailer parts store.
Their work isn’t limited to land based transportation. Over the years, they’ve repaired a lot of boats, as well as boat trailers.
“I’ve welded a lot of pontoons,” Jeff said. “They’ll hit the shore hard coming in or get a hole and take on water. Once they’re drained, I repair the damage and weld it tight again.”
Hitches, hubs, bearings, lug nuts, jacks, and axles fill the store. They have all the common parts for most trailers, but getting replacement parts to arrive on time has become a challenge since metal prices tripled during and after COVID.
“We can weld about anything,” Jerry said. “Stainless steel, mild steel, aluminum, and a lot of cast iron.”
Occasionally a customer comes in with a more exotic metal. One afternoon a neighbor tried to well a broke front arm on a bale wagon himself, using cast iron rod, but the weld looked terrible and wouldn’t hold.
Jerry took one look at the part and said, “That’s manganese, you can’t weld that with cast rod.”
He took the part, ground out the bad weld and had the part like new in a few minutes.
“We get some repairs made of different metal once in a while, but not often,” Jerry said.
They have a variety of welders, torches, and a metal lathe that lets them work on a wide variety of equipment, but most days you’ll find a trailer backed into the shop, up on jacks with the axles removed.
Wiring trailer lights, and connecting the harness is part of the daily routine as well.
An aspect of business that is going away is truck hitches.
They were one of the only shops in the area that installed custom receiver hitches and the popular “hide a ball” design truck bed-mounted gooseneck hitches.
“Trucks come with the hitches installed now,” Jerry said. “We don’t do nearly as many as we once did.”
Fabrication is something they fit in when there aren’t axles, bearings, and lights to repair.
For the oilfield, they have contracts to construct stainless steel tanks and the sheds that cover them.
A few years ago, they welded rails for Central Wyoming College and have done a lot of custom wrought iron railings for businesses, churches, and private owners.
“You see our trademark all over town,” Jerry said.
They both have outside interests and the shop closes promptly at 4:30 each afternoon.
Jeff is an avid golfer, and you’ll find him at the Riverton Country Club whenever he has time to play. Jeff also enjoys travel and schedules vacations to Florida and other areas each year.
Jerry keeps a few head of cattle on his 15 acres.
“We like our own beef,” Jerry said.
He is also a familiar face at the Wind River Hotel and Casino where he has had some good luck in the past with jackpots and drawings.
No business is without frustration, and the biggest challenge at present is getting materials.
“Steel went up 300 percent,” Jerry said. “It doesn’t affect us since it goes on to the customer, but they’re shocked at the prices now.”
Parts arriving late, putting projects behind, and shipping costs annoy Jeff.
“We have customers around the state that call for trailer parts. I’ll pack them up into a little box and it’ll be $28 to send it to Big Piney or Jackson,” Jeff said. “I try to save people money every day, they just don’t know it. It’s hard with shipping costs the way they are.
Axles, the costliest item they order, are hard to get on time because of a nationwide shortage.
Emergencies often arrive with a truck or trailer pulling into the yard.
“Everyone is in a hurry, they all want it fixed right now,” Jerry said.
Usually, the shop is full with another trailer project underway and there is no way to get the emergency customer’s truck, camper, or trailer into the building.
“We had one guy, from California, parked in the yard when I got to work one morning,” Jeff said. “He’d been then all night waiting for us to open. He wanted his camper repaired right away. I asked him if he saw the trailer sitting in the shop that we were already working on.”
Their proximity to the old Central Wyoming College Equine Center a few hundred yards east of their shop had college cowboys and cowgirls coming in for repairs on their horse trailers often. With the new location of the Equine Studies program adjacent to Roy Peck Field near the CWC Campus, it’ll be a longer trip for the rodeo kids, but odds are they’ll still find Jerry’s Welding.
A welding shop is a noisy place with the crackle of an arc welder, or the whine of a grinder, and the sound of hammer on steel. Neighbors can hear when a call comes into the shop with a loud, school bell style” ringer attached to the landline. On cold winter days, the sound carries throughout the neighborhood.
How long will they keep in business?
“Five more years,” Jerry said. “That’ll make 50 years. Then it’s time to quit.”
If everything goes as planned, Jerry calls it quits in 2028. Jeff has no plans to continue the business after that.
“When he goes, I go,” Jeff said.
For now, they have plenty of work, and more arriving all the time.