History of Tarter Gate Company: How it All Began
Without a penny in his pocket, 17-year-old Roger Tarter moved to Casey County with his parents around 1940. The Chrisman Vanwinkle “C.V.” Tarter family came from Russell County and settled in the Dunnville area.
“All I had then was a 1930 model A Ford,” said Roger. “But it was paid for. I gave $150 for it.”
His father, C.V., went into the gate business in Dunnville in late 1940. “We didn’t have a sawmill then, so we bought our lumber locally. In that first year, we probably made about 32 wooden gates a week. We made them all with hand tools.”
When 32 gates were finished, Roger would load them on a truck and “peddle” them in the Bluegrass area. The first Tarter wooden gates cost from $2.50 to $3 each, depending on the quantity purchased.
In 1943, Roger left the gate business temporarily to spend three years in the Air Force. While in the service, Roger’s father bought a sawmill and began sawing all his own lumber for the manufacturing of gates.
The Tarter gate business flourished during the years of World War II. “Gates were a farm product,” said Roger. “Therefore, we had a priority on gasoline. No steel gates could be manufactured, so wood gates were going well. We spread out, selling gates all over Kentucky, and into Indiana and Ohio.
Returning to Dunnville in late 1945, Roger began delivering and selling gates. His salary was around $45 a week.
In 1946, Roger purchased his first new truck, a two–ton International. “It cost $2,040 and I paid for it in six months.”
Roger, and his wife, Vivian, bought the entire gate business from his father in 1948 for $7,000. “Dad wanted to move back to Russell County and farm,” said Roger. “We were manufacturing only wooden gates and tobacco sticks then. And I believe labor was 50 cents an hour.”
By 1950, Roger had five men hauling gates in five states. In the early ‘60s, Tarter Gate went to the “can’t-sag” gate, which had steel uprights with wood panels. “That became our main out-of-state seller till 1968. In 1968, we went into the all-steel, spot-welded panel gate. And we built about an 8,000 square-foot building. We were selling between 1,000 and 1,500 panel gates a week in 1968.”
One year later, Roger’s company began making tubular gates. “We started buying our own steel in ’71, and we started having our tubing run through a tubing mill in Tennessee. Then, we put in our own tube mill. I think the full line of equipment cost about $500,000.
He said his parents taught him how to be a good business man. They also taught him to always be honest. “If you can’t take a man for his word, there’s not much to him, is there?” Roger said.
“To be successful in business, you’ve got to hustle…work…and the main thing is setting your head to do something. You’ve got to set goals. And you’ve got to take some chances. Most of the major decisions I’ve had to make have been the right ones.”
– Excerpts from an interview by Charles Pearl, appearing in The Casey County News in August of 1980