Kistler Tent celebrates 100 years in business
Casper – In 1917, George Kistler saw a need for someone to make tents and awning, and he started Kistler Tent and Awning in the basement of his home. The business has grown and expanded over the last 100 years to serve the majority of the state of Wyoming for all tent, awning and event rental needs.
“This is an exciting business today,” says Kyle Gray, who owns the business with his wife Kerry. “There’s something new every day, and we do a lot of different things.”
Before 1920, George Kistler and his family started by making awnings, but soon, they expanded the business to include repairs and custom projects.
“They could make almost anything out of canvas and fabric,” says Gray. “Awnings, sheep wagon covers, automobile tops and tents were some of his specialties.”
Gray continues, “In fact, the Kistlers invented the lambing tent, making the frames and the canvas for the tents.”
“Back in the day, the Kistlers covered a lot of sheep wagons,” he says. “There were also quite a few refineries, so we did a lot of work on the industrial side, as well.”
He adds,“We’ve done a lot of different things for the ranching industry over the years, too.”
In 1920, George’s brother Ed Kistler joined the business, and they moved into their first location at the corner of Midwest and Elm Streets in Casper.
“Two years later, they moved to the Chandler Building at the corner of Second and Park Streets,” Gray says. “Fred Kistler joined the company in 1926, and they moved again.”
They made another move in 1930 into a larger building that is known as the Kistler building because of the mural on the side of the building, and at the same time, they purchased a sporting goods line.
In the 1940s, the Kistlers branched into decorations for fair events, like Cheyenne Frontier Days and Sheridan County Fair. The family made all the red, white and blue bunting for those events.
“In 1945, George passed away, and Fred became a partner,” Gray explains. “Ed and Fred sold the sporting goods department in 1956 and moved to 424 S. Oak Street, where the business is still located today.”
Before Gray entered the business, it was purchased by the Perry family in 1969.
In the 1970s, the Perry family launched Kistler Tent and A wning into the rental business.
“The Perrys bought their first rental tent for the horse races in Casper in the 1970s, which launched the rental business,” Gray says.
“We didn’t buy the business until 1997,” he explains. “We strive for the same quality that Kistler Tent and Awning has held since 1917.”
Getting his start
Gray started at Kistler Tent and Awning during high school.
“In the 1970s, after they got into the rental business, the Perrys would hire summer help to put up tents for State Fair and other fairs,” he says. “I worked through high school and then I went to Casper College.”
Following college, Gray moved away for 15 years, until the business came up for sale.
“My wife Kerry’s father was good friends with the president of Kistler Tent and Awning at the time,” Gray explains. “I was on the road working for Kraft Foods. Kerry thought this might be a good opportunity for me to be home full time and for us to build the business. That was 20 years ago.”
Since Gray has taken over, he notes that they’ve maintained the standards of high-quality tents and awnings, but they’ve also continued to expand by increasing the rental side of the business.
“We do a lot more for the wedding and rental business today than we used to,” He says. “Things are also more technical now in the industry, with the addition of vinyl and other fabrics. We used to just have canvas, but we have more options today.”
Gray adds, “We try to stay on the upper cuff and keep up with the growing needs of our customers.”
The foundation of the business has stayed, however, and Gray explains that Kistler Tent and Awning continues to make tarps, hay tarps, equipment covers, lambing tents and sheep wagon covers, along with other products for the ranching and oilfield industries.
Gray says the business is close to his heart, and he looks forward to building the second century for Kistler Tent and Awning.
For their 100-year celebration, he says that they plan to have a barbecue in the fall, after their busy season slows down.
“We have county fairs in Riverton and Gillette, the Wyoming State Fair, Wildcatters Golf Tournament and the eclipse all coming up,” he says.
They serve three-quarters of the state of Wyoming, with the exception of Cheyenne and Jackson, and Kistlers employ about 20 people during the summer and 12 the remainder of the year.
“We’re always busy,” he says. “Sometimes we meet ourselves coming and going, but there is always something new and exciting.”
“I grew up with the family that owned Kistler Tent and Awning, and when the opportunity came up to buy it, I knew I wanted to,” he says. “There’s a lot that we can do. Things are always changing, and it’s an exciting business to be in.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.