Waterloo business the only place in the world for custom horse carts
If you see a horse cart in the show ring or race track, chances are it came from Our Town Waterloo.
The Jerald Sulky Company is the only place in the world you can order a custom cart or buggy.
"If you are driving one of our carts, you are in it to win it. You're out there to win a ribbon or you're out there to win some money," Managing Partner Erik Lee said.
With a history that began in 1898, The Jerald Sulky Company arrived in Waterloo in 1901 to take advantage of the railroad.
"We are the last commercial manufacturer of performance horsedrawn vehicles in the world," Lee said, who has worked in the horse show business for years.
When Lee called Jerald Sulky to make him a cart in 2014, he found out the business had recently closed. So instead of buying a cart, he bought the company.
"I've made the cart, I intended to buy it three times now and each time it's been snapped up by a customer, so five years later, I'm still waiting to make my own cart," Lee said. "I'll get it done one of these days."
A sulky is a type of vehicle, with a single seat, for use on the race track or the show ring. Today, Jerald Sulky ships 37 models of made-to-order customized carts around the world.
"Our supply chain is very unique. It's not like you can go to any old lumber shop and buy our lumber. It's not like I can order in parts for these things. So our biggest challenge has to do with supply chain and what goes into making the finished product," Lee said.
The success of the company is in the hands of its employees. The staff of 12 has the unique skill set to create works of art, complete with hand-painted details. That's why it takes six to 10 weeks to finish each order. The company also developed and produced its own line of cleaner, called Victory Lap to promote and sustain the Jerald Sulky name.
Lee says he doesn't fear the future, knowing the horse business takes good care of itself and these legendary carts.
"It's a product that the horse business wouldn't function without being able to consume our product and that's a big deal to me, it's also a big responsibility to keep this company well and here for the future," Lee said.
Jerald Sulky sources most of its materials locally. The company builds an average of 150 new carts each year. They also refurbish carts and sell parts.
You can learn more about the history of Jerald Sulky at the Grout Museum. The exhibit, "Sulkies to Speedways: A Need for Speed in the Cedar Valley" features the evolution of sulky carts. There's also information about the company's founder, Samuel Jerald, and why he brought his company to Waterloo.
The exhibit will be on display through mid-November.