Raised by a father who could fix anything and a mother who took him out onto crumbling Kansas homesteads to repurpose old door hinges and saws into rustic art, Trent Whatley eludes easy classification.
A welder, woodworker, sculptor, metal artist, jeweler, knife maker, mechanic, carpenter and electrician, Whatley is a bit of a Renaissance creator and constructor, and he’s building a livelihood out of turning ideas into items. Fueled by “imagination and creativity,” Whatley’s new business, Jack OATs V8 Garage, creates functional and decorative objects to help customers express their personality.
A glance at the one-of-a-kind pieces of utilitarian and ornamental objects that Whatley creates in his Winthrop-area garage studio show that Whatley is truly a Jack OATs: a Jack of All Trades. Most recently a shop and construction teacher by profession and a welder by reputation, Whatley seems to have no trade that he hasn’t at least dabbled in, if not mastered.
“For me, it’s always about learning something new,” Whatley said. “It’s all about the process — the building and the making.”
A self-described “shop kid” and “Mr. Fix-It,” Whatley took all the hands-on design and fabrication classes available to him in school, and then went to college to get his teaching certificate. “But then I realized I was only a few years older than the students and that felt strange,” he said, “so I went on to a career doing electrical work, building decks, constructing trailers and painting cars, and figured I’d go into teaching when I got a little older.”
Learning to ‘do’
Eventually, Whatley returned to his initial passion and spent half a decade as the Methow Valley School District’s design technology, welding, auto restoration and construction teacher. “I asked the kids, ‘What do you want to make?’ and then I helped them figure out how to take a concept from idea to reality.”
Whatley’s father always told him, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, pay.” Whatley embraced this philosophy as a child and has never looked back.
“I can’t always afford to pay someone else to do the things I want done, therefore I learned to do,” Whatley said. “I wanted a really cool painted car, so I learned to paint cars. I needed my home dry-walled, so I learned how to drywall.”
“I’m not afraid to learn from my failures,” Whatley continued, “and there have been many.”
Whatley can’t remember a time in his life when his brain didn’t give him the confidence to try to figure out how to make things. “I’ve always been able to see the process from idea to reality,” he said. “I can envision all the parts and how to turn them into something. My brain is always spinning.”
This brain — plus a shop full of tools such as welding and woodworking equipment and a plasma cutter — provides him with ideas like a constructing a motorcycle that pulls both a barbecue and a small “kegerator” made out of a Coca-Cola cooler, a ranch gate with a 7-foot longhorn sculpture mounted on it, a dining room table with inlays and an epoxy river running down its center, as well as steel knives, compost tumblers, fire pits, chandeliers, yard art and trophies. He makes jewelry out of bear claws and whimsical sculptures out of horseshoes. He even fabricates functional furnaces.
Figuring it out
“I’ve always made this kind of stuff for myself,” Whatley said, “but now I’m enjoying working with people who tell me ‘I have this pile of old ranch equipment, what can we do with it?’ and we figure out what to make with the stuff, like a water fountain for their yard, or the legs for a table.”
The plasma cutter came in handy over the summer, Whatley said. “These guys working the fires with their big equipment — if a part breaks they lose time getting a replacement part out of Wenatchee. But with the plasma cutter, I could just create a new part for them most of the time.”
“That’s not creative, that’s functional,” Whatley said. “But I am really enjoying the more creative, artistic side.”
Whatley said that he always has to have a project. “I can’t sit still for long,” he said. So he’s tinkering and creating, experimenting with different ideas for Jack OATs V8 Garage. “I’m still trying to find my niche.”
He’s currently doing only custom, one-of-a-kind work, but can envision a time when he might fabricate his more popular items in greater volume, for retail sale in the Methow Valley. Like his artistry, he said “It’s all evolving.”
To learn more about Whatley’s work, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheV8Garage.