Made in the Northwest: Ornamental Gate and Fence

MEAD, Wash. — In a shop in the foothills of Mt. Spokane, fabrication and artwork collide.

Twenty two years ago, Rick Nelson was running the maintenance department of an automated pizza bakery when he had an idea.

“We wanted a gate for our own place and they were shutting the plant down and I got the bright idea to start this gate business.”

And with that, Ornamental Gate and Fence was born.

“We build automatic driveway gates,” said Nelson. “Try to do more on the artistic side.”

Nelson says his background in machinery allows Ornamental Gate and Fence to be a one stop shop for its customers.

“I think we’re the only one in Spokane that has the 01 Electrician (certification) to where we can install a meter and go from the meter, all the way down to the gate.”

Nelson and his crew of three can spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours on a single gate.

“A lot more than people realize,” said Nelson.

Right now, they’re working on a giant wooden gate that weights 1,400 lbs. on each side.

But most of the work done here is with metal. And Nelson tries to give each of the gates a timeless quality.

“My goal is to have these gates to where they’re around 100 years from now and people are looking at them. My grandkids can drive by and see them.”

One of Nelson’s favorite projects was for his mother and father, which features a three dimensional half scale of a tractor his grandfather use to own.

“It was a ’41 Farmall. And we built that into the gate.”

The majority of Ornamental Gate and Fence’s work is for private residences, but one very public display is in Millwood at the World War I memorial.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate to be involved in a number of project like that,” said Nelson. “When we finished it, it really hit me what that was all about.”

Nelson and his crew also did the handrails at Huntington Park in downtown Spokane.

But the business isn’t without its challenges. In 2018, Nelson suffered serious head injuries in a car crash and says he has a tougher time seeing potential problems in projects ahead of time.

“We’ve got to take a look at what we’re doing and say, ‘Hey, that is going to be a problem in the future. We need to redesign it,'” Nelson explained.

But Nelson still loves the work and wants to keep making unique, artistic gates for a long time.

“They’re not the most profitable by any means, doing gates like this. But it’s a lot of fun doing it and interesting.”

And interesting to admire as well.