Missouri couple builds canvas tents for campers, outfitters and more
The cold mountain air of autumn has arrived with the first snowfall of the season. The ground is covered in white as animals forage for food. You’re miles from civilization, but inside your canvas tent, the warmth of the wood stove offers a cozy sense of home. Who knew camping could be like this?
Jeff Reynolds grew up on his family’s ranch in Oregon, no stranger to a life outdoors. “Back in my 20s, I used to be a logger,” Jeff says. “One day, I got in a logging accident. A log hit me like a ball bat and took my left leg practically off at the knee.” He spent two years recovering and figuring out what to do next. “I went to Idaho to help my cousins with their tent repair shop and that’s when I decided to open up my own shop back in Oregon.”
In 1989, he and his wife, Jaymie, opened Elk Horn Tent & Canvas. “We started building wall tents, repairing ones that people brought in and doing a lot of custom work,” Jeff says. He also worked as an outfitter during their time in Oregon.
“He would pack these tents in for the hunters on horseback and mule. He’d set it all up, including the wood stove,” Jaymie says. “He often had to break a trail through freshly fallen snow. We have a heart for hunters because we love to do that too.”
The couple and their three boys would often spend weeks at a time in the mountains, living out of their tents while they hunted for elk or fished for salmon. “Before I met Jeff, I had never packed up in the high country in the mountains, but I’d always wanted to. I loved watching John Wayne with my dad when I was little,” Jaymie says with a laugh. Now it is a way of life for their entire family.
In 2015, Jeff and Jaymie moved to Missouri to be closer to their sons and their families, but they didn’t let go of their adventurous spirit. They moved Elk Horn Tent & Canvas to Grain Valley and covered the walls with pictures and mementos from their camping trips through the decades. Prize-winning animal mounts, one of Jeff’s old pack saddles and tents, of course, fill the shop. By carrying on their craft with canvas, they hope to inspire new generations of adventurers.
Jeff designs all the tents they offer. “We’ve learned a lot by the repairs we’ve done through the years. We studied the tents that have come through our shop, and we discovered how we could do things better and that’s how we came up with our designs.”
One of the unique features about their tents is the width of the eaves, says Jeff: “We started the full-ridge reinforcement. Back in the day, you didn’t have internal frames, so we’d set tents up the old-fashioned way, with wooden poles across the ridge and undoubtedly the poles would poke through the canvas. We were seeing lots of tents needing repaired because of this, so I decided to start reinforcing those ridges, putting 4-inch eaves on them and true 5-foot walls. Everyone else was doing 5-foot walls, but the canvas would shrink, and they’d end up with 4-foot walls. So, we built ours to have true 5-foot walls after the shrinkage.”
Elk Horn Tent & Canvas offers two different weights of canvas. “The guys who are packing in on horseback often go for the lighter-weight canvas; it packs up smaller and tighter,” Jeff says.
When the canvas arrives at their shop in rolls, they stretch the pieces across a large table. “Some of the tents and awnings are quite large,” Jaymie says. “The table needs to be really long so Jeff can spread it all out to measure the panels and sew them together.”
The couple uses five sewing machines and can do a variety of custom sewing. “I can sew the little things,” Jaymie says. “We have a few contracts for small bags, and I can do those and other simple repairs, but Jeff does the rest.” They also have an employee, and a few of their sons and grandsons help too.
The tents come in a variety of sizes, typically ranging from 8-by-10 feet to 16-by-24 feet. All of them have 9-foot ridges. They love to build unique tents to match their customers’ needs. “If someone wants a stove in a particular spot, we’ll build it to fit their plans,” Jaymie says. “Some want screen windows or doors; some want doors on both ends. Jeff can add zippers in the corners if they want to roll up the side walls. We’ve even had some want holes put in a corner for air conditioners for their glamping tents.”
Their tents are versatile — they’ve built tents for hunters, revivals, chuckwagons, reenactments, city events and missionaries in Africa. Canvas tents bring with them a sense of history, too. “They were often used back in the Civil War and during the gold rush,” Jeff says.
Jeff and Jaymie’s work with canvas has expanded far beyond their expectations — even to the water. “When we moved here eight years ago, we never realized how many people had boats. We hadn’t thought about the upholstery needed here,” Jaymie says.
“I’d never touched a pontoon boat until we moved here,” Jeff adds. “But now that’s a big part of our business.”
They do custom work on boats all year long. “There are all different kinds of upholsteries,” Jaymie says. “Jeff really is an artist, and he works hard to help customers pick out their colors, flooring, covers and the vinyl for their seats.”
Their experience in canvas allows them to work on a variety of products, from awnings to lawn furniture covers to umbrellas. “We’ve done work for the fire department and police department. Sometimes there will be a large firetruck parked here,” Jaymie says. “Another time, we had a double-decker bus from England. The customer was turning it into a food bus and Jeff built the enclosure that wrapped it. It felt like I was in London when I sat in it.”
Jeff and Jaymie have done a lot of cool projects, but their favorites are always tents. They’ve sold their handcrafted Elk Horn tents from coast to coast and throughout Canada and Alaska. They also sell wood stoves and accessories, as well as other camping supplies.
“You wouldn’t believe how comfortable you are in one of these tents,” Jaymie says. “The whole atmosphere of it is something special. If you’re not careful, the fire you start will leave you sweating inside the tent, even when there’s snow on the ground.”
Jeff’s attention to detail and knowledge lends itself to a product that lasts. “We received a picture from a lady who was still using a tent we built in 1989. Isn’t that cool?” Jaymie says. “We love for people to share their stories and pictures with us. We love what we do.”
To learn more about Elk Horn Tent & Canvas, call 816-867-5481 or visit www.elkhorntentandcanvas.com. It is one of 500 Missouri companies that are part of the Buy Missouri initiative overseen by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe. To find more Missouri-made products or to enroll your business, visit www.BuyMissouri.net.
Kaiser is a freelance writer from Hartville.