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LLANO — Every afternoon there are up to 200 belt buckles on a granite counter ready to be shipped to customers across the nation and around the world.

Some are rectangular, while others are oval. Some are silver, some are gold and others are a mix of both.

The eight employees at Tres Rios Silver in Llano all bring different styles and abilities to the company. Out of the buckles on the counter that might ship to Wyoming or Sweden, you’ll be hard-pressed to find two that are similar.

The Llano office designs the buckles, knives, rodeo crowns, pendants, tack or other accessories, while 45 silversmiths build it all by hand.

“It’s hand-cut and handmade, hand-soldered, hand-engraved; no machines,” owner Brett Tatum said.

Wayne ‘Pee-Wee’ Kolb designs a belt buckle for a customer in Canada on his computer Oct. 31 at Tres Rios Silver in Llano. Kolb is one of five full-time designers for Tres Rios Silver. Staff photo by Jared Fields
Wayne ‘Pee-Wee’ Kolb designs a belt buckle for a customer in Canada on his computer Oct. 31 at Tres Rios Silver in Llano. Kolb is one of five full-time designers for Tres Rios Silver.

With five full-time designers, Tatum said creativity isn’t limited when it comes to buckle designs.

“Having different designers like we do and having so many choices sometimes can be a little overwhelming, but we want customers to come back every year and get a completely different-looking buckle, but stay with Tres Rios,” Tatum said.


Wayne “Pee-Wee” Kolb paints in his free-time and said he feels the need to be creative in life. At Tres Rios Silver, he’s a designer who prefers using software to design his buckles.

“You have consistency and balance; it’s symmetrical,” Kolb said. “You can have offset features on a buckle and still be balanced, still look good.”

Kolb is working on a design for a customer in Canada with whom he’s worked before.

“For better or worse, the first order for him I did was a custom one,” Kolb said.

The customer wanted something old-school looking.

“Now, he doesn’t want anything off the website,” he said. “He wants to follow that first one.”

Tatum designs his buckles with pencil and paper and said the most fun ones are when the customer says to come up with something new.

“I’ll take real old designs from when my mom started (designing) in ’87. I’ll look at it and figure out how to revamp it,” Tatum said. “I’ll study it and try to make it new.”

From buckles for competitors at the professional level to youth or even the U.S. Downhill Ski Team, Tres Rios designers are as much about customer service as they are trophy buckle design.


Tres Rios Silver was founded in 1997, but Tatum’s mother has been designing buckles since 1987.

That’s a lot of buckles and customers.

“Some have been ordering for 15 to 16 years, and they’ll say change it up, change it up a little bit,” said Vicki Christensen-O’Shieles, Tatum’s mother. “(Buckles) are the same size they were 16 years ago. How much change can you do?”

She finds a way, however. But the part she enjoys most is the interaction with her customers.

“I know somebody in Florida I’ve never met face to face,” Christensen-O’Shieles said. “I’ve seen pictures of their children, I know what college they graduated from. It’s been loads of fun.”

The entire staff sounds like that when they talk about dealing with their customers.

“We don’t want them to call and order, and we never hear from you again,” she said. “This is how we develop friendships.”


For Tatum and his family, the business is one way to stay connected to the world of cowboys and rodeos.

With Tres Rios Silver, Tatum said he can continue to be involved in the industry.

“The only thing I wanted to do all my life was be a cowboy. I may not be,” he said. “But I still get to be involved, and to me, that’s the best.”

His mother grew up on the rodeo circuit. Her father, Robert Christensen, is a member of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. Tatum was a professional bull rider for eight years and also has been an equine dentist. His wife was the 2008 WPRA World Champion Team Roper. His 9-year-old son, Pecos, was the American Junior Rodeo Association All-Around Cowboy for the 8-and-under division.

It’s in the blood.

“He was barely 1 year old, and he would want to wear a cowboy hat and would not want to take it off,” Tatum said of his son.

His son is homeschooled by his wife, Keylie, in the morning. After Tatum gets off work, they’ll go home to ride horses and rope and be outside.

Family extends beyond the home, too.

“It’s about being able to carry on and do what you’re supposed to do but also smile and laugh and enjoy what you’re doing,” Christensen-O’Shieles said.

1 thought on “Belt buckles are Tres Rios Silver’s connection to world

  1. Will you build a belt buckle in the shape of an acoustic guitar? If so, can you give me a ball park figure on how much it will cost?
    Thank you very much

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