Inducted: November 15, 2016
William Fisher Leeson was born on November 5th, 1893 in Florence, Ontario to Frederick and Jane Leeson. He married Ruby Eldean Kelley (1900-1968) and after her death, Bill married Ruth A. Glasier (1898-1982). He had one son, Frederick (1922-2001), and has two Grandchildren – Amber and Karl.
Bill was self-educated and self-taught after grade 8, when he left school, since he was more interested in agriculture and mechanics than literature and history. He worked with his father on the farm and also worked out digging ditches and trenches for other farmers. When Bill was 16 years old, he took his earnings and purchased and operated his own steam traction engine and threshing machine. He had a threshing run for many years. He also did some blacksmith work, modifying his plow and other farm equipment.
After marriage, he moved to his own 100 acre farm in Zone Township, and bought a #1 Buckey tiling machine which helped drain many farms in East Kent. The machine was operated by Fred Oliver of Zone Township.
Bill built a machine shop on his farm which was run with a stationary engine and line shafts. The shop was equipped with a forge and lathe enabling him to handle most farm repairs.
In about 1929, he purchased a 25-40 Advance-Rumley tractor which he put to work threshing, corn shredding and feed grinding.
Bill was quite an inventor. He converted a Model T Ford chassis into a self-propelled hay mower which worked well, and speeded the job of cutting hay. He also built a self-propelled buzz saw, again, mounted on a Model T chassis. This was put to work buzzing wood for neighbours.
Bill next acquired the Allis Chalmers farm equipment franchise and worked out of his shop in Zone. The start of the war made equipment hard to get and Bill put his men to work building cultivators to fit his WC tractors in his farm shop.
The shop in Zone became too small so in 1930, Bill purchased a farm on the edge of Chatham at King and William Streets where he moved his Allis dealership. When more space was required, he moved to Richmond Street and purchased the entire block from Leeson Drive to Richmond and Merritt Ave. where he built his new shop and a family home.
Due to WWII, building materials and supplies were difficult to acquire but he managed to build and re-establish himself and his son, Fred with a bigger and better design of shop and jack belt line to service his shop machines and presses. Here, he established the Allis Chalmers Tractor and Farm Equipment Dealership selling tractors, combines and farm equipment to local Kent County farmers. Bill also custom built and modified some equipment to make them more suitable for farmers’ needs.
Leeson was the founder and original owner of Leeson Tractor and Implement Company and the Allis Chalmers Dealership. His successful Allis Chalmers Dealership serviced many farms.
Bill Leeson was also known to sponsor beginning farmers in need. He relied on hand-shake deals with trustworthy farmers. The end of the war brought a lot of immigrants to the county. A lot of these families had no established credit. Bill took a chance on them, helping both with financing of farm and equipment. There are many farm families who got their start through Bill’s help. His hand-shake deals led to establishing the Lesco Machine and Lending Ltd., a lending agency which his son, Fred managed. Fred was mathematically inclined in accounting and developed the “by the slide rule” amortization of mortgage loans.
Over the years, Bill was involved with the Threshing Association in Thamesville. Even at the age of 80, Bill was still undertaking his own work as he climbed on his roof to do repairs. He died in 1979 at the age of 85, on his way back to a store to settle an account.
Harold Kells said that Bill Leeson, or “Willy” was a visionary and a born salesman; he also had terrific insight and understanding for the future, and the need of the farming industry.
John Wilcox remembers that in the early 1960s when he was a young farmer, he was in Leeson’s shop and saw an Allis being repaired. He asked Leeson that if the tractor came up for sale, he’d like to buy it. He said Leeson had a better idea, and showed him a new D17 Allis and said, “better buy a new one that will last you 10 years”. Financing was made along with the purchase, and Wilcox said that he worked in Leeson’s shop in the winter to help with payments. He said that Bill was a very kind man and in good relations with everyone involved because it was not about money. He also said that on one trip to Florida, Leeson’s Renault had water pump problems. Since the right parts were not available, Leeson machined a new shaft and repaired the pump himself.
Charles Demarias said that Leeson was instrumental in getting his family’s farm mechanized following the depression and during the war. He said that Leeson was a pioneer showing outstanding leadership in the agricultural community.