WINCHESTER -- It started with a single Minneapolis Moline tractor out back at Fred and Anita Weagant's general store in South Mountain, where the proprietors began salting their country-flavoured inventory of hardware and groceries with some farm equipment in the early 1950s.
The move spawned today's trio of Weagant family equipment outlets, including the flagship Winchester location -- Weagant Farm Supplies Limited -- site of the company's 60th anniversary celebration this month.
"I can still recall when that first tractor arrived in a railway boxcar," says Bob Weagant, who was born in that same retail building where his parents worked and lived. He also remembers the ensuing questions from his mother to his father about how they might pay for the unsold machine that the late Fred Weagant -- itching to become more than a regular storekeeper -- had picked up during a special trip to the Retail Farm Equipment Dealers Association Show in Toronto. "But lo and behold, they managed to sell it."
Not long afterward, they added the venerable Cockshutt line to the business in 1953 -- truly beginning the enterprise now marking its diamond anniversary in Winchester. A driveshed behind the old store was pressed into service as the dealership shop, where Fred Weagant already ran a successful sideline converting wagon wheels to modern wheels with tires.
The operation officially incorporated in 1971.
Sales grew through the years, as did the size and complexity of the machinery.
"We set a sales record in 1992, and we've beaten it every year since then," says Bob Weagant, Winchester store manager, when asked about particular achievements in the last 60 years.
Machinery nameplates have also shifted markedly through the years.
The current New Holland flag has flown above the store since 1993, although the brand was originally added to the lineup in the early days, right after Cockshutt. But during the 1960s, the latter company and Oliver were acquired by the White Motor Company Oliver. In the 1980s, again after a series of manufacturer buyouts, Weagant sold Fiat-built tractors under the Hesston brand name. The New Holland name assumed its current role at the dealership after Fiat bought the Ford-New Holland Corporation.
Despite industry turmoil, the Weagant family effectively conducted business and expanded and became more versatile. Bob Weagant and his brother-in-law, Dave Black, joined the dealership in 1970 and 1974, respectively. Two years later, the family placed the White line at the newly constructed Winchester facility on County Rd. 43, while the New Holland line continued at South Mountain under Black's direction until 1988, when the original store site was closed and business operations merged in Winchester.
At the cusp of another expansion, younger brother Laird Weagant joined the business in 1980, becoming manager of Weagant Farm Supplies' Brockville location, which opened in 1983 -- 30 years ago this year -- with Kubota, Kawasaki, and several short lines.
Beyond the Weagant brothers and David Black, who retired five years ago, a third generation of ownership is also involved with the enterprise: Stacey Weagant, Human Resources and Finance, Julie Baker, Office Manager, and Scott Weagant, Manager of Topline Trailer & Equipment Sales, third and youngest dealership in the Weagant fleet. Twenty-year-old Topline opened in 1993, featuring Kubota as well as a full complement of trailers.
Anita Weagant remains involved and regularly visits the Winchester operation, says Bob Weagant of his mother. She's a fixture behind the serving tables at the company's popular spring open house event.
Fred Weagant passed away a decade ago, just missing the 50th anniversary by a couple of weeks.
The firm -- known simply as Weagant's by many in the area -- currently employs a workforce of 67. Several have worked for the company over 25 years: Ault VanBokhorst, Elwood Giroux, Joe Vasey, Beth Winters, Pat Byvelds, Dale Countryman and Gary VanHoof.
Rooted in their rural surroundings, the owners tout their support of the local community. Weagant's donates bursaries to local students, supports local trade shows and fairs, local hospitals, Canadian Club, Upper Canada Playhouse, local 4-H clubs, the Cattlemen's Associations in many areas, Junior Farmers, Heart and Stroke Foundation and a multitude of other farm related organizations and events. The Brockville store offered its facilities as the depot for distribution of generators by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs during the 1998 ice storm and was involved in the Hay West Movement a few years ago, providing both tractors and manpower to load donated hay onto railway cars.
Weagant's also supports the Canada East Equipment Dealers' Association (formally O.R.F.E.D.A.) and was one of the founding members of Farm Fleet. The firm also distributes its own newsletter, Farmfest News, to approximately 22,000 rural route customers between Belleville and Ottawa and the Quebec border.
The owners welcome the public to their anniversary celebrations, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Fri., Aug. 23, 11250 County Road 43. "There will be refreshments of cake and coffee," says Bob Weagant.
Invitations have been extended to local dignitaries and to several of the company's supplier representatives.