By Sheila Phibbs
The Haldimand Press
The summer of 2020 marked a significant milestone for the Doughty & Williamson Group – the 70th anniversary of the flagship Jarvis store.
Selling and servicing agricultural, construction, and residential equipment in southern Ontario, from planting to harvest, the Case IH dealership has worked with farmers in Haldimand and beyond to ensure the crops in the field become food on the plate.
When Drew Williamson tells the story of how Doughty & Williamson (D&W) began, he starts by saying that he and Jim Doughty were dating sisters. Those sisters, Norma and Doreen Styer, became their wives. The brothers-in-law had the idea of starting an International Harvester (IH) equipment dealership, so they built a Quonset hut and opened for business in June 1950.
It started with just Drew and Jim providing sales and service. Oscar Philips, their first employee, was hired as a mechanic, followed by Bert Fallis. Drew explains that, since it was a very small business, they did extra jobs including some farming and running a milk route. They exported hay to the United States, did custom combining, and were contracted with Culverhouse Canning to grow peas.
Business grew with tobacco farms as strong customers since IH had a tractor adaptable to the crop. Haldimand also had many dairy farms needing several different types of equipment. York Farms, vegetable growers in Brantford, was a substantial customer throughout the 60s.
The first expansion of D&W came in 1979 with the purchase of a shop in Vineland.
Almost a decade later, the assets of Norfolk Co-op (farm equipment division) were purchased and Norfolk Tractor Company Ltd. was established.
The fourth member of the Doughty & Williamson Group, Brant Tractor, opened in Scotland in 1994 and was relocated to Burford two years later.
As the company grew, so too did the number of family members in the business. Jim’s son, Dave, started in 1974 and Drew’s son, Alan, known to all as “Willy”, came the following year along with Jim’s son-in-law Rod Sullivan. In 1985 Jim’s son, Kevin, joined the service department in Jarvis and today manages Brant Tractor. Mike Doughty (Dave’s son) has been with the company since 1994 and manages both the Jarvis and Norfolk locations. His daughter, Kailynn, is currently at Norfolk Tractor, representing the fourth generation to be employed by the D&W Group.
Jim Doughty passed away in December of 2001 but Drew, now 91, continues to be a daily presence at the Jarvis store. As he reflects on the company history with Dave and Willy, two events stand out as “dramatic” – the fires.
In November 1963, fire destroyed the D&W buildings; rebuilding took place in 1964 by the Reu Brothers, with many local farmers and neighbours pitching in.
Drew acknowledges, “We probably wouldn’t have rebuilt without the help of neighbours.”
Fire struck again in 1996 in the rear shop, which was rebuilt the next year. Rebuilding is just one of many changes witnessed since 1950.
Equipment and technology have evolved significantly; Drew recalls the first tractor sold – a Super ‘A’ for $1,500. The biggest Case IH tractor now is 620 horsepower with four-wheel drive. Dave says, “You could put 12 of the older tractors in that one now.”
The first combine sold in 1953 for $1,700-1,800. Today’s equivalent is valued at three quarters of a million dollars.
According to Willy, “There was still horse drawn equipment when the business started. Now autonomous equipment is coming and auto steering is common.”
There are electric lawn tractors and excavators, and the technology will eventually be in farm tractors. Dave says, “The number one tool in the shop when I started was a wrench – now it’s a laptop…. Computers still won’t turn that wrench though.”
Many technicians have turned wrenches at D&W over the years, including Earl Meade, who has worked in the service department for 35 years. Service Manager Gavin Whitwell signed on as an apprentice after high school in 2000. He says, “It’s a family business; that’s what makes it great. You’re treated like a human being, not a number. It’s a good family business that likes to support the community.”
He adds, “Dave Doughty was an awesome teacher with advice on all aspects of life.”
D&W has supported high school co-op programs, which has been an avenue for finding new employees. Parts Manager Theo Heeg came to the company in 1998 after a co-op term there. He says, “I really enjoyed it here and still enjoy it here.”
Heeg deals directly with customers, talking to 30 to 40 people a day and a dozen suppliers on top of that. He appreciates the small town, family owned atmosphere and says, “You get along with the people you work with.”
Another long serving employee is Denise Petersen, who joined the Jarvis location in March 1986. Her position expanded from parts and service clerk to include payroll, training, and accounts receivable. She says, “I have always been treated like family by Drew. The family business has been the draw here. You get attached to people. You get to know them. I love it here – they treat their employees really well.”
At the heart of Doughty & Williamson’s success is the people. They have seen the influx of industry and loss of farmland, the transition of crops from hay to corn and soybeans, the expansion and decline of tobacco, the emergence of ginseng, and so much more. They have maintained a loyal customer base, including farm families that have been with them from the start. For more than 70 years, the business has offered quality products and exceptional service. It is this commitment that will keep Doughty & Williamson part of the Haldimand harvest for generations to come.