Leet Excavation marks end of an era

FAIRMONT – Days after an auction sold off most of the items that were left from Leet Excavating, Jim Leet is willing to meet in his nearly-empty office. The few items left have numbers on them, waiting to be picked up by the highest bidder. The building and property was also sold to Fitzgerald Moving company.

Leet was the last of the local contractors, and his retirement marks the end of an era.

“Hodgeman, Tow, the Bosshardt company, they’re all gone now,” he said. “That total local expertise is evaporated.”

But most every town in Martin County has a mark left by Leet Excavating. From Gomsrud Park sitting up a little higher than lake level, to the many water lines in the small towns, Leet played a role.

“My grandfather, James O. Leet, started it out as a sideline to farming,” Leet said. “My father, Theo, started it as a business in 1934. I was born in ’39, and bought in in 1976.”

Leet’s first experience with the company was in a photograph at 2 years old.

“There’s a picture of me in my bib overalls, sitting on a Cat. It was my dad’s Caterpillar and it was his first piece of equipment.”

In the beginning, Leets Inc. was involved with crushing gravel, and the underground work began in 1948.

The Leets Inc. office, stationed on Winnebago Avenue in Fairmont, was built in 1954, after the Leets purchased the land three years earlier. Expansions were added onto the building in 1964.

“It’s always been the Leet building,” Leet said.

As Leet lists some of the jobs accomplished, it seems many places in Martin County have a connection.

“My father took the cedar blocks off North North Avenue when they decided to pave it,” Leet said. “Most of it was dumped at Gomsrud Park. It’s 4 feet higher now than when we started; it used to be right at the water line. … When we crushed gravel, we hauled it into Sherburn before their roads became blacktop.”

One chore Leets Inc. got called for a lot was frozen water lines in the winter.

“I remember one winter we had to go to Dunnell, and it was so cold,” Leet recalled. “But we got the job done.”

Other towns, such as Granada and St. James, also had water main work done or repaired by Leet Inc.

But Leet began to slow down with health issues.

“I had two heart attacks,” he said. “I literally could not get up on the equipment anymore.”

Most of the Leet family has been involved with the company at one point or another. However, Leet has no children, and the remaining family members have moved all over the country. There was no one left to take over the business.

“I’ve been getting rid of stuff as time went on,” he said. “Most of the things were sold to people I knew. My last dump truck was sold 18 months ago. I still see some of my equipment around.”

Last weekend, an auction was held to sell off the remaining parts and supplies.

“Going through things, we had records going back to 1969,” he said.

Fortunately, Leet’s longtime friends came through to help organize for the auction, and some family members also came out for the auction.

“I was surprised how many relatives showed up for the sale,” he said. “We saw a lot of people that day.”

As for what’s next, Leet plans to just “cool his jets.”

“It’s no use to go south, because I don’t know anyone down there,” he said. “Back when I was a trucker, I’d been there, done that. … What I’ve been telling people is that in February, I’m going to sit in my fireplace room and look at all those people shoveling snow and be glad I don’t have to do that anymore. I did that for 45 years, and there just comes a time when you think, ‘Enough.'”