An Albuquerque Original
I picked up some old 1993 article about the early days of “FATZ” Leonard and here’s a story of the Leonard family as it was reported.
H.E. “Fatz” Leonard and his family moved here from Indiana in 1918…doing what he can to make a buck in this town where bucks don’t come easy. Known as “Fatz,” Mr. Leonard refused to say what the initials H.E. stood for. “My initials are H.E. and nobody knew my first name except my mother and my insurance company and I’m gonna keep it that way.” H.E. did however tell me how he came to be known as Fatz. His family lived on North 6th Street and their son attended fourth grade at the North Fourth School which was located on, what else, North Fourth Street where Sunwest Bank currently stands. “There wasn’t very many of us gringos around at that time.” Fatz recalled. “The native kids chose to call me ‘gordo,’ and I took exception to it. We had a huge principal and he had a hand twice as big as mine and everytime two kids got in a fight he hit them both. So, by the end of that day the name Gordo was alright with me.”
On a fateful day in March of 1933, Fatz took a flat tire into a vulcanizing shop to get it fixed. He got to talking with the owner of the shop, R.W. Earnhart, who suggested that they team up and go into the tire business together. Fatz told him he didn’t have the money to go into business and Earnhart asked him exactly how much he did have. Fatz pondered the question and responded, “Well, after paying you for this job I’ve got $4.00.”
Earnhart assured him that was plenty and the new entrepreneurs then bought $4.00 worth of used tires which they fixed up and sold. With hard work and wise use of profits, the two built a very impressive business. Fatz’s very proud son, Don Leonard, showed me an old letter from the Fisk Tire Company who were amazed at the way Earnhart and Leonard had developed their business, saying that their success could be directly attributed to hard work, paying attention, and honorable business practices. By the time Fatz was 28 years old he had 25 employees, the number one tire business in Albuquerque, and was elected as Director of the National Tire Dealers Association. Pretty good use of $4.00.
I asked Fatz what Albuquerque was like in the 1930’s, and he said “It was great. It was a sleepy little town.” He added that the town was so small everybody knew everybody, so I guess some things really don’t change. His recollections of those early days reflect Mr. Leonard’s strong work ethic. “I was down at our shop on North 4th and we were remodeling the building. We had poured half the concrete floor in the shop area and we had several thousand used tires that we were moving from one side of the building to the other so we could pour the concrete slab to locate recapping equipment. We heard over the radio that the war had started…we didn’t even slow down, we kept right on going. We finished that building and got some new equipment and went to retreading tires like they were going out of style.”
The year was 1942, and with th the country at war Earnhart and Leonard bought more machines and expanded even further. He eventually bought out earnhart and in 1944 added a Mack truck franchise to his budding empire. Fatz Leonard led the world in the sales of Mack trucks one year. “Pretty good for a little town,” he remarked.
In 1958, Leonard decided he’d had enough of the corporate rat race, chucked it all, and got himself into the equipment and machinery business. Like any good New Mexican, Fatz was a fixture on the political scene beginning in the late 1950’s when he served as Finance Chairman for Governor Simms who must have heard what Fatz could do with $4.00. H.E. Leonard worked until 1994, at 80 years of age. His sons Don and Travis continue a legacy that all started when Gordo Leonard had a flat fixed.