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The Ypsilanti Nomads

The Ypsilanti Nomads image The Ypsilanti Nomads image The Ypsilanti Nomads image
Fred Thomas
Rights Held By
Ypsilanti Historical Society
OCR Text

Harold Foster, a local policeman, started the Ypsilanti Nomads in 1953. They met at a double-bay Shell gas station on the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Denton Road, about six miles east of Ypsilanti. When I joined in the spring of 1957 the Ypsilanti police station at South Washington and Perrin Street served as their meeting place. At the time both the Ypsilanti Police Department and the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department sponsored the club. Harold Foster was still the advisor. The Nomads’ ages ranged from 16 to 25. Some of the members were Dick Albertson, James Arnold, Dewey Barich, Leon Chapman, John Coleman, Pat Cook, Larry Dennis, David Eaton, Orval Forbes, Melvin Foster, Don Gimson, Marvin Hayes, Clyde Hoover, Egbert House, Bill Kessick, James Lambert, David Meldrum, Jack Miller, Ted Mull, Leigh Moore, Thomas Newton, Cecil Rollins, Richard Towler, Jack Washburn, and me. I joined at sixteen and stayed in a little over a year. I enjoyed attending meetings and participating in club sponsored activities. Two events in particular stand out in my memory. One was a Nomad organized reliability run that a friend and I teamed up for, and won. The other was the 1957 City of Ypsilanti Fourth of July Parade. The Nomads’ club car was a chopped, channeled and stripped Model A. It’s power came from the 312 cubic inch Thunderbird engine. The coupe competed at Detroit Dragway and at the Michigan Hot Rod Association’s drag strip in New Baltimore. The parade gave the group an opportunity to publicize themselves locally. In addition to the individual volunteer cars, the coupe also traveled the procession route. It was transported on a truck donated by Moorman’s, a local lumber company. Their warehouse parking lot also served as an assembly point for participating cars before they continued to their assigned parade locations. Don Gimson’s ’57 Plymouth and Marvin Hayes’s ’56 Ford escorted the coupe display along the parade route. It had been mentioned at a mid-June meeting that the club was looking for additional cars to represent the Nomads in the upcoming parade. Larry Dennis, who was about my age and drove a white 1932 Ford, volunteered and invited me to ride along. Boy, I couldn’t wait to roll down the crowded route in his little deuce coupe. A few weeks before the parade Larry decided to channel the car. This was done by lowering the body down over the frame. The floorboards had to be removed and reinstalled. The Fourth of July arrived and Larry hadn’t been able to get the coupe’s floorboards welded in yet, so he bolted the bench seat directly to the frame. I arrived at his home early, only to find him making final preparations. He soon cranked up the V-8 motor and we took off for the west side of town. As we traveled city streets, pavement raced by beneath the open chassis. Exhaust made its way into the cramped interior. The sound of rumbling mufflers added to the excitement and further pumped our adrenalin as we rolled along, passersby pointing at us, a couple of young guys eager to take part in the festivities. It never dawned on us to think about the dangers of toxic fumes. Arriving at the parade staging area, we took our assigned place with the other Nomad cars. Jack Miller’s 1957 Rambler Rebel assumed the lead position in the Nomad contingent. Straight from the dealership a Rebel would do 0-60 mph in as little as 7.2 seconds. The 255 horsepower V-8 left many non-believers at the line. It didn’t look like a hot rod, but it was. In second position was Don Gimson in his 1957 Plymouth convertible. Like many youthful members Don was always cleaning his car. The photo shows Don and a friend doing last minute polishing. The coupe on the Moorman truck was next, followed by Marvin Hayes in his ’56 Ford convert. We were last. Promptly at 10:00 a.m. multiple bands struck up a resounding march and the procession moved forward, following a route to Michigan Avenue and directly east through downtown. Larry’s deuce idled along due to the measured forward progress of the band units. Hot air and exhaust gases continued to invade the car. People awed at the unusual little automobile and Larry grinned ear to ear. He was so proud of the channeled coupe. We had only gone a couple blocks before things turned ugly. Steam began to rise around the radiator fill cap. The temperature needle inched toward hot. Larry accelerated the hopped up mill, hoping to circulate the coolant more and lower the temperature. This was to no avail. Vapors continued to rise in front of the engine. It wasn’t long before the parade had an unexpected delay that stopped all forward motion. Larry turned the car off thinking it might cool down during the pause. Without notification the cars in front started going again. Larry hit the starter button, only to be met by a moaning sound as the motor slowly turned over. And, it turned. And, it turned. The starter let out one last protesting groan and the revolving crankshaft came to a dead halt. But, we weren’t finished yet. We sprang out and began to push the powerless vehicle. As the coupe picked up speed, Larry jumped in and put the car in gear. The engine sputtered, but failed to ignite as the car slowed to an involuntary stop. Not giving up, we repeated the entire process again. And again! And, again! After the fourth attempt failed, we were directed to push our ride off to the side so as not to hinder the parade’s progress. Wanting to give it one more try we reluctantly followed orders and pushed it out of the way at the next corner. Meanwhile, the remaining Nomad representatives continued without us. The powerless hot rod found a resting place at the curb. We left it there and ran on ahead, wanting to see the club cars pass along the route. After they passed Larry and I walked back to his car discussing how great the Nomads looked, as we made our way through the dispersing crowd. Returning to the lifeless coupe, Larry inserted the key and hit the starter. Without hesitation the engine purred. I immediately opened the door and hopped in. Away we went, making our way on side streets to avoid again being stopped unnecessarily. Reaching his house Larry slowed down, with no intention of coming to a complete standstill. He throttled the accelerator and depressed the clutch in an attempt to not stall. I jumped out as he rolled past my Ford which was parked in front of his house. Then he hit the gas for one last blast of fuel to carry the albino deuce up the inclined driveway and into the family garage. Luckily we had left the door open as we departed for the parade. The Nomads disbanded in 1962 as the once intense interest in the organization dwindled. (Fred Thomas grew up and lived in the Ypsilanti area from 1948 to 1998 and is a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions: Photo 1: An embroidery of the Ypsilanti Nomads car club.

Photo 2: The Nomads’ club car was this chopped, channeled and stripped Model A.

Photo 3: Don Gimson’s ’57 Plymouth and Marvin Hayes’s ’56 Ford prepare to escort the Ypsilanti Nomad’s coupe display along the parade route.

Photo 4: The Volunteers in this picture are: (standing - l to r) Dewey Barich, Marvin Hayes, James Lambert, and Leigh Moore. (kneeling - l to r) unidentified, Bill Kessick, unidentified, Don Gimson, and Mel Foster.

Photo 5: Larry Dennis, drove a white 1932 Ford similar to the one in this photo.

Photo 6: Jack Miller’s 1957 Rambler Rebel assumed the lead position in the Nomad contingent.

Photo 7: In second position was Don Gimson in his 1957 Plymouth convertible. Like many youthful members Don was always cleaning his car. Here he and a friend are doing last minute polishing.