“I want everyone to know that I’m dedicating this here interview to the memory of my good buddy and the other main co-creator of the Jobbie Nooner festival, Mr. Lee Wagner.”-Lee O’Dell
Like most great things, Jobbie Nooner had small, fun, humble beginnings. Over the years, we have encountered many pieces of misinformation and scraps of Jobbie folklore and this article is an attempt to tell The Authorized Definitive History of how Jobbie Nooner started. And who better to tell the true tale of the origins of Jobbie Nooner but co-creator himself, Lee O’Dell!
Since he’s sitting right here with The Captain and I, drinking some beers with us, we can tell you that 73yr old Lee O’Dell is a 100% Southern Gentleman. Wearing an orange Harley hat, gold Harley-Davidson necklace, Kentucky Bourbon Trail shirt, glasses, gray beard, Lee is a hilarious, ultra-cool, laid back ladies man with a great sense o’ humor.
The True Origin of Jobbie Nooner
“So you boys wanna know how it all started, huh? Well, here it is! The first ever Jobbie Nooner was called ‘Lee & Lee’s Jobbie Nooner’ and it was held on Friday, June 28th, 1974 at Strawberry Island in Lake St. Clair about 2 miles NE of Gull Island.”
“It was started by us job shoppers from Modern Engineering who were pullin’ a Nooner. There were 17 guys, all auto industry job shop designers, on 4 boats and no ladies. I still remember it, clear as day. We were sitting in the drafting room off Minnesota Street, block north of 14 Mile at Modern Engineering in Madison Heights. I was doing layout and my buddy Lee Wagner was the designer. GM gave us the job. We were independent contractors and they would come in and tell us what they needed help with. We were making a lot of money and working 60hr weeks. It was 10am. Everybody went to lunch early and it was also Lee Wagner’s birthday.”
O’Dell: Lee, it’s your birthday, what do you want to do?
Wagner: I don’t know.
O’Dell: Well, let’s have a boat party.
Wagner: We don’t have any boats, Lee.
O’Dell: Well, shit Lee, let’s ask around, man!
“So we did! We started immediately finding people who did. About an hour later we went out there. Me and Lee went out there on Jack Campbell’s boat. Some others present were Tom ‘Fireball’ Roberts, John Smith’s sailboat, Bob Turabassey, Charlie Kobel, etc, 17 people total. We were, you know, drinking, smoking grass, partying in the sunshine, having a grand ole time. We had such a good time partying out there with each other that we just started doing it every year. Jobbie Nooner has always been historically held on the Friday closest to Lee Wagner’s June 26th birthday. Then each year, it doubled, tripled. I noticed that is started really getting big and out of hand by about 1987 when there were thousands of people I had never even seen before.”
Jobbie Nooner Gets Bigger & Bigger & Bigger & Bigger
“Jobbie Nooner, which was always one-word Jobbienooner by the way, was an all-guys event for about 4-5 years. It was at Strawberry Island the first two years for 1974 & 1975 then we moved to Fisher Bay 1976-1986 to accommodate the larger boats. We had rows of boats in shallow Fisher Bay, you could walk around in the water there. Maybe 20-50 boats per row, all in rows in front of each other. Then around 1979-1980, four guys went to the bar and invited some barmaids to join us. One guy brought his wife. She told everyone and then it just started getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Then other girls came. One year, a storm came in. Some guys had massive 48ft long boats. We we’re telling everyone, don’t untie, don’t untie! But people started cutting lines. Then you had boats just floating around. One guy said ‘fuck this, I’m not coming back.’”
Jobbie Nooner moves from Fisher Bay to Gull Island in 1987
“Around 1987, Billy Fritts, he owns Fritt’s Pub, Browns Bar, etc, he also designed all of our early fliers for us. Well, Billy came up with the idea of moving the party from Fisher Bay to Gull Island. His buddies even built a BBQ on Gull Island but it was stolen. With the move to Gull Island, beads became popular. Guys would start wearing 20-30 beads around their necks and if the girls would show them their boobs, they would get a necklace of beads.”
“I remember Bill Freehan, the Detroit Tigers catcher, had a talk show and bad mouthed Jobbie Nooner. But his tirade backfired because the party just kept growing. Seems like no matter what kind of publicity Jobbie Nooner gets, good or bad, it just keeps on growing like one of those expandable superabsorbent grow-in-the water novelty toys. Plus, another interesting thing, is that a very talented musician and artist named Jem Targal of the psychedelic Detroit band Third Power, designed all the fancy color Jobbie flyers for us back in the 1990’s. Great guy, very talented artist.”
Short Biography of Lee O’Dell
Lee O’Dell was born January 25th, 1942 in Kettle Island, Kentucky.
“It was a coal mining town. My Dad was a butcher. He made $2400/yr. I went to a school where one teacher taught grades 1-4 and the other teacher taught grades 5-8. I walked one mile to school and one mile home every day. My parents never owned a car. We lived in a holler, which is a sort of valley in Eastern Kentucky, and somebody would always have to drive us to the city. My Dad’s brother moved to Detroit to work in the auto industry, so we moved up there too, I was 10 years old.”
“We moved to Ferndale in 1952. It was the first time I ever saw a television. Started working as a shoe shine boy at 9 mile and Woodward. Had a Detroit Free Press newspaper bicycle route. Then worked as an usher at Ferndale Theater and Radio City Theater for 60cents an hr. My Dad helped me buy a 1957 Ford, my first car. I graduated Ferndale High School 1961, went into the US Navy. I was in Top Secret Communications during the Bay of Pigs era. Can’t talk about it. All I can say is I was on the USS Lowe out of San Francisco, this big 300ft long destroyer escort.”
“Then I was stationed at Stockton, CA. We were one of the five primary top secret relay stations in the world. Served in the US Navy 1961-1965 then my cousins husband got me into drafting as a job shopper in 1966. Got married in 1967. My wife is from Port Austin and yes, we’re still married! I met her at Club Cliché (7 Mile and John R, Detroit). We used to watch The Sunliners perform there before they became known as Rare Earth. We would dance. Met her there in 66, we got married 67. Moved to Sterling Heights (14 and Dequindre), then moved to Troy (South Blvd & Coolidge) 1978.”
Job Shoppers Pullin’ Nooners!
“Job Shoppers are skilled technical personnel hired for temporary contracts by large auto companies. Ford, GM, Chrysler would contract jobs out to these companies that provided design, engineering, prototype and development services, we had draftsmen, blueprint boys, etc, for the auto industry. We made more money than the in-house guys. I started for $1.50/hr as an automotive detailer, then layout, then design. This was back in the days when designers designed by hand not computer. We had 5 ft x 16 ft plates, grids with 5in widths, white enamel we designed on in white gold. We designed on linen, then mylar, then metal plates and finally computer. Did body parts for cars, not the engine, but things like the interior, door panels, etc.”
“I was a Job Shopper. I did not work at GM. I started at Aero Detroit as a Job Shopper and us “jobbies” would pull “Nooners” where we would cut out early from work and go party. The Jobbie Nooner festival was started by our work-family as a place to go have fun. Shit, we pulled weekly Nooners back in those days. We were always dreaming up stuff to do. We had softball challenges all the time.”
“We rented a Greyhound bus that went to baseball games. Lee and I started having Xmas parties every year. At Hillcrest Country Club on Van Dyke, we had 500 people one time, had the Austin Morrow Big Band, 17-piece orchestra in there that used to play for the Detroit Lions. The Morrow bandleader came on the mic and actually said ‘You people have consumed more booze than any other party we’ve ever attended’ haha! We were a work-family. We had picnics, our kids grew up together, we went to Toronto, we were all very close and it was all great fun. Even had two strippers in the drafting room at one Xmas party, topless, Lee Wagner got fired for it. Hahaha!”
Lee Wagner (Co-Creator of Jobbie Nooner with friend & co-worker Lee O’Dell)
“Lee Wagner was a helluva guy. Lee lived in Warren at 12 Mile and Ryan Rd. He was a gambler, softball player, golfer, just a great guy, fun, partier. He was a bookie when he retired. He’d bet fifty bucks just for the action. You see for most gamblers it’s not about the money, it’s about The Action. He loved life and enjoyed every day. R.I.P. old buddy!”
Lee Roy Wagner (June 26th, 1927-June 27th, 2012)
Lee passed away just days before Jobbie Nooner 2012. He had just turned 85-years-old the day before.
Harley Rider Lee O’Dell
“My wife’s father had a 300acre farm in Port Austin and her brother had a BSA 500 and I took it for a ride. I was gone three hours, they thought I killed myself but I came back and fell in love with motorcycles. So I bought a 250 Honda Enduro, then a Triumph and just got into it. Eventually got myself a Harley-Davidson and that’s the only bike I ride now.”
“I belong to the Michigan Dressers MC in Fraser, Michigan. My biker name is Goodtime. Goodtime O’Dell. I drive a 2003 black Harley-Davidson FLHTC Electric Glide Classic, $25,000 bike. We’re not an outlaw club. We’re a family, we’re community people. My favorite trails are, I love the Blue Ridge Parkway, just 500 miles of awesome, possibly the best cycle trail in the country. My favorite Michigan spots are Charlevoix, Petoskey and the Harbor Springs Tunnel of Trees.”
Inspiring Final Thoughts
“Hell, I’m just an old hillbilly. But I do work out seven days a week. Every morning you gotta just get up and enjoy life. I’m all about having fun and having a good time. Life is so short, it’s unbelievable. You gotta enjoy it while it lasts, baby! I stay busy. My son was an Ambassador for the Makers Mark bourbon company and then he started a landscaping company called Outdoor Expressions in 2005. We do landscaping, ponds, waterfalls, etc. So it’s good to stay busy.”
“I haven’t been to Jobbie Nooner in a few years. Last time I was there, on Gull Island, there were two girls performing inside a tent and a guy was standing at the entrance, charging people to come inside and see the performance. It’s wild how large and carefree the event has gotten. My advice to all you men and ladies going to Jobbie Nooner is: have a good time, be respectful, please clean up your trash, don’t drink and drive. Have a great time but be safe.”
Using aerial photos from 2,000ft up and sophisticated software to estimate crowd size, there are now an estimated 60,000-100,000+ people who flock to Jobbie Nooner from all over Michigan, Canada, other states and even other countries! And it all started with 17 Detroit guys and a few boats. You can catch Lee on his Harley or catch him on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in Lexington, Kentucky. Thanks, Lee!