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Warren Jones - The Great One..... By Todd Jones__


There used to be a small general hardware in Detroit near the Belle Isle Bridge. The owner named Thomas was a tinsmith who fashioned dorade vents for the passing freighters. In the 50's a couple of part timers from Detroit Edison worked there. One of them dabbled in small boats called Lightning’s at Bayview Yacht Club. Soon the owners had passed and the wife of the one remaining owner asked the boys if they would like to buy the store. They agreed and slowly the store’s focus shifted to sailing.

These were the hay days. The big three were churning out cars and profits for themselves and everyone associated with the industry. Cash was flowing and leisure time for most was readily available. Sailing was booming in Detroit in the 60' and 70's and the builders hadn't figured out that they could make more money outfitting the boats. The hulls came bare and everything was needed from winches to interiors. With the orders scribbled on his hand and the cash register in his pocket, Warren Jones would oversee the mayhem as customers would tear open the shipments, grab their orders, and write their own invoices. Don Fires would help them with their rigging needs. The little store on Lafayette and Townsend soon became cramped and the basement was used to store the line with stopper knots in the floor to keep it from slipping through.

After the riots, the owner’s wives would not make the trek to Detroit so they decided to move to Grosse Pointe near Lake Saint Clair. The store expanded to 4000 square feet in 1969 and the racing scene boomed with CCA and IOR boats arriving yearly. Warren and Don rode the wave running things with the same loose fashion of the original. Boxes piled in the aisles with customers finding their way through the maze to discover what they were after plus a few things more. This was an "experience", not a shopping trip. If the items could not be found, the orders of "blue aisle, down two racks, on your right, waist high, you'll find it" were barked out by Warren. Every item in this vast space filled to the gills was in Warren's head, simply amazing.

During this period in 1972 Warren and his brother Burt built a custom 42’ racing boat at Tartan Marine. Rumor has it this boat never was on the production line and Charlie Britton at Tartan received a cash payment and the boat “disappeared.” A spar and sails were bought from a Canada’s Cup contender and the turbo Tartan 42 “The Great Whisper” was born. The boat traveled to the SORC that winter and returned to the great lakes to be campaigned for 30 years. The boat and the brothers that sailed her are legends. Their booming voices yelling at each other could be heard like thunder across the lake. Through all the yelling they managed to win a few races. The crew list compiled by the “Whisper” over the years is staggering. The boat has sailed over 1000 races and won local, DRYA, Mills and Mackinac championships. The half hull hangs proudly in the Bayview bar and all of her crew consider themselves lucky to have been able to sail with Warren and Burt on a sailing legend.

Through the 80's Thomas Hardware enjoyed the explosion of IOR in Detroit and now the even more complicated racing machines needed specialized attention. The focus of the store switched to more performance based products. Racing in Detroit was a scene with 300 keel boats out on a Saturday afternoon. As the 90's approached a storm cloud was on the horizon.

The cost of the sport and ever increasing demands on people’s time had started to erode participation. The low lake levels didn't help either. The sport was in a decline, but there was still a constant. Seventy hours a week Warren could be found at the store. If that wasn't enough, his home phone was on the back door for emergencies. He saved more than one boat in his day with a vast inventory of products and more important the knowledge to get the job done.

In 2005 Warren was in his late 70's and still working full time. On February 25th he drove his 79 year old brother Burt to the airport at 6:30am for a ski trip, went to the grocery store and dropped off some things for his ailing wife (broken leg.) As he headed to Thomas Hardware he had to have been happy. Spring was on the way, his wife was mending and he was going to the one place that truly made him happy. As much as his gruff exterior and attitude turned people off, that was his way of showing affection. He truly loved people and his customers. He would do anything for anyone, talk at length to anyone about nothing, and forever give the people he liked the hardest time in the world.

We all need constants in our lives and one of them in now gone. Thomas Hardware will live on, but there is no way to keep it the same. Warren touched thousands of lives through the years. Through all the customers, suppliers, employees, sailors and competitors it would be hard to find anyone with a bad thing to say. Please don’t get kicked out heaven before we get there, we all need to get yelled at one more time.

...Todd Jones

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todd-sorry to see this article. your father was a great guy and one fo the funniest people when it came to the crazy world of sailing. i looked forward to visiting the store each time i returned to detroit. my condolenses to you and your family.2/28/2005 8:40:18 AM
Todd and the entire Jones Family: I am deeply saddened by Warren's passing. Your father was one in a million. I worked for Thomas Hardware from 1986 for about 4 years in the summer when I was home from college. It was my first real job and what an experience it was. It taught me many valuable and not so valuable, but useful, things that I carry with me even today. I really enjoyed working with Warren and I remember spending many a Sunday morning attempting to put in all the prices on the bills. I even became quite adept at deciphering his writing. And of course "the check is in the mail” and "it is on the truck" has served me well through the years, buying me that valuable time to decide what it is I forgot to remember. He was a wonderful person and just a wealth of experience, knowledge and humor. The Jeweler of Mack Avenue will be missed but remember well through the memories that we carry with us by way of stories and tales, that become even better with time. All my best to the entire Jones Family, Evelin Johnson (Schoonbeck) 2/28/2005 10:41:46 AM
Nice Article Todd, There is always more to learn about Warren, and his place in the history of yacht racing in detroit and the midwest. Unfortunately with your father's passing, one of the greatest sources of sailing, and sailing industry information is lost! Condolences from my family to yours. Good luck with the store. It is a great institution, and a testiment to your father's vision.2/28/2005 11:54:06 AM
Rolland Vortriede
Todd, I'm sad to hear about your father. I always enjoyed the banter he never failed to provide. He will be missed. Know that your family is in my prayers. May God continue to bless. Mike Overton3/1/2005 8:51:51 PM
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