“We had several highlights in basic training. The Red River rose over the dikes to the 2nd story of buildings in the town of Alexandria, and as engineers it was our job to stop the flooding. We worked 24 hours a day for three days with bulldozers, drag lines, dump trucks, pick and shovels and a lot of sand bags. We used the main highway for fill on top of the dikes. I remember the concrete was about 2 to 3 foot thick. After basic training we were each assigned to one of many different engineering functions such as; pipe lines, bridges, road building, etc. For me it was ‘water purification and supply.’ We spent the next three months learning to make water from rivers, lakes and also to run the city water supply system. We would take our 2 and a 1/2 ton water truck and jeep and pump water into 500 gallon canvas water tanks from a bayou. These usually were about 30 to 100 miles from camp on one-way dirt and mud roads. It was always quiet and there were no farms or houses, just heavy pine forests with deep creeks about 8 to 12 feet deep and about 6 to 14 feet wide. You had to jump across because it was to steep to climb them. These channels were spaced 100 yards to ¼ mile or more apart. After we set up the canvas water tank (500 gallons) and started the portable water pump we would start hiking to look for wild pigs and old houses. Often when the water was being pumped, several G.I.s would take a nap, and this was the time for a real hot foot. It was a real eye-opener due to the heavy boots and many laces made them slow to take off, which was necessary due to the extreme heat. No one ever knew who did the evil deed because of the many pine trees we would hide behind. It was a great pastime for a lot of G.I.s in WWII. I was on both ends of the match and had a few laughs,” Nichols continued.
“When in the process of getting out of the Corp of Army Engineers, I had a shocker. I was called into the Colonel's Office. What had I done! Everyone else was checking out by the thousands each day. I knew I was in trouble, because of a few items taken at midnight from the Air Force motor pool. My past was catching up with me. So down I went to see the Colonel. My heart was sinking and I thought ‘what could it be,’ as I could land in jail or worse. The office was small; the Colonel had in his hand my MOS (military operational skills) card. He asked me what I did during the war and I answered that I was trained to be a water purification and supply technician. However, I had been trouble-shooting on gas and diesel engines on the island of Tinian. The island was 4 miles wide by 11 miles long, with over 100,000 people and 500 B-29 Aircraft on it. I had been fixing engines for 32 water wells and 1000+ generators. The Colonel then asked how it was possible that I have been a machinist, tool maker, small gas engines mechanic, heavy duty engines mechanic and Army riflemen. It was not possible to have five MOS in the Army he said. At this point I was feeling a lot better and I explained how I started at eleven years old in garages, then later was a machinist, then building Ford model A hot rods, racing Indian and J.A.P. Speedway bikes, plus being a wind tunnel model builder at Douglas Aircraft Company and finally a machine shop foreman at age 23. The next day the Colonel discharged me from the service,” Nichols said.
"I remember building an oval race track and a 45” Harley for racing on the island of Tinian, where the atom bomb was transferred to the Enola Gay, a B29 Bomber on the island. I was not drafted. I quit Douglas aircraft Company in 1943 to join the service, and I wanted out of the great banana factory. I started in the paratroopers and ended up in the Corp of Engineering and spent almost two years in the service in the Pacific. My job overseas was chief trouble-shooter on the island of Tinian. The engines were small, 1 cylinder in size up to huge diesels with 3-1/2 foot diameter pistons and it was hard work and very hot weather. Tinian had 500 B-29 bombers and 100,000+ men, all on a 4 mile wide by 11 mile long island. But I enjoyed diving and swimming every day, and most of all racing my Harley against a few bikes and a lot of cars, especially Jeeps on my track every day till dark,” Nichols went on.
“I got married in 1943 using my brother's Model-A Ford to drive to Los Vegas. Her name was Stacia and she was the most beautiful woman in the world. The whole trip cost about $15 or less. Then in 1944 my first daughter, Marna Jean Nichols was born in Glendale, California, while I was still in the Army. My next daughter, Belinda Annette Nichols, was born in 1947, in San Bernardino, California. Then in 1951, I bought a home for $13,000 in Culver City, California, which I sold in 2003. Stacia passed away and in 1964 I married my second wife, June and we’ve been married every since. I married two beautiful women. During this time I worked for Douglas Aircraft Company in Santa Monica, California, for 24 years. I have one grandson, Ryan Nichols, born in 1985. I am proud of how well he is doing. In 1964, I designed and machined the first titanium connecting rods for George Bignoti, the mechanic for A.J. Foyt’s Offenhauser. Foyt won the Indy 500 in 1964. Then in 1965, I designed and machined the first cam followers (buckets) for the S & W Triple wrap Valve springs for Dickie Jones at Champion Sparkplugs in Long Beach, California. These Offenhauser buckets were heavy with .125 walls, so I used maraging 350 steel which allowed .028 walls to reduce the weight. The dyno tests added 50 HP. The year 1966 was big for Mickey Thompson, because I detailed the blue prints and machined the heads and cam towers for the double over cam Chevrolet Aluminum block engines for Indy. At 86, I am still racing my two Indian Sport Scouts in the AHMRA tracks around the USA and at the Dry lakes at the SCTA time trials at El Mirage Dry Lakes, near Phelan, California. My current efforts are designing and using CADD software systems for race parts and cams, however I do designing and machining for race parts and cams on my two Indians racers," Nichols concluded.
Gone Racin' is at [email protected]