Once upon a time, Maui's garbage dumps were recycling centers. Dumpers would unload their refuse and then stroll around to see if there was anything useful to take home. It was a time-honored practice.
My first bicycle came from a small-town dump. Dad spotted it among the rubbish, brought it home, did a few repairs and gave it a new coat of paint. I was thrilled.
Finding useable stuff at the dump - this was long before they became "landfills" - was a way resourceful Mauians made up for a lack of cash. Wives might bristle at all the "junk" lying around, but hubby knew just what each piece could be turned into.
As a kid, my family moved around a lot. About once a year, it seemed. From house to house, Dad carted his collection of little bits of bracketry, nuts, bolts, washers and weird stuff. It drove mom nuts every time hours were spent packing up and moving the mess.
One day, dad needed a particular piece to finish a project. He went to his private hardware store and returned almost immediately. "What happened to all my stuff?" He was just south of being furious. Mom edged away. "I got rid of it." When dad calmed down, he asked, "How much did you get for all of it?" Mom took a deep breath. "I paid them to take it away." Major explosion!
There's a Makawao guy of the same ilk. He was forever "recycling" someone else's junk. He built a new house and I moved into his old one. There were complaints about the "junk" left behind in the yard and all the cabinets in the garage. OK, OK. In the end, four pickup truck loads went to the landfill. I ran each load around to the landlord. "You want any of this stuff?" He would glance at his collection and sigh. "I guess not."
In those days, the Central Maui dump was a deep hole carved out of rock by the aggregate company. In the hole, scavengers were likely to find most anything, but mostly automotive. Apana Junks was still in the future. A friend found a ladder rack for his ancient Ford truck. On another occasion, he found a carburetor for that same truck. A rebuild kit got it working just fine.
A little before then, there was a Makawao dump on a little side road off Makani. It probably was owned by the plantation. It was closed when the Central Maui Landfill was created. The Lahaina dump off Honoapiilani Highway sat in a pit of cinders. The area's strong winds were forever decorating trees, prompting Tom Stevens, a former columnist for The Maui News, to name a new species - "opala birds."
One of the oldest dumps was off Mokulele Highway. Cane grows on the site today. Gary Moore, on behest of the Maui Military Museum, organized a search of the dump. The Maui Military Museum had found a photograph, indicating World War II amtracks powered by Cadillac V-8s had been buried there by the military. They drilled and came up with nothing but "municipal garbage," Moore later said.
At a guess, the amtracks had been gathered up and sold for scrap, but only after the engines had been removed and installed in island trucks and cars. Old-timers still talk about other military dumps existing around Haiku. Whole airplanes were bulldozed into a pit and buried near Paia. Or so they say.
The most thoughtless ad hoc dump existed at the sewage plant end of Kanaha Beach. As late as 1973, there was a pile of rubbish on the edge of the water. A vivid memory centers on a little girl's doll lying on a decomposing pile of something or other. Until the county organized a comprehensive trash pickup system, every gully near a road was subject to dumping. The arrival of companies that turn junk cars into bales of metal ended most of the abandoned vehicles, although the plantation still runs across derelicts in the fields.
Maui is wealthier these days, and fear of liability lawsuits prevents scavenging. Inventive recyclers can only look wistfully at the incredible amount of things such as lawn mowers and children's' toys being dumped into the Central Maui Landfill, which has grown into a range of hills. Call 'em Pu'u Opala, I, II and III.
That doesn't mean the end of individual collections of used "stuff." The garage contains the metal ghosts of 40 years of motorcycling. Not to mention the other "stuff" that might prove useful bumbye. Just like dad.
* Ron Youngblood is former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.