Maui Nei

Waiale Road is not exactly a thoroughfare. Approaching from the Waiko Road end, there’s a strip of new asphalt built as part of Jesse Spencer’s Waikapu development. Despite the fact that there are only two streets feeding into the road, there’s a ridiculous 20-mph speed limit.

Slide by two competing drug stores, one on each side, and the road takes on more of the character created when Waiale was a cane haul road. There are remnants of plantation-era houses on one side and a complex of one-story buildings behind fences topped with razor wire – the Maui Community Correctional Center.

The state wants to replace the overcrowded facility with a prison out near Puunene, an idea that goes back to 1961. The site has been roundly opposed. In 1965, 8,000 Mauians signed a petition against the location. It would kill development of Kihei, they claimed. Various business organizations were all in favor of a state prison on Maui. It would create jobs, they declared. Maui was still climbing out of the economic depression that followed World War II.

Opposition to a prison on Maui is nothing new. You have to go back to the 1800s to find a popular place to incarcerate bad guys. That would be the Lahaina prison known as Hale Pa’ahao. It was built in 1852 to corral unruly seamen.

There’s also no mention in The Maui News of opposition to the Wailuku Jail built around the turn of the 20th century. In 1903, it was hailed by prisoners as being “luxurious,” an unlikely description since a year later, conditions were called deplorable with prison labor being misused. It was a different time, one that had judges sometimes sentencing miscreants to “hard labor.”

By 1931, the Wailuku Jail was declared overcrowded. It was located in Paukukalo at a National Guard Camp. The decision was made to move it 1940. The new location was picked despite opposition from residents in the area, roughly where the Maui Community Correctional Center is located today. The jail was finished by the county in 1941 at a cost of $11,000.

The Wailuku Jail wasn’t the only prison facility on the island. In 1926, the Olinda Honor Camp had its beginnings up near the top of Olinda Road. In the beginning, conditions were far from ideal. Seven inmates escaped. When they were recaptured, they demanded to be sent to Oahu Prison. They apparently thought the territorial facility would be a better place to spend their time.

Conditions were improved. Prisoners could work in the carpentry shop, and gangs were sent out to work on roads in West Maui and out Kanaio way. The facility was popular with ranchers and farmers plagued by gorse. Prisoners routinely worked to clear fields. The most common method of eradicating the prickly plant from Scotland was to cut it and then douse the stump with diesel fuel. Later, the state would plant hundreds of pines, figuring the trees would cut the sunlight needed by the hardy gorse.

In 1948, the territorial governor urged closing the camp, saying gorse was under control. A new prison was suggested. Pauwela was considered as a site in 1966. There was little, if any, support for the plan. The Olinda camp was closed in 1973. It later became a different kind of prison, but one with a conjugal component. This one was for breeding endangered birds.

Mayor Elmer F. Cravalho closed the Wailuku Jail in 1972 as being unfit for habitation. The state took over prison duties on the island in 1973.

Today, the Maui Community Correctional facility, originally designed to provide rehabilitation for prisoners, is run by the Department of Public Safety. The guys keeping the inmates in line are called correction officers. It’s a tough job. M Triple C is overcrowded, and too many of the inmates suffer from mental or emotional problems.

The top man is Warden James Hirano. He seems affable and when a request was made to take a look inside, he said, “We try to be transparent.” But . . .

The request had to be cleared by his boss in Honolulu. Ahh, bureaucracies are all the same. The idea was to have a talk with Hirano and take a peek at the facility.

In due time, the public relations person for the Department of Public Safety sent an email saying she would lobby the deputy attorney general for permission to take a visit. That was on April 23.

From the outside, the razor wire sparkles in the sun. Apparently, only workers and inmates know if there is any sunshine inside Maui Community Correctional Center.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

A long journey that began with abundant aloha is coming to an end. The last standard carnation farm in the state is going out of business due to nonsensical bureaucratic regulations and a farmer’s body that needs rest after more than 36 years of backbreaking labor.

The farmer is Stu Nicholls, a Vietnam vet who earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture. At the time, Nicholls wanted to help Vietnamese farmers when and if he was able to return to the country.

With a young family, Nicholas went to work for a landscaping firm. The company transferred him to Maui before shutting down operations. He ran into Jack Vockrodt. “He was looking for someone to run his carnation farm,” Nicholls said. “I knew nothing about growing or selling carnations.” The Vockrodt farm had 60,000 plants on 2 acres in the upper reaches of Kula.

“I asked him if I could make any money growing carnations,” Nicholls said. “He paused and then said, ‘You’re not going to make money, but you’ll have a good life.'” Nicholls signed a six-month lease with an option to buy. On April 15, 1978, the last day before the farm would be sold to an attorney, Nicholls came up with the money.

“Jack said he and his wife would work for free for a year, teaching me what I needed to know.”

Nicholls soon learned just how hard it was to grow standard carnations. A storm in January 1980 nearly wiped him out. “It took months to repair the fields and replant the flowers.” The competition was fierce. There were 30 other growers of standard carnations. “Everyone was fighting for markets,” Nicholls said. “We couldn’t pay the mortgage.”

Willy Koja came to the rescue. He gave Nicholls 2 acres to use, along with a tractor, equipment, chemicals and the know-how to raise tomatoes. Nicholls said Koja refused any pay for his help. As Nicholls remembered it, Koja said, “If I help you because I like something back, I wrong already.”

At one point, Nicholls had four farms going at the same time – 24 acres spread across Kula. In 1987, he returned to Vietnam as a tourist, leaving the farming to his wife and two young sons. It was too much. In 1991 his marriage broke under the strain. He gave up his lot in the Kula Ag Park in 1993, the same year he married for the last time – a Vietnamese woman named Hang, who suffered a fatal stroke two years ago.

“We gave everything we had to the farm. It was beautiful,” Nicholls said. With Hang at his side, the carnation farm was replanted. Despite working seven days a week, “It was heaven.”

The economic realities were harsh. “Business makes money,” Nicholls said. “Farming is a hobby. If you can break even farming, you’re doing well.”

For more than 100 years, carnations have been a favorite for making lei in Hawaii. Each lei requires something like 100 blossoms. In the early 1990s, the number of carnation farmers on Maui shrank to just one. Even so, “the only time you make money is one month a year, graduation time.”

Carnation plants live and produce for just about two years. When they die, they must be replaced with cuttings. The last place to have cuttings on the Mainland has gone out of business. Labor costs, restrictions on the use of chemicals and cheap land have shifted carnation farming to Latin America. “It’s cheaper to fly in the flowers than it is to grow ’em here,” Nicholls said.

In Hawaii, Nicholls is “the last man standing.”

He could get cuttings from any number of foreign growers, but federal requirements make it impossible. “I’d have to put them in an completely enclosed greenhouse for two years before I could use them.” And, of course, two years is about the lifespan of a carnation.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “The bureaucrats have 100,000 reasons for not allowing carnations to be grown here.” If Nicholls sounds angry, he is. He has appealed to every official he can think of, but no go.

In the meantime, Nicholls says “I pray and I spray” to keep his existing plants alive and producing blossoms. He expects his plants to live for not much than a year. When they’re gone, the farm is gone, and “it’s the end of an industry in Hawaii.”

Stu Nicholls is a burly fighter, but there is only so much more he can do. His 67-year-old body will no longer cooperate. “I hate the pain and the bureaucracy. It’s going to hurt like hell to give up farming. I loved doing this. It’s been heaven, and it’s been hell.”

The interview ended. Nicholls walked outside. It was the time of day to check the irrigation system for the last field of standard carnations on Maui.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

It had to happen. The American fascination with the automobile is waning. That’s according to an Associated Press story that appeared on the front page of The Maui News on Monday. The island’s love affair with personal transportation is still intense but traffic and high costs may be nibbling away at the passion.

The AP story said American driving has decreased 10 percent since 2004 and the average U.S household now has fewer than two cars, returning to the level of the 1990s. Fewer than 70 percent of 19-year-olds have a driver’s license, down from 87 percent two decades ago.

On Maui, hitting the road without a horse or feet began in 1904. H.P. Baldwin imported a Wood Electric from the Mainland. Apparently, the car required a lot of repair work and the accounts don’t mention how he recharged the batteries.

The island was off and running on electricity, steam and gasoline. Von Hamm-Young Co. was the first dealer on the island, beginning in 1912 with used cars. Valley Isle Ford began peddling Model T cars and trucks in 1924. General Motors vehicles went on sale at Haleakala Motors in 1927.

The number of registered vehicles went from four in 1906 to 694 in 1917 and to 6,164 in 1931. Today, Mauians have licensed more than 100,000 motorcycles, trucks and cars.

Personal cars and trucks didn’t really take off until after World War II. Individuals had a number of alternatives to owning and driving a car. Many of the plantation camps were within walking distance of the fields. When Kahului replaced the camps, the plantation would send trucks around to pick up workers. As late as the 1970s, it was possible to see black-on-red signs that read “labor station” on Kahului streets. Before WWII and into the 1960s, passenger trains ran between Hamakuapoko and Wailuku. Kahului Railroad also operated a bus system serving the Paia area.

Licensing was a bit easier in the early days. One Maui girl remembers taking a test in Wailuku in the 1940s. The examiner told the Maui girl’s father, “I’ll give her a license but don’t let her drive where there’s traffic.” In 1973, one motorcycle “skills test” consisted of riding from the police station down to the jail parking lot. Once there, the examiner shrugged and said, “Eh, you can ride.” End of test.

Today, the driving and riding tests are more rigorous by a factor of 10. If you need to take one of those tests, do yourself a favor and first enroll in a driving school. Kids who take driving lessons usually pass on the first try. A motorcycle license can be obtained by enrolling in one of the monthly, four-day classes offered through UH-Maui College. The DMV’s motorcycle test seems designed to fail the rider while the instructors in the class want riders to succeed.

A major complaint these days is the traffic. Actually, by Honolulu or Mainland standards, traffic isn’t that bad on Maui even in the worst of times. Everyone gets there at about the same time. There’s a suspicion the complaints come from drivers who want an empty road, rather than a line of bumpers ahead of them.

Advocates of public transportation often hear motorists grumbling about subsidizing bus systems and vehemently opposing a light-rail people mover on the same grounds. They seem to forget how the public subsidizes the construction and maintenance of roadways. It costs something more than $1 million a mile to build one lane of highway. “No one will give up their cars,” pronounce the naysayers. Well, yes and no. It depends on what the individual is used to.

A good friend, who grew up in Pittsburgh, got his first driver’s license as a soldier in Vietnam. He needed one to operate a truck. At home, he had managed nicely with a bicycle and bus fare. He was used to getting around that way.

The rising tide of bus passengers indicates there are more and more Mauians and tourists who’d rather have someone else do the driving. Heck, The Maui Bus now makes regular runs through Kula and Makawao. Given a little time, and more attention paid to the traffic mess on Oahu, a light-rail system fed by the Maui Bus probably would be running at capacity in short order. Naysayers or not.

Mainlanders are turning to public transportation, bicycles and walking. Maui may be behind the times, but better ways of moving people need only a glance at the island’s history.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is