Wailua Homesteads 1929 to 1936

My stepfather Fred Wichman and a partner owned a seat on the Honolulu Stock Exchange when he married my mother in 1926. In April of 1929, six months before the crash of October 1929, he said “No más.”

He sold out everything about the stock market to his partner and bought a small ranch in the Wailua Homesteads where the Hindu Temple is today. He and my mother built a beautiful house and settled in being a rancher. The two-story house cost about $42,000 and I have no idea what that would be in today’s dollars. They called the house “Pihanakalani.”

Right after we moved in I came down with a high fever and no one could diagnose what it was. A top doctor from Honolulu by the name of Arnold came to Kaua‘i, took one look at me and said, “This little boy will never live.” Our family doctor, J.M. Kuhns, said, “I’ll try to keep him alive.”

After six months in bed I was going stir crazy when one day a Hawaiian woman called on my mother. When Mother opened the door the woman said to my mother, “These red ti leaf plants are in the wrong place. Only ali‘i (chief/royalty) are allowed to have the red ti leaves by the front door; move them to the side of the house.”

This she did and within a week my fever was gone and I was allowed out of bed. Coincidence, you say, I wonder. I turned into a kid who was never still.

By the time I was 7 and a half years old I was going out with the cowboys. All of their commands of direction were in the Hawaiian language. I had to learn the four main words of direction by myself. My grandfather and stepfather were both fluent in Hawaiian but would not teach me anything in Hawaiian. I learned the directions in Hawaiian: mauka, makai, maluna and malalo. Mauka meant toward the mountains and makai, towards the sea. They were the easy ones. Maluna was towards the top of the ridge and malalo, into the bottom of the valley. Once I got this down pat, I would never be caught going the wrong way.

At the early age of 7 until I was between 10 and 12 I was the “cattle dog.” I would tie my horse to a tree and head into the brush to scare the “pipi” (cattle) out into the open so that the “paniolo” (cowboys) could rope them and tie them to a tree. When they had six tied up, they would cut trails through the brush until quitting time.

The next morning we would head out with six tame oxen, tie one of the wild pipi to a tame ox and send him on his way home. After yoking up all of yesterday’s catch, I would head out into the brush to chase more of the “pipi” into the open.

After I was 12 I was considered old enough to rope calves to be weaned and life became a lot more fun. On Sunday mornings nobody in our family ever went to “Hale Pule” (church) and by the time any of the others got up I was long gone and hard to find. I had my own “lio” (horse) and “noho lio” (saddle) and would be down with the other homesteaders who would be doing their own cattle work and guess what, Hobey would be right in the middle of the action.

One time when I was about 8 years old, I roped a full grown “pipi” but my hands were too small for the extra loops and the reins and a loop went around my right leg. Luckily I had the rope tied to my pommel in a slip knot so I was able to get rid of the problem except for a rope burn to my right leg and a scar which I still have today. That taught me a lesson that I have never forgotten.

My first introduction to formal education was in the Baby grade (kindergarten) at Olohena School in the homesteads. There I learned how to play “hooky” but I always got caught. I was the only haole (Caucasian) kid in the whole school.

In 1932 I transferred to Lihu‘e Grammar School Annex. What a shock it was to have to learn all your numbers and add and subtract.

All children whose families spoke English at home were in the annex section. Third and fourth grades were in one room as were fifth and sixth. If you were naughty you had to go out at recess and pull weeds from the lawn. I guess that’s why I am such a good weeder.

In 1936 my stepfather bought a ranch in central Oregon, near Madras. I was enrolled at Iolani in Honolulu in the sixth grade. That was the end of Wailua for at least 11 years.

I was a senior in high school on Dec. 7 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. My grandfather was in Honolulu and got me on a plane to Kaua‘i on Dec. 11, a Thursday, and at 5:30 a.m. Friday morning he was shaking me awake saying it’s time to get ready for work.

I have been working ever since.

That day was the last day of my formal education until I was discharged from the Army.


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