Passion for perseverance
WAIMEA — Just north of Waimea sits the Kikiaola Construction Company yard, where various antique military vehicles make the property look like a bygone battlefield.
A rustic tank and assorted track vehicles, Jeeps, and even a movie set helicopter now belong to Michael Faye, who has an appreciation for old things, especially when they reflect part of Kauai’s past.
“My family has been involved on the Westside for a very long time,” said Faye, who started the construction company in 1996 after years of working for his family that ran both the Kekaha and Waimea sugar mills. “One of my passions has been these old things, and I think it started with digging around the house as a kid growing up.”
His interest is ignited deeper by his family’s history. Born six years after World War II, he remembers the stories from the generation before him in recounting what it was like on the island during the war.
“It was good fun for us growing up hearing these stories,” Faye said, and some sad ones — pointing at the box containing the uniform and a flag for his uncle who was killed in action.
The island changed very quickly with the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, he recalled. The emotion carried over to the Kauai communities, as many of the Japanese were interned, and the Filipinos organized into a militia to defend water and power sources with bolo knives and pitchforks.
Faye said the manager class was still relatively close to the workers at the mills and the horse owners decided they would patrol the mountains. Faye’s father became Capt. Alan Faye of the Kauai Volunteers, Mounted Troupe A, a unit of the Territorial Guard. The training records reflect a scary mood in anticipation of an invasion all the way up until the Battle of Midway in the Pacific in June of 1942.
Faye’s collection includes items from his father’s mountain troupe. McClellan saddles, bridles, helmets and the bits that were all made by the local blacksmiths. He has the unit flag for Troupe A, his father’s uniforms, plenty of photos and stories — but he is still looking for a unit patch.
“There are a lot of families out there who still have artifacts or memories of their grandfather’s, or great grandfather’s at this point, and I want to be involved with them,” Faye said, adding that he wants to upgrade from scrap books to a website and social media for people to share their own photos, stories and network more information on this part of island history that fades a little more each year.
As a boy, Faye recalled his father giving him a little A-frame wooden structure that had a canvas roof. He learned later it was a pre-war military officer’s tent for fixed locations. He set up bunk beds for a summer clubhouse at his father’s weekend ranch, where friends of his parents who were members of the unit would come talk story about their adventures.
After War World II, there was surplus equipment all over the island as vehicles, tents and quonset huts were sold or given away to individuals and businesses. Faye’s construction yard has mesh metal runners for vehicle traction on beach landings and assorted quonset hut pieces. There is also an old fire truck that the Waimea mill converted from a Army truck and used for decades.
Faye was working for Pioneer sugar in Lahaina in the late 1960s when someone told him to check out a U.S. Army M3 Half-track vehicle sitting abandoned on the slopes of Haleakala. It belonged to the head mechanic of Maui Land and Pine, he said, as the company bought a bunch of them just for the engines to put in their pineapple haulers.
“I drove all around and found it with the sun setting and fell in love with the whole thing,” Faye said. “I brought it back to Kauai and fixed it up and we just had a ball with it.”
It was that moment in the Maui sun looking at the half-track, that bridged the overall war with his living memory of his father’s unit, he said.
When Waimea Sugar Company closed, it was formed into Kikiaola Land Company in 1978. Faye was hired to manage the remaining camps and was sent to the Mainland on business. That’s where he bought an M5A Light Tank, even though it didn’t run.
The M3 Light Tank preceded the M4 Sherman that was used more extensively in the war. The M5A is a modified M3 that was used in the Africa and some of the Europe campaigns, but its success came in the Pacific where the fast, light tanks showed better success with island hopping than the heavier vehicles.
“You didn’t want to be in one of these things,” he said. “They were hot, small and deadly.”
Faye is a founding member of Historic Hawaii Foundation, a past president of Kauai Historical Society, past of the Kauai Historic Preservation Review Commission, and served on the Environmental Council for eight years. He is also a member of the Rotary Club, West Kauai Business Association, and is currently on the board of the Hawaii Island Land Trust.
Faye is also a member of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association and considered himself a bonafide collector once he had the half-track, the M5A tank, and an amphibious LVT4, a landing vehicle. His reputation as a collector meant he was called for every junked Jeep or rusting military someone wanted to part with on Kauai.
When Faye was contracted to run his cranes for the North Shore production set of the movie, “Tropic Thunder,” he got a call when filming was completed to take a Jeep off the movie set’s hands.
“No,” Fay said. “I knew which one it was and I wasn’t interested.”
Then they said what if they threw in a helicopter?
“I said, I was going to send a truck like right now,” he added about the chopper, that now sits on his lot — still with the tacky tiki bar inside that was made for the film. “It was in pieces and we reconstructed it.”
Being a structure mover gave Faye the ability to bring period buildings back to his yard. There is a plantation house, quonset huts, and a World War II barracks built in prefabricated five-foot sections.
“It is something that only an engineer can appreciate,” he said. “The guys want me to tear it down but I want to dissect it and keep a five-foot section of panels to show how these things were put together.”
It is always the goal to do a full restoration, Faye said, but time has not been on his side.
“Working consumes all of my time,” he said.
The hurricanes required years of work to rebuild the island, not to mention working to raise a family and put food on the table. Then the recession came and there was no money to throw at projects like this.
“If I could, I would keep everything, but I can’t,” he said. “I don’t have enough time left in my life and definitely not enough money, so I’ve tried to focus on the World War II period with civilian vehicles or the military stuff that was used or represents stuff that was used in the Pacific Theater or at least came past Hawaii.”