By Wayman L. McElhaney
Midway Island, 1951 – 1952
Wayman worked at the Midway Dry-cleaning Plant – PO2
Wayman loved living on Midway, in his little cabin near the sea
2/6/1927 – 9/4/2013 – RIP Wayman
Last time I was in Honolulu waiting for transport to Midway. Now, I’m half scared to death as our flight seems to be going into the drink, but suddenly the runway appeared directly beneath us. There was a brief bump, tires
squealed, and there we were at our new home.
First thing we have to do is check in with the proper people so they know we’ve arrived. I guess I did but don’t remember much about it. What I do remember was seeing all those fantastically beautiful birds every where. There were so many of them. Got settled in at the EM barracks, then located the chow hall. Great menu. Had a great tossed salad seasoned with the cook’s own home-made French dressing. Then back to the barracks where I introduce myself to a few near-by bunk buddies, ask a few questions about the place and get ready to check in with my new unit at Supply in the morning. No one ever sleeps well in a new place, so it was awhile before I dozed off.
Checked in at Supply. Met Lt. Ellingwood who was the day-to-day operating officer. He was really a great fellow who was expecting me. I felt more comfortable because even at Treasure Island I had heard about this terrible oger, CMDR Shay, who was the Island Supply Officer. I had heard more bad stuff about him at Barbers Point. I mean. This guy must wear a red suit, have horns and and carry a pitchfork in each hand. The talk was that bad. I didn’t want to meet him any sooner than I had to.
I’m PO-2C Ships Service, so I’m assigned to the laundry. But I’m a drycleaner, not a laundryman. I know nothing about laundries. What’s worse, I’m going to to be in charge of the place in about two weeks when the present PO leaves. Things ain’t looking too good right about then. I’d better take a walk around the Island, think this thing over very carefully and plan a little strategy. Maybe the fellows already there will carry me until I learn what to do. I take the walk. Loved what I saw. I’m hooked right then on Midway Island and think I can handle whatever comes up, so back to the laundry.
The laundry was large, well equipped, and well run. I liked the fellows there. Very friendly and helpful. I look around the place and notice a large Quonset building across the street nestled in some lovely tall ironwood trees. It was locked up. I asked what it was. “Oh, that’s the old dry-cleaning building”. REALLY ?? Can I take a look inside? “Sure”. I get the keys and have a look. Now after the walk around the Island, I realize I’m already in Paradise, but when I see what’s inside the building, I think I’ve just died and gone to Heaven for sure. To my utter astonishment there was this complete Hoffman dry-cleaning unit fully intact and in mint condition. It was the best equipment money could buy at that time. It had been used very little before being abandoned some time earlier. Most of the operating supplies were still in their original shipping containers and were also in top condition. Had two drums of dry-cleaning soap (I’ll explain that later) which was easily a year’s supply. At least three months supply of filter powder and solvent purifying additives, but no dry-cleaning solvent. The system used a Standard Petroleum solvent, water clear, with at least a 140 degree flash point. I would need at least two-and-a-half drums to charge the system and bring it on line for service. I asked Supply if they had such a thing as dry-cleaning fluid stashed somewhere. No computers in those days, so an inventory took some time. I waited. An hour or so later I got the word. “Yeah, we got four drums of the stuff in the back of the building. Its been there awhile, is it any good?” It was. Now, I’ve got to see the top man about getting assigned to that facility and let some one else run the laundry who knows how. The top man, of course, is this infamous CMDR Shay. I get an appointment and go into his office. There sitting in his comfortable chair was the most pleasant looking, somewhat portly fellow with a nice mustache and a big cigar that I could imagine. He looked more like Jonathan Winters than the devil. Where did all that trash talk come from? I explained the situation in the most persuasive and eloquent manner I could muster, and expressed my sincere belief that the Island really needed a good dry-cleaning facility. And I was just the person for the job. But I would need at least one helper from the laundry. I already had someone in mind. He was a great Spanish fellow named Ignacio Bravo. Now, …. would he please consider the possibility of reopening the plant? He said he’d think about it. It took him all of thirty seconds to make up his mind. I got the job, but there were stipulations.
I had to repaint the whole building inside and out by myself using a hand brush. I had to have a front counter and some garment racks made, a good accounting system set up with a complete price list, and the machinery itself running satisfactorily in one month. It didn’t take that long. I named the plant, “The Glad Rag Cleaners” and opened for business on a Monday morning. By noon, we had more uniforms and stuff brought in than we ever though was on the Island.