Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Henry Miyatake Interview III
Narrator: Henry Miyatake
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: September 21, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-mhenry-03-0006

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: And the Kimura family was a family in Anchorage?

HM: Yes. Well, my brother had worked with one of the brothers, the Kimura brothers in Minidoka. So, when we went up to Anchorage well, they had Frank Kimura, George and Billy, they had -- they owned the largest laundry in Anchorage, and which serviced Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base, so they had a huge business. I mean they had probably about fifty employees in their laundry, and then they owned the Golden Pheasant Restaurant, and then George owned a fishing site. And George had an airplane which I liked to fly. And so in the summertime George says, "Well, you got your instrument rating, how about showing me how to fly on the instruments?" So I says, "I don't have an instructor rating for instruments, but I'll show you the rudiments of flying on instruments."

TI: Well, at that point ILS was pretty new too, wasn't it?

HM: Yeah, it was pretty new, but it was a method that was encouraged by FAA, I mean CAA to be used all through Alaska so that they can make it an all-weather type operation from most of these bases. Well, it was slowly being integrated into the major bases first, like it was first on Anchorage and Fairbanks and a lot of the major facilities, Juneau, Ketchikan, these, all these places. And some of these places like, well in Juneau and -- they would have very difficult landing patterns, so it was essential that they had ILS equipment there. But George was just a VFR pilot and he said -- he was a better VFR pilot than I was, but I could fly instruments better than he could, because his instrument capabilities were quite limited.

TI: I'm just curious, was that a float plane, or was it --

HM: Yeah, this was a Piper Super Cruiser on floats. And during that first summer, George says to my brother, he says, "You have refrigeration experience so why don't you set up a refrigeration plant for me. I need a cold storage facility." And it's right close to his fishing site. He bought a native fishing site, salmon fishing site. And they would be paid according to how many fish they would get, and they would haul them to the cannery. Well, the cannery used to strip the fish and take the eggs out. And the eggs became a terrible problem because its, the flies would get on it and it was a sanitary problem, for them. They had to dispose of it. So George Kimura got the bright idea well he's gonna salt those eggs and he's gonna sell them to these Japanese trading companies. Anyway, so the refrigeration plant was to hold these different, big wooden barrels of salted salmon eggs. And for the canneries it was a sanitation problem. They had to get rid of that stuff. So George says, "Well, just to make it legal let's make it three cents a pound." I don't know where they arrived at three cents, but he was buying these salmon eggs from the canneries for three cents a pound. And they would, he would use the local labor there and he would salt down the salmon eggs layer by layer and then they fill up these big barrels. And the barrels were heavy -- heavier than get out. They were all -- almost all water. And so my brother ordered some refrigeration gear from Seattle and had it sent up. And for a while we were setting up this gear inside these insulated Quonset huts, which George bought from Fort Richardson as a surplus sale. So we set up the Quonset huts. And they were easy to assemble. And then we insulated the floor because we had to keep it at refrigeration levels. And then we installed the refrigeration gear.

And so George says, "Well, why don't you be partners with me? We could do this as a kind of business." So I told my brother, "I wanna fly that airplane. If he pays for all the gas and maintenance and this kinda stuff let's make a deal. I could fly his airplane any time and he could have the interest in the refrigeration gear." Well, that was the dumbest deal I ever thought of. When I come to think about it, because George was rolling in money, because he was selling this stuff. He was buying for three cents a pound, he was paying for a minimum amount for the rock salt, and he was turning it over to the, these Japanese trading companies for $1.50 a pound. I mean his profit rate was horrendous. Well being so, my object and my viewpoint, my willingness to trade off the flight time on the airplane was more essential to me than getting into this really good economic deal. Well, anyway as it turned out I did fly his airplane quite a bit. [Laughs] I had a lot of fun with it. And we used to go out, even during the moose hunting season we used to go out and with a friend of ours and, we used to go on the float plane and go into places that nobody else went into and you could fish and do whatever you wanted. But --

TI: Tell me more about George Kimura. It sounds like he was quite the entrepreneur in a city that was just growing rapidly. Whatever, whatever happened?

HM: Oh, oh, the place was a booming place. Because Elmendorf Air Force Base was one of the primary air defense command bases in Alaska and we had the fifty-seventh fighter wing there. And this, remember the football players from West Point, Blanchard and Davis? Well, the -- Blanchard became one of the pilots in the fifty-seventh fighter wing there. And as CAA people, we were involved in the Air Defense Command system in Alaska because they used to transmit all the weather information, and also flight information. All the air route traffic control stuff used to go through us. So consequently they, whenever they used to have a alert structure, the Air Force had priority over our own communication system. And we used to service the Air Defense Command network that used to feed Elmendorf from the Anchorage central facilities. And so we got to know quite a few of the people in the Air Defense Command. So anyway, the base was growing at a horrendous rate, and Fort Richardson was growing at another phenomenal rate because Fort Richardson happened to be the headquarters for the Arctic warfare organization of the U.S. Army. And they used to have an outfit called the Fourth Combat Regiment. And it's a strictly Arctic warfare bunch of people. And so he was getting most of the business from these two bases. I mean just the business from the bases were extremely high volume stuff --

TI: And this was the laundry business?

HM: Yeah, laundry, dry cleaning and the whole bit. And they did the whole service function. Well, they were really busy during the summertime because all this guys from, from the outside they used to call it -- that's the mainland people, U.S. con -- continental U.S. people would come up to Alaska and there'd be all kinds of business. So the summertime was a very, very busy time. And so for George, being in the, the salmon business, as well as doing part of the laundry function, he was a busy guy. He had to have that airplane to fly between Anchorage to the fishing sites back and forth. And so it was kind of a hectic type summer for him. So if he could get some of the load relieved to my brother and myself for the refrigeration stuff, that really solved his problem. And he offered us a tremendous opportunity that we did not appreciate. [Laughs] I didn't anyway. My brother thought to (himself), man, I must have a real dumb brother. Because here's a, a way that we could have made -- we, we would have been millionaires in about two years you know. But anyway, that's the way...

TI: So did George Kimura become a millionaire?

HM: Yeah.

TI: And very prominent in Anchorage?

HM: Yeah. He became very wealthy.

TI: That's a good story.

HM: But, wealth led him to other problems. But anyway, the second year the, the Japanese trading companies figured out well, if a small outfit like Kimura could do this, why don't we get in the scene. So they started arranging for buying the salmon eggs from the cannery for a buck and a half a pound. Same price that they were buying it from George Kimura. And the canneries, they changed the contract to George. They said, "Okay, we'll sell it to the trading companies." And their problem was after they got the thing packed, they have to hold on to it between the ships, before they can ship it out. And where are they going to put this thing?

TI: Well, they'll need a refrigeration units, right? Or --

HM: George Kimura's refrigeration system comes into play. [Laughs] So George was using his storage facilities for -- and then charging them the same amount of money that he was charging them the difference, $1.50 a pound for holding. So George made out okay.

TI: That's a good story.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.