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Surviving Poston's Desert Heat: Cellars, Fans, Ponds, and Gardens

Licensing

We arrived in Poston (Colorado River Relocation Center) in May of 1942.  Everyone was told that the air temperature would rise above 115 deg. F. in the summer.  The water system was not fully functional and the canals to bring water for agriculture was in the process of construction. Many decided that a cellar would be cooler than the black tarpaper barracks.  The soil was soft and dusty which required the cellar walls to be reenforced.  Only a few inmates could gather enough material to make a cellar deeper than three to four feet.   The other cooling option was to make or buy a swamp cooler but that required materials or money for a home swamp cooler and a supply of cooling water. Our barrack (Block 38 Barack 2) was composed of the Kakuda, Aoyama, and Yamamoto families.  We decided to dig cellars until water became available.  We dug 3 to 4 foot pits under our barracks and used the 18 inch gap between the ground and the barrack to crawl in and out of the cellar.  I remember taking naps in our and the nursery school cellars during the heat of the day.  The ground was so dusty that when you crawled in or out the cellar or when the wind blew you were covered in dust.  When the heat of the day became bareable we would slip on our home made getas (elevated wooden shoes) and hoppi coats (Japanese light weight robe) and go to the shower room to cool off in the showers and wash off the dirt. So many people were digging cellars that the piles of dirt from the cellar construction became a problem.  It was decided to make a large dirt pile near the camp front gate.  The pile became so large that to me, a child of 3 year, that it became a huge mountain.  To beautify the mountain it was turned into a Japanese garden.  The garden was later used by many as a place to take photos. As water became more available, the inmates began to make the equivalent of swamp coolers by passing air though a wet material using an electric fan.  This moisted air would cool the barracks by evaporation unless we were in the monsoon season where the atmosphere was already moisted.  Then the swamp coolers were ineffective.  I remember jostling with my siblings for a breath of the cool moisten air. The swamp coolers required a constant stream of water so the inmates added water pipes to the barrack faucets.  The pipe that fed the damp material had holes spaced to evenly wet the material.  You can see the water stain on the barrack walls in the photos below.  Poston was lucky because we had the Colorado River as a water supply.  Water wells drawing water from the river supplied the water needs for swamp coolers, trees, and gardens.  Our sister camp at Hila River initially had swamp coolers but they were removed because of Hila River's water shortage. When my father was set to Idaho as a farm labor he earned enough money to buy a mail order swamp cooler.  It was more that a month salary if he worked in the camp.  As a cook in the camp he earned only $16 per month.  In Idaho he earned more than $160 per month.  Because my father earned a living salary out side of the camp when he came back to the Poston he refused to work in the camp for $16 per month so he had to pay a fee to live in the camp he was not permitted to leave.  Instead, he and his neighbors landscaped our yards by builting koi ponds, planting trees, and creating cooling pathways. Poston was still stiffing hot in the summer, a dust storm in the wind, and freezeing cold in the winter but it became more of a home.

Slides in this album 

Poston 1 "Roastin"

Colorado River Relocation Center Camp 1 Preinternment

WRA Photo
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

Poston 1 Block 38 Nursery School

Cellar right of image used for naps during hot periods.  Roy Kakuda top row left. Nancy Aoyama third from left bottom row.  Photo taken 1943 by George Kakuda.

Cellars
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

"Mount" Poston or Poston Yama

Dirt pile made from cellar soil converted to Japanese rock garden.  Note water pond below the hill. 

WRA Photo 09/01/1943 20-2745a.jpg
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

Poston Yama made from cellar soil.

Top Yukiko Yamamoto, lower Helen Neishi Nishimoto from Block 38.

Photo by George Kakuda
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

Poston Yama

Girls from Poston 1 Block 38 and Roy Kakuda in shadow.

Photo by George Kakuda
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

Poston Yama

Emi Yoshikawa and Roy Kakuda

Photo by George Kakuda
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

Water stain Poston 1 Block 38 Room 2

Michiko Kakuda with Nancy and Roy.  Home made swamp cooler water dripping stained walls.  Fan sucked air through wet cloth to cool room.   Constant water dripping from water pipe kept cloth wet.

Photo by George Kakuda
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

Kakuda, Aoyama, and Yamamoto rooms, Poston 1 Barrack 2.

Terri Kakuda on wooden walk way above damp cooling area between barracks.  Note the water oozing from knothole.  Open door way is the entrance to Aoyama's 12 ft by 12 ft room. Foreground is a home made swamp cooler and in the background is a residential swamp cooler.

Photo by George Kakuda
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

New swamp cooler Poston 1 Block 38.

Terri Kakuda in Block 38 garden.  Swamp cooler on barrack wall.

Photo taken by George Kakuda
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

Block 38 girls and Roy Kakuda on Poston 1 bridge

Water ponds used to cool the camps.

Photo by George Kakuda
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

Japanese Garden Block 38

Terri Kakuda over looking Koi Pond.

Photo by George Kakuda
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

Japanese Garden Poston Block 38

Terri and Roy Kakuda overlooking Koi Pond.  Carp fished from the Colorado River.  Trees and shrubs from local area.

Photo by George Kakuda
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

Kakuda Family in Block 38 Japanese Garden

Michiko, Nancy, Terri, and Roy Kakuda in garden. Photo taken about 1945, 3 years after internment.

Photo taken by George Kakuda
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

Block 38 Japanese Garden

Terri and Roy Kakuda.  Cloths made by Michiko Kakuda who taught sewing in Poston.

Photo by George Kakuda
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

Block 38 Japanese Garden

Yoshiko Yamamoto 

Photo by George Kakuda
Contributed by: RoyKakuda

Block 38 Kindergarten

Grass and trees after 3 years of internment.

Photo by George Kakuda
Contributed by: RoyKakuda


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