Not long after Katrina had ravaged South Mississippi, an outreach group of folks from the First Baptist Church of Elkins, WV and the Rotary Club from the same city ended up at the Lakeshore Baptist Church on the western side of Waveland, MS. Although the church was completely destroyed, there´s a slab there, the people of that church were playing host to volunteer workers from the North. The only facilities were tents to sleep in and portable toilets for use by the volunteers.
Not anymore! On May 1, 2006, another form of aid left Elkins, WV for the Hurricane Katrina devastated area in Mississippi. A retired 48-foot, over-the-road trailer, that had spent its ‘productive´ years as a ‘reefer´ operated by a dairy company and later converted into a combination bath facility and laundry mat, will now serve the army of relief workers who continue to help Mississippi residents recover from their devastation with a place to bathe and do their laundry.
The trailer is the brainchild of Elkins Rotary Club Vice President Dwayne Hannah. “One of the first things that became apparent when I visited the area not long after the hurricane was that the volunteers down there helping those folks did not have a place to wash their clothes, and still worse, had no bathroom facilities except portable toilets,’ Hannah said. “Something had to be done to help the relief workers as they helped the victims.’ Hannah explored ideas that would provide the relief workers a means of sanitary toilet and bathing facilities and at the same time give them a place to wash their clothes. He struck upon the appropriate idea of a “mobile wash house.’
In December, Hannah contacted several trucking companies asking if they might have an old trailer that could be donated and used as the foundation of his idea. Broughton Dairy of Parkersburg, WV, donated an old refrigerated trailer that had hauled milk and other perishable dairy products to grocery stores in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The
dairy company moved it from Marietta, Ohio, to Williamstown, WV where Elkins Distributing Co. picked it up and brought it to the Elkins/Randolph County Airport. Airport Authority officials gave Airport Manager Dick Chaney permission to provide an aircraft hangar for
the restoration work. After four months of volunteers working 12- to 16-hour days and at a cost of nearly $40,000, the wash house was ready for service.
On May 1, Steve Felton, owner and operator of Triple S Trucking in Mill Creek, WV departed for Lakeshore, MS, where the mobile wash house will enter service. The Rotary Club of Wiggins, MS, paid for the $2,000 transport fee. The mobile wash house was delivered to the Club President Jere Hess on May 3. “Having the mobile wash house is better than having a place to sleep. People can sleep in a tent, but they have to have baths and there is no place to take one,’ Hess said. “A water hose just doesn´t do the job for people working in the heat and humidity we have down here. They also need a decent place to go to the bathroom. Portable
toilets don´t get the job done either. Now they will also have a place to do their laundry. The wash house will be a great boost to morale, and help speed the recovery efforts. We don´t know how to thank the members of the Rotary Club of Elkins, volunteers and donors for what they´ve done for us, and even if we did, we couldn´t thank them enough.’
The wash house is equipped with two bathrooms. The ladies´ room has a toilet, two shower stalls and a dressing area, while the men´s room has a toilet, urinal, two shower stalls and a dressing area. The center area contains two combination washer/dryers, a utility wash basin and houses the hot water heater. The dryers are operated by natural or
propane gas, which also heats the facility when needed. The trailer is equipped with air conditioning and exhaust fans that keep the wash
house cool and well ventilated. The wagon is equipped with an attached entrance stairway, landing platform and handrails that fold for storage and transport against the wagon´s underbelly. Utility hook-ups are also provided from the wagon´s underbelly.
Restoration work was under the day-to-day supervision of Roy Crickard.
Bobby Hutton of REH Construction supplied manpower and other resources for electrical, plumbing and carpentry work. Hannah Engineering provided structural engineering and outside graphics design. Rob´s Custom Graphics painted the outside decals. Mary Hannah,
Clint Hannah and Jeff Harvey donated their time for cleaning chores. Tim Sprouse volunteered his time and resources for welding.
Rotary officials said that when the wash wagon is no longer needed in Mississippi, it will be returned to Elkins and put on standby for service anywhere in the country it might be needed.
“We hope the wash house will never have to be used again, but if it is, and unfortunately it will, it will be ready to serve,’ Hannah said.
Elkins Rotary Club President Grace Roy said the project has received donations from many social organizations and churches from around the state of West Virginia. The club also assumed a rather large loan from Mountain Valley Bank to expedite the project´s completion.
Tax deductible donations are being accepted and may be made by contacting Dwayne Hannah, at Hannah Engineering, P.O. Box 2050, Elkins, W.Va. 26241 or by calling (304) 636-7777.
Dewayne Hannah is a graduate of Civil Engineering from West Virginia University. Jere Hess is an MBA graduate of Mississippi State University. This Fall the two universities will play each other in football at the State campus and both Hannah and Hess expect to be there…maybe even together. However there may be a good chance that they will meet in the MSU President´s Box as the new president at MSU, Dr. Robert “Doc’ Foglesong, earned all three of his degrees from West Virginia University. When told about the wash wagon story, Doc Foglesong replied, “This is why America is the greatest nation in the world.’
* Wayne Sheets of the Inter-Mountain Newspaper, Dewayne Hannah and Jere Hess submitted information for this article.