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Transcript of interview with Alfred "Al" Isola by Stephen Kalish, March 15, 1976






On March 15, 1976, Stephen Kalish interviewed Alfred “Al” Isola (born August 3rd, 1917 in Oakland, California) in his office about his garbage company and early Southern Nevada. The two discuss Las Vegas’ lack of a unified garbage system and how dumping sites have had to adjust their practices in order to limit their impact on pollution. Isola also explains the different disposal protocols for wet and dry trash. On the second tape of the interview, an unidentified woman enters the conversation.

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Isola, Alfred Interview, 1976 March 15. OH-00926. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola i An Interview with Alfred Isola An Oral History Conducted by Stephen Kalish Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections and Archives Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2019 UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola iii The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola iv Abstract On March 15, 1976, Stephen Kalish interviewed Alfred “Al” Isola (born August 3rd, 1917 in Oakland, California) in his office about his garbage company and early Southern Nevada. The two discuss Las Vegas’ lack of a unified garbage system and how dumping sites have had to adjust their practices in order to limit their impact on pollution. Isola also explains the different disposal protocols for wet and dry trash. On the second tape of the interview, an unidentified woman enters the conversation.UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola 1 (Audio begins mid-sentence) that other thing, or? No, that’s alright. Well, just explain myself. Just go ahead and talk about it. Is this thing on? Yes, go ahead and use—you can sit where you are and you can hear it, like, it’ll pick me up from over here. (Unintelligible) Yes, yes, go ahead. My name is Al Isola, Alfred A. Isola, to be correct. And I come from, born and raised in Oakland, California. Went to a technical junior high school at Woodrow Wilson and Emerson in Oakland, California. And got out of school, went in nursery business and from there me and my dad was a Stockholder and the final (unintelligible) of the Hilton Scavenger Company. Went from, was, all my relatives were all employed by the old Hilton Scavenger Company. And so I decided that along with, wanted to take my dad’s chereau, so my dad got hurt, and so he didn’t want me to do, go to it, into this type of business. He wanted me to go to University of California, but I thought I was smarter than my dad, who, “knew everything about the world already,” and he was trying to tell me, “Go to university of California, get your education, and then you can go to be a scavenger or do whatever you want, get your education first.” So I wouldn’t listen to dad, so I, wanted to take over his share before he probably put it around the block to sell. And I figured I would never be able to be accepted into the company if you did sell it, so I said, “No dad, I want to go down there,” but I wasn’t big enough to, my size, I wasn’t that UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola 2 big of a man. I was about hundred thirty-five pounds soaking wet, and so I still wanted to go down there and do that type of business. So at that time, we were going into the backyards and picking up trash, and you had to carry it on your shoulders, and this, and a big, big container, and lift it up, and you’re lifting eighty to ninety pounds every time you went to pick up a container, and sometimes you want to jump a fence and go into the next yard and tell it to hurry up. Then we used to have these open-type trucks that you had to go up the steps. Eight steps up and eight steps down—and going up with a load on your back, your knees start wobbling and out in the rain and weather, well, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed doing this type of business. And (unintelligible) and due to our ancestors, you know, previous to my dad, my grandfather was one of the founders of San Francisco, California. In fact, before the San Francisco big earthquake, that they had, and he helped, he was the only one who survived. His home and his barn, where we kept the horses and it was the only one that survived, and he’s (Unintelligible) all these people, like the mattresses and everything. His barn and the horses were outside and the people were sleeping on the inside of the barns, so this shows you how far back that my family goes into these types of businesses. I guess it’s the only thing we know. So then my dad started a (Unintelligible) to come down here and he decided to be, he was a founder there. And also my brother-in-law. So I actually have a few years behind me. Now, we have about sixty years in the garbage business between my brother-in-law and myself. So then my brother-in-law marries my sister, and he was opening a scavenger company and I worked with him. And then we came to Las Vegas, looked at the situation over there one day when one of the fellows here was travelling in the red, and he was having a little (unintelligible) person by the name of Max (Unintelligible). And he was in the business there alone. And he was struggling and trying to keep it going, but he wasn’t too good of an operator, UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola 3 he didn’t have the proper equipment, the services or community, which it was: forty or fifty thousand people at the time. That’s in 1951. That’s when my brother-in-law came down and looked the town over and went to talk then and he checked our background and saw that we were real G-Men. In other words, we call ‘em G-Men, we call ‘em garbage men the G-Men. And I’ll go back to another part of my life from when I graduated from high school. After graduation exercises, I was chosen to play this accordion. And I played the accordion for about ten years, so the president of the student body had me in front of all the people and the graduation class, and he says, “Al,” he says, “Whaddaya’ wanna’ achieve in life? Whaddaya’ wanna’ be now that you’re leaving high school?” I says, “Well, I think I wanna’ be a G-Man.” He says, “Oh,” he says, “You wanna work, you gonna’ go work for the government?” I says, “No,” I says, “I’m gonna’ be a garbage man.” And I just brought down the house. I’ve been doing that and they all cracked. So I guess, what I said, I followed it up. And we came down like I say, back to Vegas in ’51, and we started in business with Max (Unintelligible), my brother-in-law, and another friend of our associate, who opened the scavenger company with the three of us. And we came in with new equipment, he had open-type trucks, they call ‘em Flat Racks at the time. And we started on Monroe and Eighth Street. It was those streets of paved streets on the Westside there, and it was those sidewalks and streetlights. And we had a place at 1300 North Eighth Street and when it rained, the trucks would bog down on the streets as soon as we got ‘em out of the gates. It would bog down in the mud, and that was at 3:30 in the afternoon, or 2:30 in the morning, AM, that we’d have to go out and service the Strip Hotels, which wasn’t too much, too many there. The Rancho, Sahara, Flamingo, a few of those, we still had to go and work seven days a week. (Phone rings and audio returns mid-sentence) UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola 4 ‘Kay. And as we progressed on Eighth Street there, we had to convince this Mas (Unintelligible) that we knew what we were doing and all that he was telling us, showed me, the bottom line was the other end over here. So he says, “All you people know how to do is spend money.” He said, “You don’t know how to make any.” So I said, “Well, let’s give the men the tool that they need and we’ll limit their trips.” We had these small vehicles that were making, that worked until eight or nine o’clock at night. They were starting at three o’clock in the morning. So we flew into Salt Lake City and we showed ‘em this leech type truck that could pack the garbage from the rear and we would hold at least six tons when he was holding two to three tons in his open trucks, loose. So we flew him to Salt Lake, and they showed him the equipment that we preferred to have, so we made it a substantial investment around eighty thousand dollars, for three or four trucks. So we start eliminating trips to the dock with a seventeen yard truck. And with a seventeen yard truck, we went to a twenty-yard truck, so we were eliminating trips, and the men were coming in seven to eight hours. So instead of working fourteen hours and a lot of overtime, we eliminated overtime, and so he felt that we knew what we were doing, so gave us a little more control of the company and we went off from there and it was all good—lotta’ nice equipment. And the more you can carry to the dump, the more payloads, the more money and time that you can save by eliminating overtime for the poor men that were out there in this heat. We tried to get ‘em out of the heat as fast as we could, we were working temperatures of 110 and 105. And it was pretty tough, especially this type of work. So when you started out you were working for them, or—? No, we were partners. Partners. UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola 5 We (unintelligible) about a partnership. We had fifty percent of the cut from them. He had the other fifty. Right. So then he’d finally—well, after ten years with him, well he finally, his health went bad on him so we wanted to sell out. And so that’s when Mister (Unintelligible) and Mr. Cooper bought into the company. And we were partners with them. But they were for three and four years, and then, from there, we went—Mister (Unintelligible) became the president of the company and we were with him for about fourteen years, so then Mister (Unintelligible) got his health, started getting bad, and he wanted to retire. In fact, he retired with my brother-in-law John Isola, and that’s when I was voted in as president of the firm. I have some, I feel, I have a real reliable team. I call it my team. I feel it’s like a football team. You’ve got to have teamwork, and you have to have a coach and a manager and a good quarterback. And if you don’t have that line, up there blocking for you, you’re not going anywhere. So that’s why I feel fortunate to have a son that’s interested in the business and a nephew that’s interested in the business. And I have an accountant that’s been with us for years. (Unintelligible) who’s a certified CPA. And he’s like a right hand, and he keeps you down the middle. And it’s your businesses, and Uncle Sam, so I think I’ve been successful (unintelligible) Oh man, I used to think I was the (unintelligible) until I got heart attack and after I had the heart attack, the company kept going just the same because I have reliable people in front of me to hold up the company for me. And they’re doing a good job on here, more interested in the guidance, pulling the reigns, and seeing that we don’t spend too much money. But they’re doing a good job. What, do you know how many people that is working for you back then on Eighth Street when you first start off there? UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola 6 Yes, we had about 175 between the drivers and the office staff. And I think presently we have over 250 or more on staff. On staff? Yes. I know we went from barrels to a computer. We didn’t have this computer which we have today, I think to make our company more successful. So that does make a difference, that computer. How big was the city when you first, when they first started out? I mean, (unintelligible) what was the city like? Like Downtown, was it all built up like it is now, or—? No, I mean, you don’t have the Union Plaza there, which you have today, and that was the railroad people. Union Pacific was the railroad people, mostly had the big hotels like the Fremont or the Four Queens, that wasn’t there. The main corners was the Nugget, the Horseshoe, and the Golden Gate, up and through there, was called South Segel Hotel. And then we didn’t have too much, but it was just about two blocks, the majority of casinos in the Downtown area. And it was—we had our problems with the alleys. Alleys picked up right there, and the ways the alleys were when we first came in ’55 and that’s—by cleaning up the town is by putting, taking the containers with the garbage cans, which they had thirty gallon cans in the G.I. cans and they were just overflowing and the casinos would just throw the trash out in the alleys and the restaurants and the boxes and the winds come, and they were right down the alleys and it was just a mess. That’s why our company went going out and took us at least ten years to accomplish the—container-ize the whole Downtown area that everybody got containers. If you go down the alleys today, you won’t see boxes and, because you’re not allowed, stack boxes next to the containers due to the high winds and the lids, from the high winds used to come with the garbage cans and used to tip the cans on and the lids would be floating down the alley. Just like UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola 7 cartwheels going down the alleys and they would never find the lids. But these new tactic containers that we have that are one yard, which is (unintelligible) real successful and we’ve had a lot of compromise with the fire department, the health department, and even the customers in the casinos just enjoy this. How big, how big was like the—the men, how many men did you have on trucks compared to today? We had two men on each truck. When we first started, let’s say with the Flat Racks, we had three men. And then we went to two men, ‘cause it was compulsory that every vehicle had to had two men. So we finally got trucks that were twenty-five yards. And that held more garbage, so we could put two trucks per route, so when one got filled up, the other one would still work with three men working on the one that was remaining on the town while the one truck went to the dump with one driver. And then when he came back, he’d pick up his man and the other truck would go to the dump. But as of now, we’re trying to eliminate a man and so we went to a sidewheel truck which has got a right-hand drive, and he picks up from the curb, and he comes out of his cab, picks up the can, makes the turns so it goes to the rear of the truck, and goes a foot or two behind the can, and dumps it from the side of the truck and is compacted into the truck, then he steps in and he stands up and he pulls his vehicle ahead and he’d pick it up at the next house. And the man is picking up between six to seven tons a day by himself and he could do it in eight hours. And he’s working our real good from doing that till the end. How many trucks did you start out with? We had nine when we first started on Eighth Street, we had nine Flat Racks and we were on Eighth Street for around ten years, and when we left Eighth Street we went to sunrise mountain UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola 8 and then it started to grow from there, and we an accumulation now of about forty-five trucks and that’s not counting skip-loaders and tractors and carryalls. I don’t have any other questions, (unintelligible) Well, that was another factors that the Health Department was after us for the pollution and that was a major factor. When the community got to a size a hundred thousand, a big pollution factor came up and it was up to us to stop burning at the dump sites. They cracked down on the dumps all over Southern California and Northern California, no dumping. But we were the first ones, even though we have plenty of land out here, we have one of the best dumping facilities. In fact it’s considered an A1 dump right today, the only one in the state of Nevada that’s considered an A1 dump, and we have eliminated the burning which I thought, was the most sanitary of doing it, was burning it. After you got through burning, there was nothing left there but the glass and metal and tin cans and metal. And that’s why we didn’t have any animals at Sunrise Mountain, because there’s no water there. And the coyotes or the rodents wouldn’t come there after it was burnt because there was nothing for ‘em to eat. Now at the present time, it’s buried. When we first started to bury, we didn’t have rodents and coyotes and we would be digging into the soil and digging the holes that got, well, whatever particles that they want to be. Now, we are doing a different method, where we push with a tractor, with a big D8 or D9 that pushes the garbage into the bank and then compacts it and then has a layer, better than a foot of soil that is pretty hard for a coyote or anybody else to start digging up into this material, as the soil that we’re using has got rock and big heavy stirring wheel. It’s not just dirt, it’s mixed with big heavy stone. So it’s compacted right into the garbage that we use instead of fires coming through the soils, so now we can eliminate all the fires that we were right on about. We’ve got water tankers at the dump site and it’s controlled by the health department. And we’re (unintelligible) how much soil we do UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola 9 put on, and then we’re sticking out right with it and it’s working out real good, and it’s in beautiful shape. And that’s one of the big reasons of the (unintelligible) areas and all the garbage companies is their dump sites. And what they’re gonna’ do for the future. And we have enough room up here for the next twenty-five years, even though we do have a growth factor here that we have more tons coming today than we ever did. And in fact, we’re only bringing up around a hundred and fifty tons when we first started and we’re bringing it close to nine-hundred tons a day presently. And so it keeps generated more trash, more containers are put out by people like the milk cartons and your plastics, and that’s becoming a nuisance to bury and to rot these plastic and rubber tires. Takes that much longer for them to rot in the soil. But as far as our dumping facilities, we have one of the best in the country. What about the hotels, like the fruit that they take out to the olive bars—? Yes, we do at the hotels segregate what we call “wet garbage.” And that’s stuff that comes out of the restaurants. And that stuff is put into a private container that’s handled by this (unintelligible) company that we sub-contract to. He has his own equipment and he goes out and he picks it up at the hotels. In fact, it’s all in refrigerated rooms. And he got it one yard containers with lids on it. Hotels do segregate the most of it and they do have disposal systems in their hotels. Something, rather than just shoot it down the disposal system rather than segregate it and put it into the wet yard bins that are supposed to be picked up by this smaller company. He’s got around seven thousand hogs out there and he has to cook it. He takes it, they call it swill, wet garbage is called swill, and it’s cooked in big cookers before it’s fed to the hogs. That’s compulsory by law, that they have it cooked. And he picks up between ten and fifteen ton a day of this wet drivers and this saves us from all the wet garbage and (unintelligible) of our trucks. Which is, our trucks are waterproof and so is his that was our big problem years ago. That they didn’t have waterproof UNLV University Libraries Alfred Isola 10 trucks that we have today, that’s why our trucks our worth so much money today that we’re buying a truck for twenty-two thousand and the time, when we started which was a seventeen-yarder, and we bought a twenty-yarder, and paid about twenty-five thousand and now these presently front-end loaders which we have, those are ten-wheel garbage trucks, a twenty-five yarder, and they cost around forty-nine thousand dollars each. That’s good man (unintelligible) (Tape one ends) (Audio begins mid-conversation, an unidentified woman enters the conversation) And so he was smart, he’ll figure it out right away, and she says, “You don’t have to tell him twice.” Oh, really? Take two. Well I was (unintelligible) still. ‘Cause this has gotta’ be fast for— What the heck does that mean? See? Lines on it, instead of this garbage. What did they tell you? I don’t know. (Unintelligible) I don’t understand what you— (Tape ends)