Sunday, July 25, 2010
Moon Shine in the Hog House
A HOGS STILL
Mention White Lightening and a person will think of Tobacco Road or the hollers of Kentucky not the barren plains of Eastern Colorado. Yet there it was below the hog shed. Pull on the rope and the wall in the back swings away to reveal a stairway to a cellar. Cooking Moonshine below the pigs, what a great place to keep a still under cover.
Recently a local rancher passed away and a local man from a neighboring town was at the ranch helping to clean up. The Hog Shed was dilapidated and falling down. He was going to finish tearing it down. His son was over with him to help. They were inside looking things over and checking on things to see what was weak and what was holding the shed up. A wall was pushed on, it moved, the rope was swinging, and a slight tug and the wall began to swing in. Pulling on the rope and pushing on the wall it moved inwards to reveal a stairway. Curious…….Yep, down the steps they proceeded and there was everything to keep a still going.
In 1920 Amendment 18 to the US Constitution was passed: No longer was it legal to sell alcohol. The age of prohibition was beginning and it gave rise from a small business that grew into a thriving growth organization, gangsters, runners, larger stills, basement breweries and speakeasies. The roaring 20’s grew with prohibition and illicit booze.
Hollywood glamorized the age of gangsters and their molls. Blazing guns, smashing kegs and barrels, Federal agents tipping over stills, taking axes to casks, the gangster was the focus of getting the illicit alcohol to the speakeasy. This was in the big city and out in the woods were the stills. Backwoodsman in their overalls, floppy hats and chewing tobacco, nearby was the still, fire flickering under the still, smoke rising through the trees. Such was the image of the moonshiner and his cronies.
During the 20’s a whole new government agency grew to combat the moonshiners and the gangsters that ran the transport of white lighting. The gangsters usually also had an interest in the speakeasies. A place where they could hang out, party and get crazy. This was their office from where they ran a business of non-prohibition.
The rancher had a little lower key of operation, not quite as flashy as the city slickers. When the still was discovered on the ranch there was shock and indignation with some people, others there was a smile.
Head out for the barn dance on a Sat. night there would usually be one or two real popular people at the dance. Setting someplace close to the front door would be a pick up or a coupe that various groups of people would walk out to and visit with the driver.
The driver would get out, there would be a nodding of heads, to the side of the pickup he would step, flipping a piece of canvas back. “I have some grapefruit,” he would comment. The other guy would nod his head, the driver would reach in, pull out a qt. mason jar full of grapefruit juice. The lid would spin off, the driver hands it to the other guy, and he moves the jar to his mouth and takes a sip, swallows. There is some sputtering and some choice words. The other guy says, “God was that good, some of your best stuff.” Sets the jar down, reaches in his pocket, pulls out a couple of bills and hands them to the driver who has spun the lid back on the Mason jar. The driver slips the money into his pocket and the other guy saunters off to his car and his friends. They have some Kick-a-poo Joy Juice for the evening.
The driver slides the cover back over and flips the canvas back on and walks towards the barn. Another night’s business is under way.
The high plains had their moon runners, most of them were pretty discreet and the local constables tended to leave them alone. Sometimes it was the town man that was picking up the Mason jar, usually gratis.
Putting the still under a hog shed was slick. It was found that one of the feed troughs was a chute to the cellar. So hauling in corn or potatoes to feed the pigs did not look suspicious and other stuff came in by gunny sack or cardboard cartons. Fire the still up at night, let it cook all night so the fire would be out by daybreak. Wonder if the hogs enjoyed the leftovers?
The local moonshiner was also a banker. A few of the neighbors would borrow money from him. They would go over to visit and talk. The moonshiner would say, Well I’m not to sure, come back and see me tomorrow afternoon.” The neighbor would go home and the following afternoon would go back over there. On the table would be sitting a pile of bills, some nodding and pointing, a quick thank you, back out the door and home.
The guy that had helped his father tear the shed down made the remark, “My father said, I could never figure out how he was always driving a new car in the depression when none of the rest of us could.”