By: Garland Davis
My grandfather (Pap) was a tobacco farmer. Actually, he made and sold moonshine whiskey. The farming was just a cover. Every known moonshiner needed an illusion for the revenuers to explain his income. Whisky was made in the spring and during the summer when the leaves were on the trees and it was easier to hide a still site, especially from the air. In winter, Pap would move the still closer to home where he could repair or improve it.
It was the fall of the year I turned twelve. Pap, an uncle and I had brought the parts of the still up from the river bottoms where it had been set up on some solid ground in the center of a swamp. We ate dinner (lunch) and we were going to clean the still and hide it inside a haystack until it was needed in the spring. My uncle had left for his job at the prison.
Pap and I were resting on the porch after eating. A pickup pulled off the road by the mailbox and blew his horn. Pap said, “Stay here boy.”, and walked across the yard to the parked truck. He stood with his foot on the running board and talked for a minute with whoever was driving. He turned from the truck and walked back to the house as the truck drove off.
“Boy, go to the shed and git two shovels and meet me at the barn.” He said as he passed the porch going toward the back of the house.
I did as he said. As I approached the barn he was coming from the house pushing a wheelbarrow. He said, “Lets git the still loaded on this wheelbare. We gotta bury hit. The revenuers are gonna raid us t’night. Havin’ a still is jist as illegal as havin’ the likker.”
We loaded the boiler, the cover, and the thumper on the wheelbarrow along with a bunch of burlap bags. He pushed the barrow while I carried the worm and condenser box. We went down a path and across the creek to an area where an old tobacco pack house had once stood.
Pack houses are built over a basement where tobacco can be hung to keep it moist and pliable before preparing it for market. When the old house had been torn down the basement had been filled in. It would be a lot easier digging.
We dug a hole similar to a grave, wrapped the various parts in burlap, lowered them into the hole and shoveled the dirt over them. We spread the extra dirt around. He had me bring three or four barrow loads of pine needles from the woods which he spread around the area. We also moved a couple logs and a pile of tobacco sticks from about a hundred feet away.
He told me, “Buster, don’t you be telling nobody where this still is buried. You hear me now?”
I nodded affirmatively, knowing that if I did tell anyone, Pap would wear my ass out with a set of plow lines.
We took the shovels and wheelbarrow back to the barn and went to sit on the porch and wait for the revenuers. It was right before supper when the County Sheriff, a group of deputies and two federal agents showed up. They presented Pap with a piece of paper and the deputies spread out to search the house and outbuildings. The Sheriff stayed on the porch with Pap and me. He fired up a cigar as Pap cut a bite from a plug of chewing tobacco. They settled down in a pair of straight backed chairs to smoke and chew. The sheriff, Ernie Shore, had once played professional baseball. He had played on the old Boston team with Babe Ruth. He was famous for pitching a no hitter that wasn’t a no hitter. The Babe was a pitcher in those days. Ruth started the game, walked the first hitter and was ejected from the game for arguing with the ump. Ernie went in and retired the next twenty-seven hitters, no walks, no hits and no runs. After his baseball career, he came back to North Carolina and ran for County Sheriff. It looked as if the job was his for as long as he wanted. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me that Ernie had been behind the tip Pap got from the guy in the pickup.
“Joe, you teaching this boy the business?”, Ernie asked Pap.
Pap leaned over and spit into the yard. He said, “What growin’ tabacca. Naw, this boy ain’t gonna grow tabacca. He is good in school, smart as a whup. All he talks about is goin’ to the Navy when he’s old ‘nuff.”
“Joe, you know I’m talking about making likker.”
“I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout anybody makin’ likker ‘round here. You aint gonna find no likker on my place.”, Pap answered.
The truth was there were twenty-four half gallon fruit jars of moonshine in a wooden box concealed under the feeding trough of the pig pen. There were an additional twelve gallons in a culvert up the road. I had crawled in and placed the jugs. I knew that my uncle also had twelve gallons hidden somewhere on his place.
The conversation went this way for about an hour. Ernie making subtle accusations and Pap denying knowing anything about moonshine. This was a charade they had obviously played out before.
After an hour or so, the deputies began drifting back to the porch with negative reports. The two revenue agents finally showed up, reluctantly willing to take a no answer this time. They piled into their vehicles and left.
Pap watched them leave and said, “We’ll wait awhile ‘fore we dig up the still. I think them boys might be back in a few days. Come on boy, let’s go take care of the critters and get some supper.”
It was late by the time we finished milking and feeding the cows, mules, pigs and chickens. It was dark by the time we got to the house and we ate supper by lamplight. There was no electricity in my grandfather’s house. My grandmother would not countenance anything to do with electricity. She felt that it was the work of the devil. (It was the twentieth century, the nineteen fifties but my Granny never moved out of the nineteenth century)
Pap died in his sleep that night.
That was fifty-nine years ago and I have never told anyone where the still was buried. As far as I know it is still there unless the copper is completely corroded away.