Joined: 01 Jan 2008
|Posted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:54 am Post subject: The Whiskey Runner - Part 1
|Johnny was fast running out of options as he skillfully wheeled his 55 Ford around hairpin turns in the mountains of West Virginia. He could run a hundred and forty on the straight-away, but only about sixty on most of the sharp curves. With fifty-five gallons of moonshine in the specially built tank he couldn’t afford to become careless. Although the feds were hot on his tail, he could easily outrun them with his souped up Ford, but not their radios. Johnny had been in this situation before and knew they would have a surprise waiting for him a few miles ahead. He had to do something quick or end up in jail for a very, long time. This would be his third offense.
Johnny was a good looking young man in his mid twenties, always on the lookout for a fast buck. He was a trained, first class auto mechanic, but only worked at it occasionally. His real job was on the assembly line at the Ford plant in Detroit. Johnny had worked there for several months and became friends with a southern boy named David from North Carolina who worked on the same line as Johnny. Many young men came from the south to work in the industrial plants to avoid the poverty of the southern backwoods and send money back home to help their families.
David often talked of his life in the mountains of the old south and Johnny would listen intently to his stories. For some reason they made him feel comfortable, as if he had lived there some time in the past. David talked about his experiences and adventures running white lightning from the south to buyers in the north, and how he had decided to quit while he was ahead and find a job in a factory for the summer. He also talked of his friends and family, but it was the mention of his sister Shania, the youngest of three, that drew Johnny’s attention. David had shown him her picture and Johnny was instantly attracted to her. From that time on, he dreamed of the exciting moments David had shared with him and of beautiful blonde, Shania.
One Saturday while they were having a few drinks, David announced that he was going back home to North Carolina and asked Johnny if he would like to go with him. Johnny was ecstatic at the idea of living in the south with his friend, and meeting Shania. Of course he would go. A week later, on a Sunday morning in the summer of 1955, Johnny and David began their journey to North Carolina, and Johnny’s new home. David had told him that “Yankees” were not welcome there, but he belonged to one of the largest clans in Wilkes County and Johnny would be graciously accepted by his friends and family.
Johnny had never seen such beautiful mountains and valleys as those which lie on both sides of the black ribbon of highway that twisted and turned through the green hardwood forests. They arrived that evening in Wilkes County. David turned onto a dirt road and ten minutes later pulled into a rut-filled driveway and stopped the car. It was almost as Johnny had envisioned. Sitting in the trees on the side of a hill was a large house built of logs and boards, a patchwork of tin on the roof and a sloping uneven deck surrounding the entire structure. A few old pickups in varying stages of rust lie scattered about. Several geese and chickens voiced annoyance at their arrival.
David had talked to his family about Johnny and that he would be coming home with him. Johnny sat there gazing at the land and the homestead. It all seemed so real, and yet, so unreal, to be in the land of his dreams. He always had deep feelings for the south and yearned to live there since early childhood. He had finally come home.
As they got out of the car, David’s sisters came running from the house to greet them. There she was, her long golden hair streaming behind her as she ran toward them. As David introduced Andrea, Cassie and Shania, Johnny could hardly take his eyes off the blue eyed beauty. Shania’s smile was tantalizing. With the elegance of a southern belle and the innocence of a child she gently took his hand, and lead him inside to meet the rest of the family.
Once inside, her two brothers, mother and father welcomed him to their home. They spent most of the evening getting to know one another. Although he enjoyed talking to the entire family, his thoughts were of Shania who had been enticing him since he arrived. After a few hours of conversation he managed to slip outside where she was waiting. Sitting on the deck, they talked and caressed one another till after midnight, when Shania whispered into his ear. They went into the house and with a gentle kiss, lead him to her room.
Everyone loved Johnny and he became part of the family. He worked around the homestead for a week fixing everything that didn’t work. Finally he drove into town to find a real job. There wasn’t much available, but old man Jones at the local auto repair shop had heard about Johnny’s mechanical genius and wanted him as his mechanic. Old Jones was getting on in years and couldn’t handle the work anymore. Being the only good mechanic in town, people relied on him and he didn’t want to close the shop. Johnny could be the answer. Besides, his good friend David had recommended him, he couldn’t go wrong. Later that day Johnny stopped by Jone’s shop and they worked out a deal. Johnny figured he better take the job till he could find something better.
Three months had passed since Johnny appeared on the scene and he and Shania were married at the church in North Wilkesboro. Her parents asked them to live with the family until they could save enough money to build their own house. They both accepted. Johnny’s expertise was becoming well known and race car enthusiasts throughout the entire state were standing in line to have him soup up their fancy street rods. Johnny was making good money with his superior mechanical abilities and they would have enough within a few months to build their new house.
One afternoon David approached Johnny with a proposition. David was well connected with the moonshiners in the area and was once again running whiskey for them. They were all aware of Johnny’s mechanical excellence and driving skills at local race tracks and had asked David to present Johnny with a proposal that would triple his income.
David and Johnny talked at length that day of the benefits and adventure of being a whisky runner and how he could make more than enough money in a couple of months to build his own house. Johnny’s eyes lit up when he heard what David had to say. He was getting bored working on cars all the time anyway and wanted more excitement in his life. This could be his chance. He would make more money in a week than he could at the shop in a month, but he could still work there on a part time basis and have access to all the tools and equipment he may need.
That evening he told Shania about this newfound opportunity. Thus began their first real argument. Shania was angry with David for asking Johnny to run moonshine. She knew he was drawn by the adventure and excitement, she also knew how dangerous it was. Her best friend’s brother had tried to out maneuver the feds last year while making a run up north. They laid a spike strip across the highway and as he ran over them, all four tires blew out. He lost control of the car and plunged over a cliff to his death. She didn’t want something like that to happen to her beloved Johnny. Her words however, fell on deaf ears. He was a very stubborn man and was going to do this, come hell or high water. The next day he met with David and accepted his offer.
David relayed Johnny’s acceptance of the offer to his boss, Bill Jansen. Bill wasted no time informing the others, and set up an appointment for Johnny to meet with everyone that evening. It was ten p.m. when David and Johnny arrived at Bill’s house where four of the largest moonshiners in the county were waiting. They talked for an hour and all agreed that Johnny was their man. They would furnish him a car to be altered any way Johnny saw fit, and pay him ten dollars for every gallon of whiskey he delivered to their buyers. The moonshine would be bottled in gallon jugs or siphoned into a special tank built into the structure of the vehicle.
The next morning a brand new black 1955 Ford was delivered to old man Jones’s repair shop. Jones had always been involved with the moonshiners and often worked on theirs cars. Immediately Johnny began incorporating his mechanical genius by removing the engine and souping it up. He replaced the suspension system and steering mechanism to give him more control and stability. Next, the car was refitted with a four speed transmission and floor shift. Johnny then constructed a fifty five gallon stainless steel tank and welded it to the frame under the rear seat. Oversize brakes and tires were also installed to compensate for the extra weight.
Ten days later Johnny filled the special tank with water and took the car for spin. After a few hours of testing, he brought it back to the shop and admired his five hundred horse power creation. It was almost complete. A false floor was yet to be fabricated in the back seat and trunk area to accommodate fifty, one gallon jugs. In three days Johnny was finished and ready for his first whiskey run. Shania, still very concerned for Johnny, tried once again to talk him out of this hair-brain idea, but he seemed all the more determined.