Making shine more of a cottage industry in Clay

By Mary Jo McTammany
Posted 1/16/19

In the first half of the 1900s, every family in the county was touched by the moonshine industry. They made it or hauled it or drank it or tried to catch the people that did.

Shiners were friends, …

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Making shine more of a cottage industry in Clay

Posted

In the first half of the 1900s, every family in the county was touched by the moonshine industry. They made it or hauled it or drank it or tried to catch the people that did.

Shiners were friends, neighbors and relatives. This made for a complicated dance of social protocol.

The law kept big producers from Chicago, Atlantic City and later Miami from operating but mainly worked to weed out bad product, so no one ended up dead or blind. The goal was to maintain more a small, family, cottage-like industry.

In the spirit of “mind your own business,” shiners and other residents coexisted and adapted to each other. The fact that shiners generally operated and lived in the woods made that simple.

People in the manufacturing end of the business were accustomed to relocating operations at the drop of a hat or a whisper of attention from anyone. One producer out near Middleburg went through a spell where he almost wore his equipment slap out and it had nothing to do with the law. He was just trying to be a good neighbor.

A young up and coming local boy by the name of Charlie bought a piece of woods land. While walking the acreage, he caught the unmistakable scent of mash cooking in the morning air. He followed his nose, found the still and set out to determine the owner.

Turned out he was a neighbor and readily accepted that the new landowner didn’t want any trouble with the law and agreed to move the still as soon as he could get the batch running into jugs.

He moved it over a mile or so away but … onto another piece of Charlie’s property where he set up and was cooking again.

There was no option for this young man, who “never made or hauled shine himself and only rode on the running board of a shine car once or twice,” but to approach the shiner again. The shiner thought for a minute then said, “Charlie, I’m getting tired of moving that still. You better just draw me a map of what all land you own and get it over with.”

Moonshine haulers were a wily bunch and just as cautious of the law. Most shine was transported in five-gallon glass jugs called demi-johns wrapped in croaker sacks and stashed in the trunks and backseats of cars. Some big operators trucked it.

One ingenious and successful hauler modified tanker trucks with separate compartments for gasoline, kerosene and shine. Local high-test white lightning would run an engine, but the cocktail party crowd didn’t much care for their highballs tasting like gasoline.

Hunters losing a dog in the woods near a shiners place just loaded up and went on back to town, Come good daylight, he headed back out to the shiners, got out of his car and just stood there where he could see his dog tied up under the porch with the other dogs and waited until the shiner walked out on his porch and called out the “tip” it was going cost him to buy his dog back.

The arrangement worked pretty well until after WWII, when big operations backed by organized crime came to town.

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