Still a Bad Idea

In the spring of 1952, Jack Watson was a senior, and I was a sophomore at Augusta High School. Jack and I had been friends since I was 3 or maybe 4 years old. This was due to our parents being friends. Jack and I did a lot of things together as we were growing up. We bicycled and hiked, and as we got older, we hunted and fished and went camping. Occasionally, some dumb idea would show that we might be a bad influence on one another.

In his senior year, Jack was taking a chemistry class. I’m not sure why. Later, in college, he majored in finance, and became a CPA. Claude Wise was the instructor of the chemistry class. Mr. Wise always made his classes interesting by adding extra facts and tidbits of information to the curriculum. One day, for instance, he told Jack’s class how easy it was to make a still. Jack even ended up with a sketch showing how the thing would go together. Jack was pretty excited when he told me about it later, and convinced me that we should build and operate a still of our own. We knew that stills and moonshine were illegal, and that under-age drinking was illegal, and that the whole idea was probably covered by a bunch of laws we hadn’t even heard of. Of course, that made no difference because we both were hooked on the idea.

I can’t recall the details such as what hardware was required or how to prepare the mash. I do remember that Jack and I went down to the Western Auto Store, and split the cost of some copper tubing.

We needed a placed to store our secret project and Jack suggested his smoke house. I know that you younger people may not have heard of smoke houses, so I’ll tell you what little I learned as a kid.

Prior to the invention of refrigerators and freezers, it was impossible to preserve meat for any length of time. It could be smoked, packed in salt, pickled in brine, or jerked, but none of these preserved it for long.

Some of the finer homes, I guess built in the 1920’s or 1930’s, had a smokehouse built directly by or behind the back door of the home. That provided easy access in inclement weather. The residents could smoke their own meat or store the meat that someone else smoked for them. The Watson home was one of those nicer places that had a smoke house. Though an older home, Jack’s dad, Frank, had remodeled the place, and it was in fine condition. Their place had a smoke house and a single car garage. The smoke house was maybe ½ to ¾ the size of the garage. Frank used it as a workshop and kept his tools and equipment in it.

There were only two smoke houses in town that I was acquainted with. The first, of course, was the Watson’s. I remember one time when Jack bought an old Cushman motor scooter for $5. We put it in the smoke house and worked on it for days. It never fired. Jack finally had his dad haul it to the city dump.

The other smoke house I remember belonged to old Mrs. Rogers, the mother of Ordess Rogers and grandmother of Russell Rogers. She hired me a couple of times to do yard work, and kept the yard tools in the smoke house. Her smoke house was smaller than the Watson’s. It was maybe 8 x 10 or 8 x 12.

Before getting involved with smoke houses, I was talking about making a still. Jack and I spent a couple of weeks rounding up the parts and storing them behind some stuff in the back of the smoke house. One weekend when Jack’s folks were out of town, we assembled the thing and fired it up. It worked perfectly, and soon real moonshine was dripping out of the coil. When there was enough for both of us, we took a sip. Gad, it was awful! It was like drinking turpentine! That cured us right then. We dismantled the still while trying to get the taste out of our mouths, and hid the parts in the back of the smoke house again. Unfortunately, Jack’s dad found the parts before Jack could get rid of them. Jack got reamed out thoroughly, and then Frank told my folks, and it was my turn in the barrel. We both agreed  later that the chewing out wasn’t half as bad as the taste of that stuff. It was a dumb mistake that was never repeated.

Dave Thomas



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