Making Moonshine, and how to Hide it from the “Revenuers”

There is an interesting and colorful connection between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the many “entrepreneurs” of the day who turned to making moonshine to feed their family and entertain themselves during those depressive times. Later, we’ll get to the interesting part—what this story is mainly about the moonshine story. But, first, …

Let’s start with Canada and the “Dirty Thirties,” as they were referred to. They were called the Dirty Thirties because, along with the Great Depression that plagued the world at the time, the Prairies were also stricken by very dry and dusty weather conditions.

Let’s start with Canada and the “Dirty Thirties,” that plagued farmers at the same time the depression hit. The Canadian and American mid-west was experiencing a severe drought with accompanying sinister dust storms that gave the area its sarcastically descriptive name, The Dirty Thirties, or The Dust Bowl.

In the United States, they called it “The Great Depression.” The stock market lost close to 90% of its value. Approximately 11,000 banks failed, wiping out many depositor investments. Unemployment rose to 25% and average household wages dropped by 40%.[ii]

In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President of the United States and not only promised but pushed through 15 major laws during the first 100 days he was in office, the Social Security Act being one of the best-known ones, and he also founded the March of Dimes program. Route 66 became a popular route for Americans traveling west to California in hopes of a better future.

In Canada, it was a common sight to see empty railroad box cars filled with men traveling from Ontario to Alberta and British Columbia in search of work. I grew up on a farm in Southern Saskatchewan near an east-west cross-country rail line, and it was not unusual to have “migrant travelers” leave the empty rail cars and visit our farm, offering to work for a meal.

Like everyone else in the community, we had little money, and could offer no pay for labour, but we always had plenty of vegetables from our large garden and meat from butchered cattle and poultry, so we were happy to feed these hungry migrant travellers, and while they were eating, they would tell us interesting stories about depressive times in Ontario.

As can be imagined, an event like the Great Depression had an enormous effect on the mental, emotional, and physical lives of the people caught up in this trauma. Desperate times often called for desperate measures. Entertainment played a vital role in their lives, for it offered a means of escape—even if only temporarily, from the dreariness and pain of life. Dancing, moviegoing and social gatherings were especially popular, being the cheapest form of entertainment available and easiest to organize.

The price to buy liquor to ‘supplement’ the buoyancy of a party from a regular government vendor was out of reach for most partygoers, so people innovated: they made their own liquor; moonshine!

The government really hated moonshiners! It could be safely said that the government was more concerned about the loss of excise revenue from its normal imposed tax on the sale of liquor than it was in the welfare of its citizens. They doled heavy fines out to those unfortunate enough to get caught in possession of an illegal distillery, or ‘still,’ as they were more commonly referred to. To make it even more enticing for ‘snitchers,’ to inform on their neighbors, the government offered rewards of up to $200 to anyone reporting their neighbor to “Government Revenuers” who would then come and raid the distillery shutting it down. Remember, in those days, an average man’s non-unionized wage was $30 and $40 a month.[iii] A two-hundred-dollar reward for just picking up the phone and snitch on a neighbor was an attractive incentive! To make it even worse for the moonshiner, the police kept names of the snitchers a closely guarded secret so you could snitch in confidence and know that your neighbor would never find out who the ‘judas’ was.

The police targets were mostly farmers. Farmers had more ingenious methods of hiding liquor from snooping government revenuers than their city cousins did. One farmer I knew hid his ‘stash’ in a cattle manure dump next to his barn. Surely, no ‘revenuer’ would think of digging into a manure pile to look for illegal liquor! Good idea! And it worked for quite a while until, unfortunately, the neighbor who ‘squealed’ on the guy, also got to know of the hiding place, so part of his ‘information to the police’ included the location of the moonshine. Bragging to your ‘friends’ about how smart you are at fooling the cops wasn’t the best of ideas!

Lesson learned. Never brag, publicly, about how ‘smart’ you are. But it seems like many of us are slow in learning that lesson, because here’s another example of what not to do.

Whenever the police pulled into this farmer’s yard, the farmer would quickly hide the moonshine under the blankets in his daughter’s bed. The daughter would play sick for the occasion. When the police approached the bed, the farmer would, in an anxious tone, beg that the revenuers not disturb the girl since she was very sick and should not be disturbed. The police compassionately backed away from searching that area. This trick worked for several times until, again, the farmer was stupid enough to brag about how he fooled the “revenuers.” Naturally, the next time the police ‘called’ with a search warrant; they did ‘disturb’ the ‘sick’ daughter!

However, sometimes knowing the psychology of how police conduct their search—and what they don’t search, can prove helpful. This farmer really knew how to hide moonshine in the open, in plain sight of the police! He simply hide his ‘stash’ in the farmhouse attic among his wife’s empty Gem canning jars. As any connoisseur of good moonshine knows, 100 percent pure moonshine is crystal clear and, naturally, blends in perfectly among the clear, empty canning jars. Either it just didn’t dawn on the police how brazenly open, something could be hidden right in front of their noses, or they just didn’t want to bother to, singularly, examine every canning jar in the attic.

What a frustration! The police knew that this guy was one of the biggest moonshine distributors in the area, but even after several frustrating raids, each time they had to leave, mission unfulfilled! Although I knew all along where this farmer was stashing his moonshine, he never revealed to me where he was hiding his distiller, a very important piece of equipment in the making of moonshine. And not being able to locate the distillery was especially baffling and frustrating to the police. However, like his moonshine, I’m sure his distillery was also hidden in plain sight!


[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression_in_Canada

[ii] https://www.ducksters.com/history/us_1900s/great_depression.php

[iii] https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiug.30112032654953&view=1up&seq=935

A Sunday Chat with Myself—Microplastics

It’s when plastic takes on a life of its own that the food chain will be disrupted.” —Anthony T. Hicks

Sundays are usually a quieter time when I can relax and reflect on the metaphysical things in my life—the moral and spiritual side of living that give value to my being here on earth.

Today, my thoughts turned to the dangerous role microplastics are starting to play in my life. It’s still not quite mainstream media yet, but it’s getting there. One reason, I suspect, why “big media” is still dragging its feet on exposing this problem is because big business—which big media is part of— will be a big looser if we ever start to cut back or replace plastics.

But, I wonder, is all this “ignoring the problem” by media a way of hiding the “wolf in sheep’s clothes?

First, what are microplastics, and why are they dangerous? According to Wikipedia, microplastics “are small pieces of plastic that pollute the environment … the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration classifies microplastics as less than 5 mm in diameter.” There are two classifications of microplastics: those that we are purposely creating—Primary Microplastics, like small pellets that are used in packaging and air blasting, or “scrubbers,” used in hand cleansers and facial scrubs.

I’ts when we go fishing for plastic that we wonder where all the fish have gone.” —Anthony T. Hicks

One danger that microplastics pose in their use in air blasting as “scrubbers” on machinery to remove rust and paint is that they are repeatedly reused until they are so small that their cutting power is lost. In that use, they become contaminated with heavy metals that are a health hazard to all living mammals.

Secondary Microplastics are the product of the natural breakdown of plastics in nature—on land and in the sea—as small as 1.6 micrometers (0.00006299 of an inch) in diameter. These microplastics, as they are ingested through our food, are so small that they can easily penetrate stomach or blood vessel linings and enter the body at will, entering our vital organs, where our body can’t control their presence, thus wreaking all manner of havoc.

So, what can I do, personally, to help alleviate this problem? I can start using cloth shopping bags when I go to the grocery store. When I buy a single item in a store, I don’t need the cashier to place it into a plastic bag for me to carry out when I can just as easily carry it holding it in my hand.

When available, I can buy bulk items like cereal, other food mixes and the like, instead of spending a lot of extra money paying for packaged boxes of the product.

Recycling plastics as much as possible is another major way in which we can reduce the amount of plastics in our landfills.

Pick up garbage (that’s mostly made of plastics) irresponsible people discard along pathways, sidewalks or roadways and deposit them in proper garbage disposable units.

Organizations have sprung up that are devoting their time and resources to plastics cleanup, both on land and in our oceans, and my deepest respect and admiration goes out to them for the responsible work of planet-earth stewardship that they have taken upon themselves.

However, just to satisfy our goal to clean up other people’s garbage is not going to save us from extinction! Humanity has to wake up, and each one of us has to take our share of responsibility to restore Gaia to her original, pristine “Garden of Eden” state that we found her in when we first came here.

With a little thought, it’s easy to find more ways to cut back on the use of plastics, but plastics are so engrained in our way of life, it would be almost impossible to completely remove them—at least not in our immediate future.

According to The Independent, global plastic production has increased dramatically. Between 2004 and 2014, the amount of plastic production rose by 38 percent!

The United Nations reports that “[this] is the most dangerous environmental problem facing the world today.”

“Millions of tons of tiny debris from plastic bags, bottles and clothes in the world’s oceans present a serious threat to human health and marine ecosystems,” warns the Independent.

Unless we do something, collectively—and soon— I must ask, who do you think will be the next dominant species on earth after we’ve annihilated ourselves? The Cockroach—again?

A Sunday Chat with Myself—Environmental degredation?

“As many know, the Chinese expression for ‘crisis’ consists of two characters side by side. The first is the symbol for danger, the second the symbol for opportunity.”  —Al Gore

There is so much talk today about global warming, environmental degradation and pollution that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. What’s the difference between global warming, environmental degradation and global pollution, and are we, humans, responsible for all three events happening to our planet?

For example, according to The Naked Scientist, the average active volcano produces around 100 million tons of pollutants every year. Within the ash that a volcano produces is  water vapor, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride. Sulfur dioxide reflects sunlight back into the atmosphere, so it actually helps in keeping our planet cool.

On the other hand, we humans produce over 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide—the ‘greenhouse gas’— into the air. That’s 300 times more than what the average volcano produces. Obviously, we contribute significantly to global warming through the burning of fossil fuels making it a serious problem that needs our attention! But, is that the root cause of global warming?

According to one source—and other research that I’ve done in this area, tends to agree, “Astronomical causes are by far the most significant among all the various factors. Brightening of the sun, sunspot activity, precision of the equinoxes, tilt of the Earth’s orbit, and eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit are the most predominant astronomical causes, and they each have a different period length. This adds to the complexity of the climate change trends and often causes confusion and debate among scientists.” (http://www.odec.ca/projects/2009/qiao9d2/causes.htm). So much for who and what causes global warming. Now, on to the next question: pollution!

“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.”  —Jacques-Yves Cousteau

And in that above quote lies our problem, it’s not global warming that we need to fear, but global pollution that will, inevitably, wipe us off the planet! According to Wikipedia, pollution includes: “air pollution, light pollution, littering, noise pollution, plastic pollution, soil contamination [and depletion], radioactive contamination, thermal pollution, visual pollution [and] water pollution.”

But, we have two other problems to deal with, one of which is our environmental degradation. According to Wikipedia, “Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources such as air, water and soil; the destruction of ecosystems; habitat destruction; the extinction of wildlife; and pollution.” And we’re doing an excellent job of destroying our planet in every one of these areas.

The introduction of plastic into our society has been both a boon and a bust for us. I’m not sure if there are any actual statistics available on the subject, but plastics are everywhere. They’ve made our life easier in many respects, but also, because of our indifference to our environment, we’re killing life forms, and destroying our environment at an alarming rate, and, unless we change, our indifference to what we’re doing to Nature is going to be our own demise.

If we don’t start taking responsibility for our actions, and stop polluting our world, Gaia is going to lash back, and it won’t be in our favor!