Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Leat Finds Johnny's Still

Leat Finds Johnny's Still

Clip-Art from: Google Images
  by Elizabeth Whisenant Towery.

Leat asked his nephew Talmadge [whom I shall address as Tal] to go with him up the C.C. Road to look for some holly and greenery for Christmas decoration. It was about the year 1943. Leat had no car, so he was in the habit of having Tal go with him places. Tal told Leat ”Get in the car and I’ll take you up the mountain.” Tal was driving his dad's car although he had no license, but then very few drivers had licenses in the Valley and no one seemed to care.

They went to a certain point and Leat said "Let me out here.‘ As Leat got out of the car he said ‘Tal, you go on up the mountain, and see if you see any holly. Turn and come back for me. If I'm not here at this place when you get back, I'll be here soon."

Tal told he had no interest in holly, but went on up the mountain to turn the car around. When he traveled down to about where he had let Leat out, Leat was standing at the side of the road motioning for him to stop. Leat told Tal he had found Johnny’s still and that Johnny and two more people were in the still working.

Leat said, to Tal ‘I’m going back in (to the still); now as soon as Johnny leaves, you go on home.‘ Tal said, “he had already figured out why Leat wanted to look for Christmas decorations on the mountain, and he was glad to leave him in the woods.’ Folk in the Valley thought it a low-down dirty shame to interfere with, report on, or bother a man's seel and Tal respected the older folk feelings.

The government allowed some people to make whiskey. The folk in the Valley thought it no worse for them to make whisky than for the govern-ment to choose someone to make government whiskey. The folk always had ‘Huler’ (Schyler) McCurry to point their finger at, for he was making what the government called whisky and had a piece of paper he called a license tacked up on the door of his house to prove that he had government approval. It seems that the whisky makers all had this attitude about government made whisky.

The piece of paper had nothing to do with whiskey making as far as Valley folk were concerned. They said, ”It never had.… and never would have.” Tal had been out of the woods for quite a while when the next time he saw Leat, he said, ‘He had carried a five-gallon demijohn out of the woods, down the mountain and up the hill to his mother’s house,’ Leat lived with his mother. Leat said, ‘I left Johnny one demijohn in the still, I figured it was worth one five-gallon jug for not reporting him.’ Leat had taken his demijohn to the barn. He told Tal, that Johnny cut and cleared five acres of his Pa's (grand pa’s) timber while making liquor.

Tal felt obligated to tell his Pa what Leat had said, but didn't really want his folks to know that he had been with Leat; not while Leat was watching a man work in his still. Tal’s said his Pa, Higgins Towery, kept his nose out of his neighbors' business and probably thought his grand children would too.

Tal told his Pa "Leat said Johnny has cleared five acres of land for you, up, on the mountain.’ Instinctively Tal's Pa knew what Leat had been doing on the mountain. The mountain was Higgins' birthplace, so naturally he would have to go to the mountain to see for himself what Tal was talking about. Pa had said, before that he thought Leat sometimes stretched the truth a ‘little bit.’ He would need to see what was going on about
his timberland for himself. It was the Old ‘Shuff’ Shuford Towery place, Tal’s great grand fathers old home place.

Higgins had Tal drive him up to ‘The old place.’ He wanted to see what Leat had found. Tal and his grand pa walked over Shuff's place and Higgins discovered that Johnny actually had cleared an estimated five acres of the young pines in the stand. The timber that stood there was in its prime ready to harvest. Higgins discovered that Johnny had placed moss on the fresh-cut tree stumps to hide the cutting from the prying helicopters that law enforcement had recently been using to find the mountain stills. Those helicopters were a new aid for the law in its enforcement of the whiskey ban.

Leat had been sawing logs for a sawmill at this time, but he sawed no logs the following week--not after he said he had ‘toted ’ that demijohn on his shoulder for pert nearly three miles‘. The sawmill he worked at had to shut down the full week since there wasn't enough help that showed up to operate the mill. About eight men, including Leat, all lay intoxicated for the entire week. Tal said, ‘Leat told that there weren’t nary a drop left in that ‘tare’ demijohn when he went to get him a little sip to sober up on before going to work on onday morning, the week after his trip to hunt holly and Christmas decorations.

Note: This story is written using the words that Tal said were used to him by his uncle in giving the parts of the story that took place in Tal's absents.

Source: Talmadge Towery.
Written September 7, 2003.
All rights reserved.

Note: 1-The house where Schyler McCurry made government whiskey still stands. It is the last house in Golden Valley before crossing into the Sunshine Community on the Golden Valley/Sunshine Road. Some know this road as State #1006 today. I have been in the house after John Toney and his Wife Mallie McCurry owned it. The house is shown on a 1905 map and belonged to the McCurry heirs. It now belongs to John and Mallie’s son Paul Jake and his spouse Imagean Lovelace Toney.

Note: 2 -Talmadge said,he drove his dad's car without licenses until he was twenty-one years old, before being stopped by Edley Beam, a law officer. Edley gave him a verbal warning, then Talmadge got his licenses…..bettytowery@att.net

Distilling Golden Valley Prime

Tim Ferris with his German Kothe still

How'dee, Miss Minnie might say. How ya'll doin"? Funny thing happened on the way here tonight.... And Miss Minnie herself wouldn't have been a bit more surprised than I was when Timmy Ferris, a young feller I've known since he was a teen, replied to my email with the iPhone mobile location: the distillery. So, I email Tim, "When will you be back in the valley?" My phone rings, Tim's called me, "Um," he says, "When's the last time you were here?"

Ah hem. A lot has happened at the Ferris' since the 4th of July, pig pickin, and fireworks show. I was so surprised I only just now realized Tim has mobile service at Grayson Creek. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

All stories start somewhere and Blue Ridge Distilling Company has a start, too. This world-class distillery has been conceived of created and constructed by commercial divers - a salvage team. Professionals in a world where a single goof can be your last. My daddy was a Merchant Seaman, as was Uncle SA; Uncle John was a Navy pilot, so it's not hard for me to imagine how these commercial divers considered maybe, someday building a still. I mean, who hasn't? Considering it and actual construction however, are two different things.

Do you know Tim? He's a pretty innovative guy and he's a can do, go to, kind of a fellow, who gets things done. From the beginning they had the site picked out, all that remained was a few pesky details: acquire a $137,000 still, 6 or 8 stainless holding tanks, bottling equipment, three phase electricity, water, and oh-yeah, licensing. Federal licensing.

All that's behind them now and Blue Ridge Distilling Co. is set to open for business, soon. They'll be making the barley grist with a Meadow Mills NC pink granite stone-mill. Water will come from a new well sunk deep into blue granite that's only one ph point off from being perfect, Tim says, for making liquor. They plan to brew single-malt vodka, whiskey,and seasonal fruit brandy.

Office Manager, Valerie Blanchette says "Tim will be buying local malted barley and rye, seasonal fruits - peaches, pears, and apples." At full operation the distillery will employ 10 - 15 people.
And mobile phones? Can you check in at the distillery? Let's save that for another story.