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Issue 121 - Bootleg Booze, Busted Legs An' Blasted Stills

Whisky Magazine Issue 121
July 2014

 

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Bootleg Booze, Busted Legs An' Blasted Stills

During the Great Depression Jimmie Lewallen led the pack struggling to extract himself from a life of poverty through risky bootlegging

Talk to any Southerner on The Depression era moonshiners evading “the law” (never cops) and tales of bootleggers running whiskey in fast cars and motorcycles too, sometimes unfold.

Everyone, cops, revenue agents, sheriffs, judges too were in on the game as clandestine stills gleefully dispensed tsunamis of corn liquor. Barney Barnwell, who brewed memorable stuff himself, told me of jailers sneaking moonshiners out nights “So's they could cook likker on the sly, the law as usual makin' a fast buck.”

Bootlegger Jimmie Lewallen (1919-1995) who ran white lightnin' in saddle bags astride a 1926 Indian Chief motorcycle, was just 14 when he saw his first motorcycle race. “So dealer Dennis Shepherd in High Point and I got together and built me a racing cycle.” He also ran moonshine in farm trucks when he was too young if caught to be arrested.

Red Dirt Rising

Movie Red Dirt Rising, so named after N. C's red clay dirt roads, chronicles Lewallen's evading poverty by running corn whiskey during times desperate and bleak, when homemade liquor was pretty much the only cash crop.

Intrigued by the story I tracked down his son, retired police chief Garry Lewallen who had to go blow up a few moonshine stills, saying “I didn't take no pleasure in that…” Garry could have become a moonshiner, stock car driver or cop. “I chose the law as the pension plan looked better!”

Picture it; High Point NC 1938 and Jimmie guns a powerful 1,000 cc Indian Chief down Main S...

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