By: Verna (Cook) Waetherly
Our parents, Mary and Bill Cook, met in the early 1930's when my mother was only fifteen or sixteen years old. My mother told me this story late in 1992. I will tell it in her words.
"When I met your Dad, he had a friend named Earl. We had all planned to go dancing on a Saturday night." Mom had a girlfriend with her, but did not tell me her name. "Your Dad and Earl were making and selling moonshine in those days, and my friend and I wanted your Dad to show us the still." Mom's eyes sparkled as she remembered this story. "But you Dad said, 'No!'" We begged and pleaded until finally he agreed he would show us the still, if we would wear blindfolds!
"The moment arrived, and we took two Model T's to the site. Sure enough, he made us wear the blindfolds." Mom did not tell me anything about the location of the still or what it looked like. There just seemed to be a large gap in the story. She did mention the still was hidden in the mountains. She went on to tell me about the dance.
"While at the site, we loaded up both Model T's with moonshine and drove to the dance hall." (I believe this would have been the Bates Dance Hall). "Dad and Earl stayed outside and sold the whiskey, and my friend and I went inside and danced the night long," she said giggling.
As to the location of the still, I later talked to Norma Parrot, who knows a lot of Bates history, and she informed me, for making moonshine you needed water, preferably near a stream of water. This could work against you, as it often helped the revenuer spot residue running down the stream and easily trace the still location. Maybe a mean-spirited competitor would turn the bootlegger in to the revenuer. Secrecy was important.
The pot still was the most frequent used, with additional utensils and copper worm. The ingredients were often corn ground into meal and fresh water. The first use of the still was to heat water to pour over the meal, called "scald down" then stirred into mush. Another grain, maybe ground rye, and a malt was added to the top of this mush. A great deal of skill was used in the process of stirring in these ingredients. Malt breaks down the starch and converts it to sugar. The alcohol comes from this. Cake yeast was added, acting as a fermenting agent, containing enzymes, which act upon the sugar. The still was fired, and the mash carefully boiled. Alcohol and water have different boiling points, the basic principle of distillation. The vapor pressure is pushed through the copper worm, first a trickle then a steady stream. This is very simplistic, but some semblance of this is how "moonshine" is made. (Paraphrased from Jess Car, History of Moonshine in America).
It takes very little imagination to realize the courage and ingenuity to run a "still," while trying to keep the still location hidden. It seems our father was taking few chances when he insisted our mother and her friend wear "blindfolds."