Moonshining as a Fine Art: The Foxfire Americana Library - Foxfire Students (2011)
HIDING THE STILL
Since the days of excise, moonshiners have been forced to hide their stills. Here are some of the ways they have used.
1. Since cold running water is an absolute necessity, stills are often high up on the side of a mountain near the source of a stream. Water on the north side of a hill flowing west was preferred by many. Some count on the inaccessibility of the spot they chose for protection. Others, however:
build a log shed over the still and cover this with evergreen branches (see Illustrations 1 and 2);
bend living saplings over so they conceal the still. The branches continue growing and their leaves provide cover;
find a tree that has fallen over a ravine or gully and build the still under it, adding branches, if necessary, for additional coverage;
find a ravine, dig out its bottom, place the still in, and then set branches and saplings over the top like a roof. They should be arranged so that they blend in with the landscape;
find a cave and cover up the front of it;
find a large laurel thicket, crawl into the center of it, and cut out a room right in the middle of the thicket big enough for the still;
find a large spruce and put the still under its branches so it can’t be seen from a plane.
2. The legend has grown that all one has to do to find a still is follow a likely looking branch up into a cove and then poke around until uncovering something suspicious. Moonshiners have countered by locating many stills in so-called “dry hollows.” They find a cove that has no stream and pipe in the water they need from a higher, “wet” cove. Using all the hiding devices mentioned above, they:
buy two-inch piping, and run the pipe underground, around a ridge and into the dry hollow;
get plastic pipe and run it under leaves, or in a trench;
forget about the cove, and put the still right out on the top of a dry ridge, or in a laurel thicket, and pipe the water from a higher source.
3. Other moonshiners get far more elaborate and actually dig out an underground room big enough to stand in comfortably. Rows of beams are set in overhead, covered with dirt, and plant materials are actually planted overhead. A small trapdoor in the center of the roof, also covered with a growth, lifts up, exposing a ladder which goes down into the room. A vent pipe, cleverly concealed, carries off fumes. Some rooms are even wired for electricity.
4. Another way to avoid detection is by moving constantly. Some men follow logging jobs, figuring that the loggers will destroy all signs of their moonshining activities. In fact, loggers themselves often run stills in conjunction with their logging job.
ILLUSTRATION 1 This log framework was built in the woods to conceal a still. When finished, it was covered with branches.
5. Some men set up in a site the revenuers have just cut down believing that they won’t be back for at least two months unless they get another report of activity there.
6. Others place their stills right in existing buildings that are not often visited, or would not normally be suspected—barns, silos, smokehouses, tool sheds, abandoned homes or buildings, even the basements of their own homes. Others run right in the center of town behind a false-fronted store or in a condemned building.
7. One man we know, believing that the revenuers will be looking for his still to be concealed, has it right out in the open, near the main highway, with only a few trees in front. He hasn’t been caught yet.
8. Smoke, too, is a problem, but only at the beginning of the run. When the fire begins burning well, it gives off heat waves rather than smoke. Thus, often the fire is started just before dawn and is burning well enough by daylight to escape detection.
Others, however, worried about smoke, “burn their smoke.” A worm or pipe which runs out the side of the furnace and back into the firebox recirculates the smoke and makes it invisible. We also have heard of a man who somehow piped his smoke so that it came up underwater—this supposedly dispersed it so effectively that it could not be seen. Others counted on the leaves and branches over their shelters to disperse the smoke.
Now any conceivable problem of smoke has been wiped out with the use of fuels such as butane or kerosene.
9. A dead giveaway as to the location of a still is a “sign” or trace of activity. Moonshiners constantly guard against this. An empty sugar bag, the lid from a fruit jar, a piece of copper—all can reveal their location.
An even bigger problem is that of trails. There are various ways they have dealt with it:
if the still is in the woods, always enter the woods from the road at a different point. Then, one hundred fifty yards up the hill, cross over to the main trail which begins as many yards or so off the road.
enter stills that are in a cove or hollow from the ridge above the still, instead of coming uphill from the front. One man who lives at the base of a high ridge said he could sit on his porch on a summer night and sometimes hear the voices of men, on the way to their still, shouting at the mules that were carrying in the supplies. If he looked carefully, he could see their lanterns winking high up on the ridge as they came in the back way to keep from being caught.
locate the still on a stream that runs into a lake, through brush, and far away from any road. Then always enter the still at night, by boat.
find a cut in the road the top of which is capped with a rock ledge, and is either level with or a little higher than a pickup truck bed. Load or unload from this rock to prevent leaving trails.
use fuel like butane gas to prevent leaving signs such as stumps of trees and wood chips and clipped off foliage.
ILLUSTRATION 2 A huge still operated under this shed for over a year before it was discovered and cut down by federal officers.
Once a man was caught selling whiskey. He had painted some of the jars to look as though they contained buttermilk, but then he ran out of paint and had to use clear jars for the rest of his supply. When the revenuers caught him, they confiscated the clear jars; but so convincingly were the others painted that they did not even bother to open them. They simply left them behind, and the salesman was able to clear a profit, despite the loss of part of his wares.