“Bo and Luke took off faster than bad news travels,” said Waylon Jennings, narrator for the seven-year series.
Dukes was the perfect vehicle (pun intended) for moonshine lore - fun loving, fast driving and larger than life. Their antics always left audiences wanting more.
The South is filled with tales of real life whiskey runners, bootleggers and moonshiners. Their daring deeds echo from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Kentucky and Virginia, through the Southern Appalachian of Tennessee and the Carolinas, to the Piedmont Plateau of Georgia. They ring in remote areas such as Del Rio and Newman’s Ridge, and the refined urban sprawls of Knoxville, Asheville and Atlanta.
Those who care to remember a once proud, but still illegal, industry both good and bad, tell heroic tales of these legendary individuals. And like a pot of soup beans simmering on the back eye of the stove, no self-respecting Southern home is complete without a moonshine yarn of its own. Everybody knows somebody who made the stuff, ran the stuff or drank the stuff. This simple truth is a constant thread in the quilt of Southern culture.
Shelby Dyers, a small engine repairman in West Knoxville, was never involved in the business side of illegal whiskey, but he does remember his very first taste. A young teen in the mid-50s, he was invited by a friend, “Frank,” to visit a local church.
Dyers wasn’t interested at first, but Frank persuaded him to check it out saying the pews would be filled with girls their age attending the service with their piously distracted mamas. The argument worked and Dyers found himself seated in a sanctuary full of pretty teens.
Although the youth made a valiant effort, Dyers struck out in the romance department that night and started the lonely walk home. A few yards down the road, Frank caught up with him.
“Hold this for me,” he said, shoving a small Mason jar into Dyers’ hands. “I’m going to walk this girl home. I’ll meet you at the railroad crossing in a while.”
Dyers took the jar and headed off, envious of his friend’s chances for a goodnight kiss. When he reached the designated meeting place, the youth sat down and placed the jar on the ground in front of him. He had plenty of time to analyze the clear liquid inside before curiosity got the better of him.
He opened the jar and sniffed at it cautiously. It didn’t really smell like anything, so he took a small sip. It didn’t really taste like anything either. So, he took a larger gulp and screwed the lid back into place.
About that time Frank rounded the corner. He was babbling on about the pretty girl with the over-watchful mama and his failed attempts at a kiss. Suddenly, he stopped mid-sentence and looked at the jar in Dyers’ hands.
“Did you drink all of this by yourself?” the boy asked.
Dyers replied that he had.
“We need to get you home! Now!” Frank yelled, “We don’t have much time.”
It was then that Dyers noticed his feet beginning to grow numb. As the boys walked along, the numbness began to rise - to his legs, the pit of his belly, into his chest. By the time they reached the porch, Dyers was tipping his head back trying not to drown in the numbing sensation that was overtaking his head.
That’s all he remembers of that night. The next morning he found himself dressed in pajamas and laid out flat on his bed. Frank was snoring deeply from a makeshift pallet on the floor. Dyers never did remember how he got up that flight of stairs to his room, but he’ll never forget that smooth as silk moonshine that took him there.
The Stranger on the Side of the Road
As the government put the smack down on moonshine with prohibition, whiskey makers became even more defiant. They acted like children who had just been told they couldn’t play in the mud wearing their Sunday best. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to do it with style.
In their heyday, whiskey runners knew their lives, and their livelihoods, depended on a fast, dependable car. It had to be souped-up, gassed-up and ready to outrun and outmaneuver the law. And although he was just another innocent whiskey business bystander, A.B. “Frosty” Luttrell found out firsthand that a hot rod could be either a liability or an asset depending on your career choice.
An affable young man with an uncanny resemblance to star-of-the-day, Errol Flynn, Frosty purchased a 1936 Ford from a former University of Tennessee football player for $400.
The car had a ‘48 Mercury motor with dual carbs - a genuine California hot rod. Frosty took the car regularly to C.T. “Cedar” Fox in Knoxville to keep it in peak running condition.
It was common knowledge that Fox, an ace mechanic, often spent time working on cars for area whiskey runners. But those on both sides of the law coveted his expertise with a wrench and his reputation was known far and wide in East Tennessee.
Fox was also fond of the mason-jar products some of his customers let him sample. His drinking prowess was as legendary as his skill as a mechanic, but it never hurt his business.
According to the late John Fitzgerald, “It was rumored he could fix a car better drunk than most guys could fix it sober. If you could prop him up against the car, chances are he could repair it.”
Although Frosty always paid in cash, not in liquid corn products, he still knew Fox was the best in the business.
One foggy morning in the early 1950’s, Frosty drove east on Kingston Pike, the main thoroughfare in Knoxville, on his way to work. He came across a car overturned in the ditch. A man was standing by the road waving his arms. Frosty stopped and the man asked to be taken to the nearest towing company.
As Frosty made his way carefully along the road, the man started talking. He knew Frosty’s name and that he had purchased the car from Huneycutt. Then the passenger revealed he was a federal agent and he had run a thorough background check on his host.
Frosty was nearly faint from the man’s revelations. The agent said they thought the car was a whiskey hauler and they had been keeping an on eye him.
“We decided you’re clean,” the agent said, “So you’re safe. We won’t be bothering you anymore.”
The car was exactly the type used by moonshiners in the area. Sleek, full of race, and big enough to hold an ocean full of whiskey, that California hot rod could have made good time on the back roads that snaked through the Appalachians. The Feds chased similar cars on a daily basis.
The roots of moonshining run as deep as the stately magnolias that grow on the finest lawns and the lowliest trailer park yards in the South. And during those painfully dry years in Tennessee (liquor was sold in Knoxville until 1961 although prohibition had been repealed in 1933), there was always someone willing to plunk down hard-earned cash for a temporary moonshine buzz. And maybe, just for a moment, poverty, ill luck and other classic bluegrass misfortunes could be forgotten.