Wednesday, June 5, 2013

From Amsterdam to Franklin County

From Amsterdam to Franklin County 
by Morris Stephenson
It seems that no matter how hard I try to avoid writing about moonshine in this column, something happens that’s worth writing about in the very next one. And almost every time, things work out for the best as I continue to meet more interesting people.

Such was the case Monday a week ago.  Well, it all started Sunday when “Little Bill” Walker of Walker Commercial Services called me at home. Of course, as I mentioned last week, I was trying to take care of an infected toe on my left foot. Part of the plan was staying off my feet and keeping the foot propped up.

Bill had met two young people from the Netherlands earlier in the day. The pair had developed a great thirst for information relating to moonshining since their arrival in the county the day before. “I told them they couldn’t leave before stopping by to see you,” Bill said.

I told Bill I was a little under the weather and didn’t want to be on my feet more than necessary, so I couldn’t meet with the couple that afternoon. However, I agreed to get with them on Monday.

It wasn’t until Monday that I learned that Bill met the pair on a trip west on Route 40 to Endicott. Then they turned right on Runnett Bag Creek Road and followed the narrow paved road for some distance before taking a right on Griffin Hill Road.

I was very familiar with this small, rough, unpaved road that leads up a steep mountain. Two of my friends live on the beautiful mountain top, including James “Hippie” Herndon and David “Chopper” Campbell. 

While Gershom Krijen and Esther Debruin, both 23, from Amsterdam, Netherlands, (A person would never guess that fact until they start talking.), were describing their trip to me, they told me about the rough, washed-out road going up the mountain. In the middle of the forest, they had seen this “old, faded VW hippie bus in the middle of nowhere,” he remarked. “That was too cool.”

Apparently, Bill had taken the couple into the heart of the county’s moonshine history. 

When they visited my office Monday, the couple appeared with big smiles on their faces. I’ll not get into all the questions the couple had. Not knowing anything about the county’s long moonshine heritage, their questions were coming as fast as bullets out of a machine gun.

They were also interested in my little collection of legal moonshine bottles, jars and jugs that sits on a nearby table. I gave them a copy of a recent News-Post with the story and photograph of the county’s latest bust of two 800-gallon submarine type stills.

When I got to the point when I could ask them some questions, I wanted to know all about how they got to Franklin County from Amsterdam. That’s a lot of miles traveled. Their story was simple. Gershom had come to the U.S. as an exchange student at Loyola University in Baltimore. His girlfriend of eight years, who is also a graduate student, remained in the Netherlands from January until he completed the semester in mid-May. Then she joined him in the states, and they started doing a little traveling and sightseeing.

They went to Boston then viewed Niagara Falls, Lake Erie, stopped in Pittsburgh and other points of interest “up north.” But they wanted to come south to “a slower, more relaxed pace of life style” he said. The couple liked what they heard about Virginia so they went on the internet in search of a bed and breakfast. After viewing numerous choices, they decided on 

The Claiborne House in Rocky Mount, owned by Shelly and Tony Leete.

After arriving in town on Saturday evening, the couple began to talk to their hosts, learning more about the county, including a little about its moonshine history. When Sunday morning arrived, the visitors wanted to go to church, and the hosts invited the couple to go with them to the Franklin Heights Baptist Church.

After arriving, they talked to Laura Walker who introduced to her husband, Bill. The couple brought up the moonshine topic and the circle began. After the worship service came lunch and more discussion about the county’s tradition. That was when Bill decided to take the couple on a trip to the mountains of Endicott. Afterward, the couple was totally hooked on the county’s moonshine history.

During the discussion, I learned that residents of the Netherlands can make beer, wine and liquor for their own consumption without paying any taxes! “You can make and drink as much as you want, but you just can’t sell it unless you pay the taxes,” Gershom explained. 

All I could say was “amazing,” as I was thinking that a lot of people here would like to have that kind of arrangement with our government!

The couple was impressed with the lifestyle of the area, the friendliness of the people they met. They also were fascinated with the tiny part of what is Franklin County’s moonshine heritage.

I don’t know if they stopped at the local ABC store to buy some legal moonshine or not, but I armed them with that knowledge. They will be leaving today (Wednesday) on their return to 


One thing for sure, I would like to be a “fly on the wall” when they tell their stories about their visit to Franklin County. I’ll probably never hear from them again, but I bet they know someone in Amsterdam they’ll talk to about making moonshine in the Netherlands.

Bill had told me Sunday that he wanted to buy two copies of the book and photographs for the couple to take home with them. So before they left, Esther and Gershom each had a signed copy of the book and each had two moonshine still photos I’d taken over the years.

So “A Night of Makin’ Likker” has not only been read by the mayor of Tempe, Az., but will be passed around in the Netherlands. Now I wished I has asked them how many people they knew who made liquor for their own consumption. Ha!

And speaking of the book - I finally got fed up enough in dealing with online printer that I got disgusted enough to find a company that I could talk with a person. It happened to be Southern Print and Copy on Franklin Road in Roanoke. I’ve been dealing with Duane Hawks. 

This happens to be the company that printed all of retired ABC agent Jack Powell’s five books, “A Dying Art I, II, III, IV and V.” The company did an outstanding job for Jack and after a long conversation with my friend, I decided to print locally. I wish I’d made the decision when I first started. The second printing should be in hand the first of next week.

Outstanding Support - Lane Rakes, who lost everything when his house was destroyed by fire on May 26, has received a lot of support in the way of clothing, food and money. Exactly a week after the fire, Lane was talking about how much he appreciated everything that everyone has done to help him.

I don’t have a clue who all the people are. But church groups, businesses and  individuals have really pitched in. All I can say is “I thank each one from the bottom of my heart.”

The day of the fire, Lane was joking and said, “I even lost my bottle of Play Boy perfume (after shave) that I wear when I go dancing. And my special flatfoot dancing shoes got burned up, too. And I’d only used them three times,” he added with a hardy laugh.

Just so happened I spotted a box in the Walmart men’s toiletries department with the famed bunny Saturday afternoon when I went to Wally World. It was the first item in my shopping cart. Sunday, the little gift brought a special smile to his face. His insurance will replace his dancing shoes and he’ll smell pleasant, as always, when he goes to the next dancing event. 

This article is courtesy of the Franklin News Post - printed here with permission from the Charles Editor. If you wish to purchase a copy of Morris' book, drop us an email or if you stay with us, let me know I can hook you up (with the book, not the moonshine!).

Comment from your innkeeper Shellie - I got a hair cut today and I told Bonnie my hairdresser about Morris' column. I was braggin' to her after she asked me:

"Do you prefer living here in Franklin County or other places you have lived?" 

I mentioned how the people here are real. They showed our guests from Amsterdam true Southern Hospitality! For that I am proud to live here in the best place on earth, Franklin County Virginia.