In my family, Grandpa was a BOOTLEGGER. Somehow it doesn't have the same ring to it ... I've always known that Grandpa Bill Noss tended to enjoy his liquor and dabbled in bootlegging, but had only heard bits and pieces of the story. Last month I made a trip to northern Iowa to spend a couple days with my mother. At 94 years of age, she has good days and bad days; but most days she doesn't like to talk about her father. It wasn't easy growing up in a large family of eleven kids with a father who enjoyed his liquor.
One Sunday morning, Mom and I sat around in our jammies, drinking coffee and chatting. She started reminiscing and I dashed for my laptop to take notes .. hoping she wouldn't lose the mood by the time I was through booting up. These are Mom's memories:
It was 1929 ... the beginning of the Great Depression. Grandma Angela Noss died in December of that year. At the time of her death, she owned the farm where her youngest son farmed. The farm had to be sold as part of the estate. Bill did not have the money to purchase the farm so he and his family moved down the road to a vacant farm house (one mile west of the home place). They occupied that house for one year. Then the family moved to the Ballhagen farm south of Rockford on the Shell Rock River and Bill started farming again.
These were hard times for farmers and everyone moved from farm to farm trying to make a living and provide for their family. Most men did not own the farm they lived on, but only rented from the owners. When they couldn't come up with the rent money, it was time to move down the road to the next vacant farm.
During this time, Bill started bootlegging. The large family needed to eat and this was the only way he knew how to make money. Grandpa had very little education. He was a good farmer, but a farmer needs land. Bill turned to what he knew best ... booze. Bootleggers were making good money as those were prohibition years in Iowa (1920-1933).
Of course, he spent most of the money on himself as he drank most of the profits. Mom and all her siblings had to help wash the empty bottles and crocks. Grandpa fixed up the basement so men could stop by and drink beer. Some days there were several cars parked in the farm yard.
Grandpa Bill was arrested for bootlegging and went to trial. During the trial, Toby was called to testify. He showed the judge a piece of crockery that had lead residue on the side. This proved that the officers had used their pistols improperly. End of trail. Billy went home.
Of course, this did not deter him from bootlegging. The family moved into the town of Rockford. Bill had a thriving business as the men no longer had to drive out to the farm to buy their beer. He knew how to make good beer and there were men with money waiting to buy his product.
Later he was again nabbed for bootlegging and this time he was convicted. He worked off his sentence by helping with farming at the Floyd County Home in Charles City. He stayed there until his sentence was complete. My mother still remembers how embarrassing it was as everyone in town knew her dad was in the hoosegow for bootlegging. Thankfully, prohibition was winding down and his special services were no longer needed.
I need to find someone who can pick a banjo ... hum along with me:
Grandpa was a bootlegger - he brewed beer for all his friends - drank up all his profits - now he's in jail again ......twang.