Moonshine, Turpentine and Timber

The theme of this year’s 108th Founder’s Day in Zephyrhills is “Timber, Turpentine and Moonshine.”

The trio of products played an important role during Zephyrhills’ early days.

Vast pine and cypress were abundant throughout the area and provided raw materials for building. Besides timber, they provided turpentine and related products.

Around 1931, 19-year-old Lonnie Tucker watches for revenuers. He is pictured in Wesley Chapel with his moonshine still. (Courtesy of Madonna Jervis Wise)

Greer’s Lumber Mill, operated by Jim Greer, was the largest employer for the first two decades and fortified settlers with resources to build their cracker homes.

The Great Depression closed Greer’s Lumber Mill.

But, the town began to flourish again after 1932, when I.A. Krusen purchased 13,000 acres and opened the Krusen Land & Timber Company.

Later, Camp Number 39 of Hercules Powder Company was opened in Zephyrhills and had the distinction of being the largest employer in the city from 1946 until its closing in 1962.

Farmers and ranchers within a 35-mile radius contracted with Hercules to remove pine stumps, which were processed into products such as rosin, turpentine and pine oil, as well as byproducts used in paper, paints, varnishes, adhesives, asphalt emulsions, gun powder and dynamite.

Although Zephyrhills was less distinguished for moonshine than neighboring communities, such as Wesley Chapel, an occasional settler turned to moonshine stills, as well as charcoal kilns and cash-crops, to subsist.

When Prohibition banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol, moonshine stills provided an alternative source of liquor. Even after Prohibition ended, occasional moonshining continued until the 1950s. Several families still hold moonshine recipes.

Marlo Hilton, a hometown girl and 1998 Zephyrhills High School graduate, remembers using a metal detector at her family’s ranch to explore the area to the west of her home, where Stanley Ryals, her great-grandfather, had his moonshine still.

“They were a tough breed,” said Hilton, who spoke lovingly of her iconic great-grandfather, who died in 2000.

Ryals used profits from bootlegging, as well as the sale of sweet potatoes, to purchase 640 acres in the Zephyrhills area. Later, he opened Zephyr Lumber and Saw Mill where he logged, cut and sanded timber.

Ryals contributed much to the city, serving as president of the chamber of commerce in the late 1950s and as a founding member of Zephyrhills Noon Rotary Club, where he had a 30-year perfect attendance record.

Ryals’ father-in-law was Wesley Wells, the chief of police in Zephyrhills.

Stanley Ryals, for whom the Founder’s Day brew, ‘Ryals n’ Shine,’ is named, is shown here with a draft horse in Zephyrhills. He was 45 at the time. Ryals was a Zephyrhills businessman who operated the lumberyard and earned funds in his early years from moonshining to purchase a section of land. Much of that land is still owned by his family on Eiland Boulevard. (Courtesy of Marlo Hilton)

His grandson, Boe Hilton (who is Marlo’s father and a 1971 graduate of Zephyrhills High) observed that his grandfather understood people and knew how to build upon their strengths.

The most notorious bootlegger in the area was Clarence Lane, who described himself, in a 2005 interview, as one of the top 10 moonshiner/bootleggers in Florida.

Lane said during the 1930s many of his customers were law enforcement officers and judges.

Lane said he began moonshining as a teenager, learning the skills from his father. His first still was in Kathleen. Later, he moved to Zephyrhills.

At age 19, Lonnie Tucker from Wesley Chapel, worked in Zephyrhills for I.A. Krusen during the day in the Lumber Company. He also operated a still near the current location of Saddlebrook Resort.

Tucker later worked at Moody’s Hardware, in Zephyrhills, for more than a quarter-century.

His daughter, Anna Jo Bracknell, will be on hand at Founder’s Day for one of the porch talks at the Howard B. Jeffries house.

She plans to share stories about moonshining during her 1 p.m. talk on March 10.

Zephyrhills’ 108th Founders Day
When: March 10 (Parade begins at 10 a.m.)
Where: Downtown Zephyrhills in the morning and early afternoon; Zephyrhills Airport in late afternoon
Cost: Free admission
Details: There will be an old-fashioned hometown parade; food and drink available for purchase; children’s activities, a skydive demonstration and fireworks to cap off the day.

By Madonna Jervis Wise

Published March 7, 2018

Comments

  1. Madonna Wise’s article on Moonshine, Turpentine, and Timber in The Laker omits important historical perspective. Foremost, the turpentine industry in Florida constituted a century of cruelty and horror for tens of thousands black men. Post-civil, the Florida “Black Codes” made “vagrancy” a felony crime. Then, through debt peonage and convict leasing, the black men were put to work under horrific conditions in the pine tar industry. Their bodies and eyes were stung by turpentine, and they were whipped and beaten if they resisted working. They were worse off as leased convicts than in as slaves. Next, whereas moonshining was an economic necessity in the 1930’s for dirt farmers, today it is not. Today, a reference to moonshining is a symbolic “dog-whistle” coded message to continue resistance to federal regulations. For the traditional Florida “cracker”, that means resistance to civil rights legislation of all types. On a practical level, moonshining encourages alcoholism. As to the pine timber industry, only a handful of land barons benefitted from a public policy of giving away public assets to a wealthy few. Florida workers in the secondary processing of forest products, such as housing grade wood, remained for decades among the lowest paid workers in the country. Google Forced Labor in the Florida Forest 1880-1950 by Jerrell Shofner, for documentation on this letter. Be prepared to cry.
    This newspaper needs to provide balance to Wise’s story by printing an article that informs readers of the other side of the turpentine issue.

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