By Arthur Smith
St. Clair Bootlegging and the Whiskey Train Legend
In the early twenty’s when the USA went dry,
you couldn’t even buy a beer which caused grown men to cry,
but many enterprising folks began to plan a way
to keep the liquor flowing and to make it really pay
These amateur bootleggers ‘long the St. Clair River found
some cleaver ways to sneak the booze across without a sound.
Near midnight and without much light, they’d skate the frozen river
“just don’t fall in where ice is thin!” that thought just makes one shiver.
These entrepreneurs were quite the “doers” furnishing many blind pigs
with cases of booze snuck over the border on small boats and other rigs.
Since smuggling hooch was illegal, and was surly frowned on by the law.
The cops watched for action from the Michigan side, and acted on what they saw.
Now off to the Whiskey Train Legend told by teenagers, Frenchy and Blink
When in the cold winter of twenty-two, the river was like an ice rink.
These two teenage boys were not like their friends enjoying an afternoon skate.
They were rounding up orders from the blind pigs on Sixth Street, their financial prospects looked great!
These boys were from families well known in St. Clair; they were names you would know right away.
Blink was George Westrick and Frenchie, Leo Shovan…they were out to make bootlegging pay!
The boys had a plan that would work to perfection, where they’d cross the dark river at night.
The best part of the scheme, they’d get over and back without taking a lantern for light.
They’d skate over to Canada late in the day with the fading sunlight as their guide;
Then purchase the booze, and just before midnight, start back for the ‘merican side.
So how did they know they were headed correctly? They’d watch for the lights of a train.
Seems the PH&D had a route thru St. Clair that would show them their way back quite plain.
The train would come through near the stroke of twelve midnight, every third day of the year,
So their route home was lit by the old locomotive…they just had to skate hard and steer.
Except this one night with four cases of whiskey, the boys had some sips on the way
and the weather was squirrely, may have caused them’ leave early, we think so but can’t really say.
Although they were lost and couldn’t see shore they kept skating and “rolling the dice.”
Tried to follow the trail that they made coming over…till they fell thru a hole in the ice!
Covered with ice and snow, over each head to toe, they were able to stumble to land;
And as they reached shore, no one could ignore, the fifth each boy held in his hand
The neighbors reported two abominable snowmen coming up from the river that night
How could they see? Well, they all did agree…from the beam of the Whiskey Train light
Arthur C. Smith, 77 of Port Huron, is a 3rd generation funeral director at Smith Family Funeral Home. He graduated from Port Huron High School in 1958, Albion College in 1962, and played varsity tennis at both schools. In 1964 he received his Mortuary Science license. In the early 1980s he became a Little Caesars Pizza franchisee and was involved with stores in South Texas, Northwest Ohio, and Oakland County, MI. His community service over the years has included March of Dimes, Boy Scouts, Salvation Army, Grace Episcopal Church, Port Huron Hospital, Blue Water Hospice, and Kiwanis. In 1972 he was named Jaycees Young Man of the Year. He has played in all 60 Robinson Tennis Tournaments and is an avid runner having completed 18 marathons including 5 Boston Marathons. Because of his Scottish lineage Art has been instrumental in organizing the local Burns Supper held each January. He and his wife, Sue, have been married over 54 years and have three children and 6 grandchildren.
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