"The aging moonshine-hauling cars of Willie Clay Call sit at the ready in the garage next to his home in the Appalachian foothills of Wilkes County, North Carolina. Their rear suspensions are still ultra-stiff and ready to conceal the weight of more than 100 gallons of white lightning that the cars would haul out of the foothills to Winston-Salem.
Most of the old moonshiners are now up there in years. Call is 65. His lifelong friend Junior Johnson is 74. They could still stir the mash if push came to shove, but making bootleg liquor is some of the hardest work a man can do. Even if the market still existed, they have long since lost the need to bother. But they did quite well for themselves in the underground business, despite the cars that were confiscated, the stills that were blown sky-high, and the pieces of their lives lost to prison terms.The big-finned, baby blue New Yorker is the type of car a doctor or a lawyer drove, and it was his most effective, best-driving machine: "That Chrysler would go on," Call says. "I've been run many a time in it. But there warn't no race to it. It'd run 180 mile an hour loaded or unloaded, uphill or downhill--it didn't matter. It's probably hauled more liquor than any car that's ever hit the highway." The New Yorker has logged more than 300,000 miles, either under Call's foot or that of another driver, and taken several bullet holes in its body. "I had it painted about seven or eight years ago," Call says, "and the boy at the bodyshop called me and said, 'You know there's a couple of bullet holes in your car?' I said, no, I sure didn't. I figured out where they came from, though. It was back in the '80s." The dashboard is production, except for one minor modification. Junior attached a pair of toggle switches just left of the steering column that, when flipped, cut off the brake lights, or the taillights, or both, (there are even rumors of James Bond style smoke screens and oil slick devices being used, but no-one will accept the credit) More than one pursuing lawman ended up in a roadside ditch after overdriving a curve while on Call's tail. "You never did see that car on the road unless it was loaded," Call says. "I didn't keep it around the house or nothin'. I kept it hid."
The cars driven by treasury agents and other law enforcement officers were no match for the moonshiners' cars. "I called the cars the government gave us 'mechanical miscarriages,'" says former federal Alcohol Tax Unit (ATU) agent Joe Carter, the guy who captured Johnson on foot at his father's still in 1956. "But then, we lacked another component they had--the drivers. Those guys could drive a car like you wouldn't believe. By the time they got to be 14 years old, they could outrun any officer I knew of. They learned how to drive and they knew every curve, though some of 'em got killed doin' it." There are plenty of rural fables of cat and mouse style chases involing the runners and the treasury agents (also known as "revenuers") that are still spoken of today.
Fellow moonshiner Thurmond Brown explained some years back about how terrifying it was to ride with soon to be prize winning stock car racer Junior Johnson when he was going full song on the highways of North Carolina. "Junior and me was comin' back through Winston-Salem once at about 3 o'clock in the morning after unloading a load, and hell, he was just drivin' sideways. And them little old mailboxes and newspaper boxes, well, Junior was justa clippin' by those things right beside my face. I said, Junior, you're gonna have the law on you. And it made him about half-mad, I believe. He said, 'If we can't outrun 'em empty, what the hell are we a-doin' down here loaded?'
The moonshiners usually pled guilty to the charges against them; local lore claims they were so honest, they'd be told after sentencing when to report for the prison bus and then sent on home. Invariably, when the bus arrived a few days later, the moonshiners would be there waiting for it to take them to prison."
"NOW LET ME TELL THE STORY, I CAN TELL IT ALL ABOUT THE MOUNTAIN BOY WHO RAN ILLEGAL ALCOHOL. HIS DADDY MADE THE WHISKEY, SON, HE DROVE THE LOAD WHEN HIS ENGINE ROARED, THEY CALLED THE HIGHWAY THUNDER ROAD. SOMETIMES INTO ASHVILLE, SOMETIMES MEMPHIS TOWN THE REVENOORS CHASED HIM BUT THEY COULDN'T RUN HIM DOWN.EACH TIME THEY THOUGHT THEY HAD HIM, HIS ENGINE WOULD EXPLODE HE'D GO BY LIKE THEY WERE STANDIN' STILL ON THUNDER ROAD.AND THERE WAS THUNDER, THUNDER OVER THUNDER ROAD THUNDER WAS HIS ENGINE, AND WHITE LIGHTNING WAS HIS LOAD THERE WAS MOONSHINE, MOONSHINE TO QUENCH THE DEVIL'S THIRST THE LAW THEY SWORE THEY'D GET HIM, BUT THE DEVIL GOT HIM FIRST."