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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Franklin County man collects legal moonshine
Elkins’ collection contains nearly 100 bottles, jars
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Photo by Morris Stephenson: Retired construction worker Raymond Elkins became fascinated with the subject of moonshining after moving to Franklin County. His collection contains about 100 jars and bottles of moonshine.

Monday, April 1, 2013

By MORRIS STEPHENSON - Special to the News-Post

Raymond Elkins, a retired construction worker, became fascinated with Franklin County's moonshine history after moving here 10 years ago.

As he learned more by reading all the books he could find, Elkins craved even more information. He began reading columns and any news stories, old or current, that he could find.

As Elkins became more familiar with the county and its people, he found more people than he thought he would who were willing to talk about their association with the illegal activity or to share stories about their relatives.

Elkins, 68, worked with military dogs trained for use in Vietnam. As a result of that experience, he found employment with the Franklin County Humane Society, where he works with dogs that are brought to the clinic and he does all the "handy man" chores around the place.

"I love animals, especially dogs," he said.

About seven or eight years ago, Elkins started buying bottles and jars of moonshine. No, the ones he purchased came from a store that sells liquor legally.

He went to Madison, N.C., in search of NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Junior Johnson's "Midnight Moon" brand. Johnson's brand of white lightning is bottled by Piedmont Distillers, housed in Madison's old train station just across the state line. He also toured the facility.

Elkins said he learned a "Yankee" by the name of Joe Mchalek from New York moved to North Carolina in 1995. According to the company's website, Joe went to a jam session in Carolina and was introduced to some homemade peach brandy, which he said was the best thing he'd ever tasted.

Mchalek started learning all he could about moonshine. Armed with a ton of information, including local recipes, Joe opened Piedmont Distillers in 2005 and housed it in the town's old train depot. Then he started turning out small amounts of CatDaddy Carolina Moonshine using a special recipe.

Two years later, Junior Johnson became a partner, and now the distillery also cranks out Johnson's Midnight Moon. When production began, different labels were used featuring a number of photos of the driver in his racing hey-day.

"I got one of the bottles with the first label and have been collecting jars and bottles of moonshine ever since," Elkins said.

His collection includes all the Midnight Moon labels, he said, as well as a bottle of each type of moonshine Johnson has produced.

Elkins makes frequent trips to the ABC store in Rocky Mount and continues to go to Madison in search of "something new" from Johnson.

"They started coming out with fruit flavors, including apple, peach, cranberry and others," Elkins said. "Just recently, they added blackberry to the list."

Since he started, Elkins has collected 90 to 100 different bottles and Mason jars of regular and flavored moonshine.

"I don't know exactly how many I have now because I haven't counted them recently," he said. "And the seal is still on every one of them. To me, it would ruin its value to my collection if the seal was broken."

Elkins goes well out of his way to add to his collection. Because so many brands of moonshine are not sold in the local ABC store, his search takes him into neighboring and distant states.

"A lot of state liquor stores cannot ship their products into Virginia," Elkins said. "I wanted a bottle of moonshine made in Dawsonville, Ga., home of NASCAR great Bill Elliott. But they wouldn't ship it here."

"I had it shipped to a friend in New York, and his son brought it from there to Colonial Heights here in Virginia," he added. "He agreed to meet me in Martinsville so he could hand deliver it to me. It wasn't easy, but I got my bottle of Dawsonville moonshine."

One of the favorites in his collection is a special Mason jar of Raymond Fairchild's Howling Moon. It is 100 proof white whiskey that reportedly "kicks like a mule."

The jar is divided into fourths marked on one side. The liquor is distilled in Asheville, N.C., Elkins noted.

Fairchild was a former moonshiner who became an acclaimed banjo player.

The native of Honaker grew up in construction in Russell County. A month after graduation, he was drafted into the Army and served two years, from 1965 through 1967.

"Most of the time I was based in Seoul, Korea, but I spent half of the time in Vietnam. I cross-trained medic and century dogs, taking them to Vietnam to work with their handlers for 30-day periods," Elkins explained. "All of the dogs going to Vietnam came through us."

When he was discharged from the military, he went back home. But he ended up leaving Russell County and continued to work in construction, a trade he learned while growing up.

Elkins said there was moonshine in the coalfields but he never thought much about it until moving to Franklin County.

"It was like I became obsessed with the subject and I absorbed everything I could find about moonshining," he said. "People I know who travel out of the area or go on vacation have brought back a jar or bottle of moonshine and given it to me."

"When I stop and think about it, I've got quite a bit of money tied up in my hobby. But I enjoy it and will keep adding to my collection every chance I get. It's been interesting and fun," Elkins added.

 
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