Backwoods Distiller Dwight Bearden knows the fine arts of making moonshine and telling stories.
Both of his talents will be featuredSept. 17 at 7 p.m.at the Dawson County Library, an event sponsored by the countys Historical and Genealogical Society.
Back in the day when moonshiners in Dawson County switched to heating their boilers with LP gas instead of a black coal known as coke, Bearden and his daddy, Jay, came about as close to death as two men ever will.
Beardens eyes start to twinkle when he knows hes ready to tell a really good story. And with his thick, yet charming southern drawl, and his trademark Liberty overalls, Bearden fondly reminisces about the blast hell never forget.
Me and daddy had a little underground still, and it was a three-horse boiler, he said. It was up under our smokehouse.
The first time we used LP gas, Daddy had picked up an old gas valve that he assumed was good, but didnt check it. So, we had two 100-pound gas cylinders down in the hole with us full of gas. He told me to turn the cylinders on, so I turned it on, and we had the valve next to the boiler, and, uh, he was gonna strike a match and crack the valve and light the burner.
We had a homemade burner slid up under the broiler. Meanwhile, when I opened the gas, the valve started ta leakin and fillin up the boiler full of gas. He fumbled a little and got his matches finally out and went to light the match.
When he did, that boiler went about 4-foot in the air, then it come back down and knocked Daddy backward, and singed the hair right off his eyebrows and mustache.
He was laying there, flat on his back, with the boiler between his legs.
Despite the danger, a smile turns up the corners of Beardens mouth, as he continues.
The steam line was holding it off him, he said. A boiler is very heavy, and if it had fell on him, it probably would have killed him.
But it blowed straight up and hit the top of the hole and come back down on the ground and fell on him. I got the gas cut off before we both got burned up.
And my daddy, well, I had never heard such cussin. I said, Daddy, you shouldnt be cussing. I said its a wonder it hadnt killed both of us.
His daddy replied, Well, I guess youre right, but it made me mad.
We went and got another valve the next day and reset the still, and finally got it to where we could run it.
Bearden said his daddy always had a big, thick mustache.
He singed the hair off bad on one side, and he ended up shaving off his eyebrows, and mustache, and he hardly couldnt go nowhere and let nobody see him.
But, that Sunday in church, Bearden said, several people came up and asked what happened.
I had a little accident with some gas, Bearden said he heard his daddy say. He didnt tell em what kind of gas it was. He just said he had a little accident.
Bearden remarked that about 80 percent of the churches in Dawson County were built with liquor money.
Basically, thats all people had to do farm, work at the sawmill, make liquor, he said. A lot of people who made liquor donated money to churches and donated time to help build the churches.
Its just the way it was back then.
Bearden has two brothers, Larry and Gary, and two sisters, Faye Bruce, who works for the Historical and Genealogical Society, and Trassa Corals. His mother, Marjorie, also came from a family of moonshiners. Her parents, Granny and Grandpa Stanley, are buried at the Goshen Church cemetery.
Dawsonvilles legal moonshine can be purchased in advance of theSept. 17event, and autographed by Bearden after his presentation. There is no charge for the event, and light refreshments will be served.