Category Archives: history

Will They Ever Learn?

The novel Gray Gold is set in WWII America, but it could be fit to any time. Anywhere and every time there are rule makers, cronies set up to profit from those rules, and people willing to work around the edges of the system to make their own way. A new article at Reason.com touches on just one golden opportunity set up by modern governments.

Politicians Make Bootlegging Great Again
reason.com

When Prohibition ended in 1933, my great-grandfather, Giuseppe Marano, thought his money-making glory days were over. Having made a good living selling alcoholic beverages to willing buyers at a time when that business was illegal across the country, he and his cohorts certainly viewed the passage of the 21st Amendment as the end of a very profitable era. Except that it really wasn’t. Politicians may have formally dumped the national ban on booze, but in many places they’ve imposed enough foolish restrictions to keep bootlegging a going concern.

If you can pick up a hot 1939 Lincoln like Nick Guyon’s, skip the extra fuel tanks and set it up to run whisky.

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Desert Heat

[Nick Guyon put thought and experience into the kit of tools he took out on jobs.]

I double checked that the pull bar to the carbs was yanked full out to max efficiency. The mechanic who installed it promised the engine would sip fuel like a nun at a whisky bar that way, but if I pushed it in, he had it set to open up wide and give me a good twenty horses over the stock setup.

After I’d bought that rig and tried it out, with a big grin showing, the greasy wrench showed me a bulletin about oiling problems on the aging Ford V-12 design. I was out another sixty bucks for him to fit a secondary oil pump, but I had a hot motor that could outrun and outlast anything on the road.
I’d made a few other changes to the car, but nothing that mattered on a simple escort job like this. All I had to do was keep the truck in front of me, and scare off anyone who approached it. I couldn’t imagine anything getting it its way but a skittish road runner. But since I was technically on detail, I had a few appropriate tools.

The PI-standard snub-nose .38 revolver sat in its usual place, in a pocket holster locked in the glove box. I didn’t like anything about it, but some places that license private investigators actually insist that a .38 revolver is the only piece they carry. Go figure. Anyway, it looks harmless enough that most people aren’t put off by it.

More to my liking, and usually closer to me, was a Canadian-made 9 mm pistol. A lot of guys swear by the big fat .45 caliber rounds, but I had a baseball bat in the trunk which is about as useful for close-range slugging. Plus, when working alone I liked to bring a lot of friends with me, and the 9 mm stacks thirteen rounds under the barrel.

A classic Remington pump shotgun shared the trunk with the bat. It wasn’t real smooth, partly because I’d notched parts of it to make more noise when racking. The noise of a shotgun being pumped is enough to make a mob change its mind, sometimes.

A little food and water, besides what the other driver had handed me, a good flashlight, and an overcoat for the desert night completed my kit.

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“I tame Hellcats!”

One can find thousands of vintage war time print ads which people have scanned so we can poke fun at them later. A popular format was the multi-panel story, in this case in straight-up comic book style.

Until late in World War Two, flight schools in the U.S. were chronically short of the need for combat pilots, which had to be men. Women filled the ranks doing everything short of front line missions, including patently dangerous jobs like initial flight testing or long-range ferry service over the vast Pacific.

On this page for Camel, Ms. Teddy Kenyon (no rank given), puts a Navy fighter through its paces. But the repeated message is that Camel is the men’s favorite. It just happens to also be easy on the lady’s throat.

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Gray Gold teaser – April 16, 1943; Tucson, Arizona

I skimmed the main headline stories while eating. Fighting in north Africa. Fighting in the Solomons. Federal intervention in another strike. Over a cigarette and second cup of coffee I got into my usual chore of working through the inside pages. A kitchen fire with no casualties but loss of the entire house. A war bond event coming up. A war bond event total from two days ago. A boring weather forecast.

I took my time over the classifieds. I wasn’t in the market, but used car ads said much about conditions in any city. At the beginning of rubber rationing, every car ad claimed ‘good new tires’ if it could. Very few made the claim any more. It was a cinch that the wheels of those cars were shod in ratty old shoes. The lucky ones would have gummy cheap retreads.

As I came across space-for-rent listings, I circled some and took a few notes. I needed a more permanent place to live, and a small office would be ok if it could be had cheaply enough. Just into the last paper, the Tucson Citizen afternoon edition from the day before, a short story jumped out at me.

Prominent in section B, on the front page under the fold, was the headline “Another War Truck Hijacked on NM Highways”. The article mentioned the Zelatoff company, that it was a critically needed load of copper wire and plate, and that the entire vehicle was taken. Thankfully my name wasn’t mentioned, just that, “a hired armed escort was overcome entirely by the brigands and did not even observe the direction of their escape.” I thought it was a hatchet job, but wasn’t about to call in and complain.

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For Whom the Booze Tolls

Liquor production for civilian use was greatly curtailed during World War II. By 1945, with the end in sight, big money was lining up to push old and new brands in front of post-war consumers. It was expected to be a wet gold rush.

ad Schlitz beer 1945

ad Shenley whisky 1945

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