The whiskeydaddlers quarters are quiet now. Dan sits at the big table where
they eat their meals together. Across the room are the bunk beds they built
for the long days (and longer nights), and the ice chest Mr. Greenhut was
nice enough to give them to keep their beer cold. Along the walls are the
tools of the whiskeydaddler’s trade – iron rods and levers (aka daddle bars),
iron crampons and huge hooks (aka daddle grips) and thin iron cylinders
(aka daddle wheels).
There are also two other objects hung on the wall that are decidedly not
made of iron nor are tools of the trade: two thick barrel bands made of pure
gold. These are grand prizes given to the top whiskeydaddle teams at
Peoria’s annual Whiskeydaddle Festival, which is held every 4th of July. Dan
has led the Great Western Whiskeydaddlers to victory the past two years,
and it’s something he’s quite proud of, as are the owners of the distillery
(which Dan thinks is why they got the icebox in the first place).
While Dan changes out of his whiskeydaddle gear – the thick-soled boots,
heavy denim pants with leather braces over a white linen shirt – he looks out
the high-arching windows that face the Illinois River, and sees fiery strips of
red slashing low in the sky, announcing the arrival of a new day. For the last
two weeks, he’s been working the night shift at the distillery as they expand
production to meet the demand for the long winter ahead.
If he were still living at home, he would already be well into what would
surely be a hard day of work. Dan grew up on a small farm just outside of
Peoria but the allure of the big city – teeming with new people and new jobs
– was too much, so he gave up hay bales for whiskey barrels and got a job
at the Great Western Distillery.
He started out as an apprentice, working under the tutelage of Richardiah
Buttons Smithson. Buttons was a legend not only because of his great
strength and fearsome demeanor (which came from being named
“Buttons”) but also because of the power and girth of his facial hair. Legend
has it, he once ran down a horse that had bolted and used his beard to
subdue and tame the great beast – the two eventually became best of
Even though the day’s shift of whiskeydaddlers had already arrived,
brusquely greeted Dan (a typical morning conversation: “Dan.” “Bob.”) and
are noisily at work, Whiskers ignores their commotion and has elongated
herself across the large brick window sill where the warming morning sun has
broken through. She makes a point to keep an eye on Dan whenever he’s
around, even when she’s hiding in the barrels at night and he doesn’t know
she’s there. She’s his protector. That’s what she thinks. As Dan leaves for the
morning, he walks over and rubs her under the chin.
“Sleep well, my friend,” he says as she purrs away. “You’ve put in a hard
night’s work too.”