At the Great Western Distillery, much like the other distilleries, a typical day
for a Whiskeydaddler was a sort of varied monotony. It was monotonous
because you were there to do one thing and one thing only: move whiskey
barrels as quickly as possible. But it also was varied because where you
moved those barrels – from warehouse to warehouse, to saloons and
restaurants, down to Union Station and the steamboat landing, even to
“special customers” up on the West Bluff and, if they paid enough, to the
farms outside of the city.
At 7 a.m. every morning, the Great Western’s steam whistle announced the
start of a new day at the distillery. But the Great Western’s steam whistle
wasn’t typical in that it wasn’t whistle-sounding. Mr. Greenhut and the other
owners prided themselves on having the finest distillery (true), the largest
distillery (very true) and the finest whiskey (debatable). And that sense of
pride extended to every part of the operation, even the manner with which
each work shift opened and closed.
Instead of the shrill screech of a typical steam whistle (which called other
workers to lesser distilleries) Great Western workers were greeted by the
sonorous sounds of an organ. A special triple organ steam whistle had been
installed that when sounded created a loud but harmonious noise that rose
above all the others in an always-noisy city.
The unique tone of the organ steam whistle helped set a tone for how the
Great Western Distillery was expected to function – harmoniously. And the
Whiskeydaddlers were a big part of that.
While other jobs might be more specialized and critical to the creation of the
actual whiskey itself, no job was more important (and respected) than that
of the whiskeydaddler for it required a lot more than just a stout back and
even stouter facial hair. You had to be fast and quick, in body and mind,
because you not only had to move sometimes dozens of barrels, you also
had to deliver them to multiple locations, by certain times and, sometimes,
even go so far as to install and tap them depending on the customer –
which meant you also had to be mildly amiable as well.
Starting with the very first time they laced up their daddler boots, every
whiskeydaddler at the Great Western had a single idea impressed upon
them. It was the idea that they weren’t just delivery men moving barrels from
here to there; they were the physical representation – the face, if you will – of
the Great Western business itself. And the impression they left with customers
– how industriously they moved the barrels, how carefully they worked, how
accurately they counted their inventory, how polite they were even in the
face of gruff saloon owners downtown and aloof millionaires up on the West
Bluff – directly affected the sales and success of the distillery. And the Great
Western whiskeydaddlers understood this very well.
This instilled in them an even greater sense of pride in their work and it
showed from the moment they walked onto the floor of the distillery every
morning. With grim determination and the admiration of their co-workers,
they quickly got to the tasks (and casks) at hand.
There were two sides to a whiskeydaddler’s personality, depending on
whether they were working in the warehouses or out in the public. While
moving barrels within the Great Western, their demeanor could best be
categorized as gruff and terse. Conversations were kept to a minimum
between the teams as they worked together in an almost silent unity, always
knowing when someone needed help before they even asked for it.
Their manner of work was often described (with the utmost respect and
never to their faces) as like that of an ant colony, not only because of the
almost-telepathic awareness between team members but also because of
their incredible strength and their ability to move very heavy objects very
quickly. And then there was the fact that – because of their identical gear
and near-identical facial hair – you couldn’t always tell one from the other.
Outside of the distillery, while they were making their rounds in the public
eye, the personality of the Great Western whiskeydaddlers became pleasant
and almost jovial. This was partially because they understood that they
represented the distillery, and partially because they felt like kids getting let
out of school for recess. For most afternoons, they got to be out in the
(relatively) fresh air – sometimes for hours at a time – making their deliveries
throughout the city of Peoria and the surrounding environs.
Delivering the barrels almost became a game to them, and they devised
creative ways to make it more fun – making up little songs and short rhymes
to help them set a steady pace and maybe get a laugh from those they
passed. Dan himself was one of the best at improvising witty rhymes as they
There was also a strong competitive streak among the various
whiskeydaddle teams at the Great Western. In the whiskeydaddler quarters
they kept track of which team was performing best: who had moved the
most barrels, how accurate their deliveries were and how many barrels were
damaged (if any) during their shift.
And if you were to walk into the Great Western whiskeydaddler quarters on
any given day, and look up at that giant chalkboard with the long list of
names, the name you would inevitably see at the top was Dan’s.