The annual Whiskeydaddle Festival of 1896 was a particularly memorable
one for Dan and the winning team from the Great Western. As captain of
the team, Dan made sure he included daddlers from every shift at the
distillery. He didn’t do this to be judicious or to avoid hurting any egos –
“ego” was something a good daddler never concerned himself with for a
variety of reasons – but quite simply because all the daddlers at the Great
Western were really, really good.
Selecting the “best” four was nearly an impossible task as all were blessed
with great strength and had been well trained at their craft. That’s because
many of them, like Dan, had been trained by Richardiah Buttons Smithson,
the greatest of all the Great Western whiskeydaddlers. He was considered by
many to be the model of the perfect daddler, from his bullish power and
bearish beard to his quick mind and even quicker wit. And for those who
were not lucky enough to study under his tutelage (he died tragically while
fighting a horse) they at least were trained by those Richardiah had trained
himself. So, the tradition carried on.
Leading up to the Whiskeydaddle Festival, there was no type of special
training the Great Western team underwent, aside from making sure their
beards were as full and thick as possible. In fact, in some cases, when forced
to choose between otherwise equal daddlers, Dan would often select the
one whose beard had the greatest capacity for soaking up whiskey. A
sponge-like beard quality was highly prized in the competition as one of the
events involved transferring whiskey from a barrel to bowl only via the use of
one’s beard, with extra points being awarded to the beard that dripped the
This past Whiskeydaddle Festival, as always, took place during the city’s 4th of
July celebration. For many in the city, it was the high point of the day, which
included speeches and parades, a regatta boat race and “Naval
Engagement” – men jousting playfully on unstable boats – and, in the
afternoon and early evening, the competition for the best whiskeydaddler
All the distilleries were represented, each with a single team of five
whiskeydaddlers. In other distilleries, the competition was fierce and
sometimes resulted in fisticuffs among the more unruly teams. But not at the
Great Western. A cool confidence was common among even the newest
and youngest daddlers – and it showed at this past year’s competition.
The event, just like the best whiskeydaddlers, was perfectly coordinated.
At 1 p.m. the opening ceremonies began with the sounding of all the
distilleries steam whistles (with the Great Western’s standing out, in particular)
and the tapping of whiskey kegs from each of the teams participating,
eleven in total this year: Atlas, Clarke, Corning, Great Eastern, Great Western,
Hanover, Manhattan, Monarch, Northern, Peoria and Woolner.
At 1:30 the first event took place – the 100-yard barrel dash. This was a relay
event that involved carrying an empty whiskey barrel 100 yards, then
handing it off to a teammate who retraced the same 100 yards.
After that, it was the 100-yard barrel crawl – crawling through a 100-yard
tunnel made of barrels. This was a crowd favorite as it was not uncommon
for a daddler or two to get stuck along the way. The preferred method of
helping them escape was to spray water through barrels which all agreed
was great fun (except for the trapped daddler).
At 2:30 the barrel dodge took place which is exactly what it sounds like: two
teams facing off, throwing barrels at one another. If you get hit, you’re out of
the game. If you catch a barrel thrown at you, the thrower is out of the
game. This also was a crowd favorite for obvious reasons.
The next event – at 3 p.m. – was the barrel rolling competition. This was a bit
of a more specialized event, requiring daddlers to remain atop a rolling
barrel in the water, while trying to knock down their competitors.
At 3:30 the barrel burn got underway, which involved one daddler from
each team seeing who could hold a freshly charred barrel in their arms
(while bare chested) the longest.
The final event was the whisker dunk which was a two-part event, as
mentioned earlier, involving the transference of whiskey from one vessel to
another via the beard and measuring the amount of whiskey each beard
For each event, a first-, second-, and third-place winner was crowned with
points being given for each place: 15, 10 and 5 individually. The winning
team, quite simply, was the team with the most points. And last year, it
wasn’t even close.
The Great Western team took first place in almost every event, and only
failed to place in one. They performed miserably at the barrel crawl because
of the sheer size and mass of their squad – Dan wasn’t about to “waste” a
team member (like the other teams) on some small guy just to win this one
event. And, while he never would admit it, he enjoyed seeing one of his guys
get trapped in the tunnel. They would start screaming pretty quickly (as Dan
himself can attest to) once they got wedged in really good. The water just
added insult to injury.
Dan himself was on the first-place teams in the 100-yard dash and the barrel
dodge. But his special talent was for the barrel burn. As a kid, he would help
his mom pickle leftover vegetables for the winter – which is when he noticed
how rough and strong his mother’s hands were. This, she told him sadly, was
caused by the pickle brine. While it was “unattractive” to her, Dan began
soaking his hands in the brine, making them strong and tough, which was
especially helpful when he had to bale hay (something he had to do all the
time). Now it came in especially “handy” when holding the still-scorching
barrel, which he could do for upwards of 10 minutes at a time.
After the Great Western team was announced as the winner, they were
presented with their trophy – a massive barrel band made of pure gold.
Each of the distilleries names were etched in small letters along the band
with “The Great Western” in large letters at the top. It was so heavy that it
took two daddlers to hold it. In fact, after the event, the winning team had
their own competition trying to lift the gold band on their own; not one of
With the Whiskeydaddle Festival concluded, the crowds moved on to the
next big event: the evening’s fireworks. As the sun set in Peoria, the entire city
was lit up by lanterns placed every 10 feet or so along the streets. Dan lost
count of the lanterns as he dragged himself back to his room at the
boarding house, his shirt torn and his beard thick with now-viscous whiskey.
Dan was tired and worn out, but his spirits were buoyed by the pats on the
back he received from those who recognized him along the way. Once he
made it to his room, he didn’t even take the time to undress but quickly fell
into his bed and succumbed to a deep, meditative sleep that couldn’t even
be disturbed by the roman candles going off long into the 4th of July night.