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June 07, 1975 - Image 6

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1975-06-07

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Poge Six


Saturday, June 7; 1975

Page Six THE MICHIGAN DAILY Saturday, June 7, 1975

Hugging a dock on the Canadian aide,
a wind-whipped figure scans the Detroit ..-
River. Two flashes from Belle Tale indi-
cate the coast is clear. Leaping into a
canvass-covered Car Wood pwer boat,
he opens the throttle wide, and the ves-
sel lunges toward Detroit's gaudy blue
whiteness, where eager hands await its
illicit cargo of choice Canadian gin.
Minutes after docking, the boats will be
hurtling down bribe-protected highways
to local s well no notional destinations.
The setting was Prohibition-era De-
troit and western L.ake Erie, 1920-1933.
gun-waln ewith liqur, ipped across the
102 mle lake and river border separat-
ing th Ud S and Canada, inm dineof
or Volstead Ac', wehich prohibited the
constimption of heverages containing
more lb.an .5 per cent alcohol.
Due to its proximity to Canadian
breweries, Motown was easily America's
wettest city, with saturalian speakeas-
ins, boisterous blind pigs, hootchy koot-
chy girlo and gangsters galore. Accord- - ~ / ~ ~ -
ing to Nation umagazine, Detroit hand-
led Si per cent of the U. S. illegal Ii-
qitor trade in 1928. Placid doworiver
fishing com'n'nities such as Detray, Lin-
coln Park, Wyandotte, and Trenton be--
came gambling hans overnight. Water-
front caharets ,rid the latest, moot ex-
pensive tonring -a'tomobiles graced their
The hulk of the booze was transported
by fast speedboats which boldly dis-
patched their goods within sight of U.S. urns
Custom s H ead..::rt:r .r.r . " ... .:.r ' " :'{ .... .s.: . :v:"[ }}x:}}:' .r"v- - .xx'
Custms Hadqurter. - May 28, 1929: Rumronner on Canadian side of Detroit no agents are in sight.
Ken Dahlka, 65, presently superinten- River waits for lookout on American side to signal that
Rumrunners: Prohibition 's bad boys

dent of Detroit Boat Basin, was a rum-
runner at the tender age of 14. Pooling
his pennies, he bought five cases of
Canadian whiskey and towed it by sled
from Amherstburg, Canada, to Newport
across frozen Lake Erie. Dahlka gradu-
ated to captaincy of a 90-foot commer-
cial craft and a smaller 30-foot Dart,
which smuggled liquor from Amherst-
berg, Rondeau and Kingsville, Canada
to Toledo, Sandusky and Cleveland. For
six weekly crossings he was paid $400.
"Rumrunning was a young man's

Dart, typical of the upholstered, well-
varnished cruisers, had raised decks
which enclosed the cockpit, a cargo hold
and seating areas which were covered
with canvas to conceal the liquid cargo.
When the going got rough, the rum-
mies went underwater. Throughout Pro-
hibition, rumors of pipelines were regu-
larly circulated and occasionally con-
On September 14, 1929, customs offic-
ials discovered an underwater tramway
leading from Mud Island to Ecorse. A

SaturdYa y

honor: "Names didn't mean much in
those days. If someone didn't know your
name, he couldn't tell on you," explains
Dahlka. "If you were a good boater,
everyone sought you, and you got a lot
of protection from people around you.
After all, Prohibition was only support-
ed by little old ladies in church."
Peter Saros, 67 and a real estate
broker in Detroit, had a different con-
ception of bootleggers. At age 14, he un-
loaded Gar Woods at the foot of Hast-
ings, Orleans and Russell Street.
"At first it was a thrill," Saros re-
calls, "but when they (rumrunners) got
into smuggling aliens, I wanted no part
of it. There were lots of killings, too. One
gang would rip off another."
Plagued by internal corruption, unco-
operative citizens and Canadian indif-
ference, Detroit's lawmen were trying
to stop the liquor fire hose with a wine
bottle cork.
The state police, U.S. Customs Bu-
reau, and the Coast Guard shared the
responsibility of cutting the Canadian
Their favorite tactic was the drive, a
concentrated, meticulous search of one
particular area. But the liquor smug-
glers had only to divert their operations
up or downriver to keep the coppers off
their trail.
What was the extent of the rum run-
ning trade? Accurate figures are diffi-
cult to obtain due to its illicit nature.
Seymour Lowman, assistant secretary of
the U. S. Treasury Department, estimat-
ed 21 million gallons of booze entered
the country in 1929. However, the De-
troit Times claimed at least 5.2 million
were hustled into Motown alone that
year. Furthermore, the Detroit News re-
ported that six million cases (7.2 million
gallons) passed through the area.

scope of the smuggling rackets. In 1928,
29,000 were nabbed. Or the record for
official corruption: 14 customs inspectors
were indicted in a $2 million graft plot
in 1928, and Trenton was a virtual free
port until Federal agents arrested its
chief of police in 1930.
The Canadian government probably
had the most accurate statistics. In 1929,
"The trick was to hug the
Canadian coastline until the
Detroit River was clear of
patrol boats, then d a s h
across its one-half mile width
and quickly stash the liquor
in waiting automobiles or
nearby garages.
some 7.5 million gallons of liquor were
exported to some unknown destination;
customs receipts from the importing
country just weren't returning.
Canadian legislation finally doomed
the rumrunners. A 1930 act of Parlia-
ment prohibited sales of liquor to na-
tions under prohibition laws. Local beer
prices loomed to 75 cents a bottle, and
domestic production of booze began to
It was the end of an era. Things would
never quite be the same again.

+ s ea i s rrs r r r s r n

game. It took nerve and good boathand-
ling," recalls Dahlka. "You couldn't
stop doing it. Because if you stopped-
and started thinking about what you
were doing, then you'd stop for good."
Dahlka had his share of close calls
during the days of rumrunning in De-
troit,,when he would cross the river eight
to nine times a day. The trick was to
hug the Canadian coastline until the De-
troit River was clear of patrol boats,
then dash across its one-half mile width
and quickly stash the liquor in waiting
automobiles - a. 1923 Ford sedan held
30 cases - or nearby garages.

sled carrying 15 to 20 cases travelled
along a 500-foot cable and was recovered
by rummie divers.
Booze smugglers had an elaborate ap-
paratus for protecting their operations.
"Airdales," land-based spotters, would
keep tabs on the Coast Guard stations
at Trenton and Wyandotte while compa-
triots on Belle Isle, Gross Ile, and
Fighting Island would follow patrol
movements by car. Dock guards, or
monkeys, would protect the procedure at
its most vulnerable juncture - unload-
ing. Since radios were not available, the
rumrunner and his spotters would com-
municate by flashing lights.

Detroit's rum boats were gentlemen's
cruisers, and bootleggers took great Nefarious as their activities may have
pains to appear legitimate. Dahkla's been, rumrunners did have a code of

Perhaps arrest records for public in-
toxication more accurately reflect the Bill Heenan is an LSA senior.

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