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Progressive Era to New Era
Prohibition: A Case Study of Progressive Reform
Only Suckers Work

In the following excerpt from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940, a man identified only as Callano describes some of his experiences as a bootlegger during prohibition. How would you describe his attitudes toward work, toward authority, and toward prohibition?

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"Work?" Callano said with a laugh. "Me work? Only suckers work." His rugged, scarred face bore the marks of dissipation but there was dynamic energy in his short and sturdy body. His hands were very large for a man his size, formidable looking hands as he gestured freely while talking. The wavy brown hair was thinning at his temples.

"I know because I tried it. I worked in the stonesheds. My brother Dante is still in there. I tell him he's a fish but he don't listen. The poor bastard can't help it. [He's?] married and got a family. [He?] figures he's got to stay in the sheds, see? [He?] shoulda known more than get married in the first place. Only suckers get married. . . .

"I didn't like it though. I wasn't cut out to work steady. What the hell is seven-eight bucks a day? Chickenfeed. I could make more chips shooting craps and playing poker. I quit one day. The night before I made about ninety bucks shooting craps. I was up all night and I didn't feel much like working that day. The boss started riding me in the yard. I don't take that stuff from anybody. Especially not when I got ninety bucks in my pocket. I just looked at him. . . .

"That was during Prohibition and all the boys was running booze. My brothers, the older ones, had a gang bootlegging. They had a bunch of big old Packards and Caddies. I went in with 'em and we made plenty dough. There was dough in that racket all right, and it was fun to bring it in. Times was good then, everybody had money, everybody was spending it. This always was a good spending town. You know how stonscutters are, they're all spenders and they all drink. Granite was going good then.

"We ran mostly ale. We got it in Canada for five bucks a case and sold it here for fifteen or twenty . You could load a lot of ale into those big crates we had. We kept five or six cars on the road all the time. We sold everybody in Barre and Montpelier from the poolroom crowd to the town bigshots. We was sitting pretty them days. A gang from Burlington tried to chisel in but they didn't last long. We high-jacked three of their cars one night and they was loaded, what I mean, loaded. We gave them a damn good beating, we put a couple of 'em in the hospital. They kept away from Barre after that, they didn't bother us no more. We had a tough crew to fool round with, see? We liked to fight too. Nobody messed round much with us. Our gang was bad news. We could drive like hell and fight like hell. We ran a lot of stuff cross that Line, I'm telling you.

"We know the officers and they know us. You know, the same an you know football players on another team, something like that. There was one French sonofabitch gave us plenty of trouble. We lost a few loads but we never lost a man.

"For awhile we had Boston Billy's protection. He was a bigshot. He was too big for them forty-buck-a-week customs punks to fool with, see? His outfit was big-time stuff. We was just kids but Boston liked us. So he let us cross with his outfit under his protection, until the officers told him he'd got to drop us. We went through just the same, don't worry. We gave them Customs monkeys some wild chases.

"I used to drive the pilot car a lot. I'd hang behind the loaded cars. When the partrol started chasing us I'd hold 'em up, block the road on 'em, to let the boys with the loads get away. We had a smoke-screen on the pilot car. We'd come hell-roaring down over that Line and hit back roads all the way home. We had hideouts in barns and garages along the way. Some of the people we had to pay, some we just had to leave a case of beer."
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View the entire interview from which this excerpt was taken, from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.