Kerwin Davison’s latest antique auto, a 1929 Nash, recalls the Prohibition days of the 1920s and 30s when bullets and buckshot flew as police vainly strove to dam the flood of illegal booze.
Davison worked last fall and through the winter to restore the Nash in his Greenhill shop. When it’s all done, he figures the restoration will cost him $30,000.
“It was in terrible shape,” he says. “We started stripping it and the more paint we took off, the worse it got.”
Along the way, he made a significant discovery, one that surprised him. Bullet holes and the spray of shotgun blasts pockmarked the metal.
“The passenger door behind the driver had one bullet hole right through, small calibre,” he says.
“One struck the moulding and one struck the frame up ahead of the driver.”
He also found where three shotgun blasts had hit the Nash, one on the door behind the driver and two more at the rear on the passenger side, all evidence that the car had been used as a rum runner as it travelled the roads between Great Village and Truro.
There was other evidence too.
“The beautiful red colour was covered over with barn paint, hand-brushed, black-grey paint, which is exactly what you do for a rum runner,” Davison says. “Bear in mind, these cars did not want to be seen.”
The French connection
Back in those rum-running days, Nova Scotia fishermen made big money smuggling liquor from the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon to the Boston states. Along the way, some of the bootleg rum got dropped off here.
“Because of the thousands of miles of shoreline and inlets, Nova Scotia was the perfect place for rum-running,” Davison says.
He adds that farmers and lumbermen on the shores of the Minas Basin would often build little hiding places or caches in the gulches and brooks.
“They would store it there and sometimes farmers even ploughed their land and they laid the individual bottles in the plough cut and folded the land back down on top of it.
“In the country-side, a family would do a little rum-running, they weren’t necessarily drinkers, but people were very, very poor in the 20s and 30s, so making a little money on the side actually kept their family fed.”
At the same time, Davison says, people supported the temperance movement that aimed to stamp out drinking.
Temperance, pigs and rum
“It wouldn’t be unusual for this car to go Friday evening to the temperance gathering at the local hall or local church,” he says.
“Sunday would come, Ma and Pa and the kids would all pile into the Nash and go to church.
“But come Monday or Tuesday, probably they would take the backseat out and they had two or three things they could do with it. They could take pigs into Truro for market. They could bring back four or five bags of feed which they would buy to feed their stock.
“They could also go out that evening, the father and one of the older sons, and pick up a few armloads of rum and whiskey from the cache down at the ocean and deliver it to where they had to take it.”
Ottawa House and the Nash
Davison say that this summer, the Nash will be parked at his Early Nova Scotia Transportation Exhibit on Eastern Avenue next to Parrsboro’s Town Hall.
But there are also plans to use the antique auto to promote the Ottawa House Museum and the Parrsborough Shore’s history in the long-gone, but fondly remembered, rum-running era.