North Dakota entered the United States as a prohibition state. That made it difficult, but not impossible to imbibe. In 1920, when the United States also passed legislation making it illegal to manufacture and sell alcohol, more reports of rum-running and busted stills filled the news.
On this date in 1920, almost a full year after the national prohibition began, Fred Grams of the Minot Bakery Co. was facing three charges for violating the alcohol prohibition. Grams’ 80-gallon whiskey still had blown up, partially wrecking the rear of the second floor of the bakery, causing several hundred dollars in damage. Luckily, roomers living in the area were unharmed, including Grams, his wife, and his children, who were all in the basement.
Grams had quite a setup, with his still connected to the building’s steam plant. As Grams told The Ward County Independent, he was busy distilling raisins, but had left on too much steam. The first of two explosions followed, “shooting off the top of the big copper boiler,” which had been fastened down by large steel clamps. The second explosion caused most of the damage. This one, Grams suspected, was caused by a gas made by cooking the raisins.
Grams admitted he had made alcohol, but only for his friends, and never to sell. He said he made a barrel of corn whiskey without any trouble. However, his raisin whiskey was potent stuff—a barrel he had in his room at the time of his arrest was judged to be 135 proof—it was clear, colorless, and had a sweet, strong alcohol smell. In fact, the report in the newspaper said it was “just the kind of stuff that makes men try to climb telephone poles.”
Grams was by no means alone in breaking these laws—decent weather that early winter had allowed whiskey runners to continue their routes. According to reports, whiskey runners from southern states had started using underage Minot boys to help steal cars, which they then sold in Canada for more whiskey. The Independent reported: “The roads in North Dakota have been excellent for motoring all winter, and while the roads in the states south of us will not permit the traffic to be carried on as extensively as during the summer, many cars are still bringing the precious elixir of life from across the line.”
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
Sources: The Ward County Independent, Thursday, December 30, 1920-p1, 9