Friday, September 10, 2010
Scene21, Running whiskey, the Lavery's and the Puget Sound
The Puget Sound was the most practical place to be if you were in the business of booze transport. Due to the excess of islands, inlets, large peninsula, and vast amounts of land to patrol, the task of guarding the coast was far too daunting for any governmental organization to actually claim any real amount of control over. The Puget Sound was a Rumrunner’s paradise.
Washington was allotted a whopping 22 coastguard to patrol the entire state and a few of them were crooked. Still, those hounds somehow managed to sniff out a good number of very substantial shipments coming in from Canada into Seattle. Many a barrel of fine whiskey was dumped right into the sound.
On days like that, Runners would nudge one another and say, “What I wouldn’t give to be an fish just off the harbor on Whidbey today!” That of course was a way of telling one another not to do any business around Whidbey or Camano for a few days. The guards and the police were like that. They would bust a few boats in one area and then stay there and strut around town for a few days, make their presence known and get their due; a few pats on the back from the mayor, attend a few social events in their honor.
Most of the arrests were first timers who couldn’t read the roads or the water well enough to navigate themselves quietly, under the radar of the police and the coast guard. They were guys who got sick of paying the professionasl and opted to take it upon themselves to do a little importing of their own. The problem was, as it always is with any first-timers in anything, they would fumble around too long. Keeping lanterns lit on board, drinking the cargo while they went, bellowing to one another and attracting all kinds of attention. But, bothering with the first timers kept the heat off of the professionals; the cops had to stay busy with someone. So the big runners always left a little room for the little guys to get in on the action.
Most of the runners stayed close to the port, even when they weren’t transporting. It was the best way to keep a listen on the latest location on the coast guard and the police. Some of them stayed all day long, chain smoking and shooting the breeze with local fishermen and dockworkers, as they had not much else to do and no real jobs to attend to. They treated the water front like an office, checking in with boats coming in from Canada and Anacortes. They always knew when the Coasties were up north, hiding out in the San Juan Islands, because fewer boats came in from Anacortes which was a main drop off point for Canadian distilled whiskey.
The rule up north for most runners was, once someone spotted the coast guard hiding out on the water, all boat transports going south into Seattle were called off and instead, the goods were moved by land, down the highway if the mover had the gumpton.
This was an edge the Lavery’s had over other runners; they were a hybrid operation which ment they could co-ordinate movement by land or sea. They had access to both trucks and fast boats.
The Lavery Brothers Moving Company was one of the few large operations that would run large amounts of whiskey by land. For most runners, the risk was too great to even attempt transport from Canada by any other way but sea. The Lavery’s discovered a little port by the name of Anacortes. It was a small port, Northwest of Seattle. It served as the main shipping point for the San Juan Islands. Anacortes provided access to the highway, the sea and to Whidbey Island. Whidbey could be used, as an alternate route should one need to.
Their land and sea operation had not always been that way. They had began in 1926 with three men and one moving truck, but recently, their operation had grown exponentially and they invested their profits into some speed boats thus catapulting them into becoming one of the larger and more reputable movers in the state.
Who’s to say just how it all began exactly?
The gist is that the Lavery boys could put away the booze. Since prohibition began, the whole Lavery clan grew tired of paying an arm and a leg for the drink. They decided to save a little on the side by picking up large quantities themselves and cutting out the middle man.
Both Joseph and Daniel ran the operation. Joseph was older with a sense for organization and numbers. He did most of the coordinating and dealt with payment. He also ran the tavern, which the family had recently opened.
Daniel had a cool demeanor and knew when to talk and when to shut up. He did most of the footwork; drop offs and pick-ups.
Since the family moving company took them to places like Anacortes or even Canada from time to time, they simply loaded up a barrel or two before returning back to the city. No extra costs, no fancy plans, just a barrel or two.
Once or twice, they offered to pick up a barrel for a friend who had a tavern. They charged a hefty fee for the risk, and with the extra profit they brought home three barrels for themselves, rather then the usual two. The third was bottled up and sold in small amounts to friends, turning even more of a profit. So it went until it became a full operation with boats and deliveries, radios and even a bookkeeper.
By 1927 business was great for them. They had adopted more customers due to a recent apprehension of a very reputable competitor. In 1926, a runner, (though he was more of a booze tycoon) by the name of Roy Olmstead was arrested in Seattle. His arrest displaced a lot of thirsty folks who found that the Lavery brothers were more than happy to satisfy their taste for good Canadian whiskey
Since there was only one highway from Canada to Seattle and the police patrolled it heavily. The now imprisoned ex booze tycoon, Roy Olmstead, inspired Joseph. Olmstead had been known for doing all his shipping activity in broad daylight. The philosophy was simple; sometimes, obvious behavior is the least obvious. They ran their operation like a business. Under the guise of being a moving company, they had so far gone four years without a single arrest on their team, which consisted of mostly family and a few trusted friends.
Although the brothers enjoy a bit of financial prosperity, thanks to the bootlegging, it was never their intention to make a business for themselves in organized crime. They didn’t run their operation like a mob the way most rum runners do. They didn’t highjack shipments, fight with other runners for turf, or even carry guns.
The Lavery’s come from a strong Catholic family who strongly disagree with the Prhibition laws.
Joseph and Daniels parents, William and Anna immigrated from Belfast, Ireland with their 5 children 15 years earlier. They came to Washington to join Williams brother in the moving business. The boys and their siblings spent the better part of their teenage years in Seattle, yet still spoke with thick Irish accents.