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  Rum Runner Moon

As an 11-year-old kid in 1921, 'Moon' Mullin made good money as a 'crawler' in Moose Jaw's tunnel system (Note: Moon passed away in 2003).

 
Laurence 'Moon' Mullin

For two-bits a pop, he says, he ran errands and delivered messages for the top gamblers and bootleggers who inhabited the city's underground. It would take a grown man a full day on good job to earn that kind of money above ground.

The easy cash and exciting atmosphere were intoxicating. Moon and his small knot of companions came to idolize all the gangsters who controlled the underground, but one in particular.

"I never met (Al) Capone, although he was around at the time," says Laurence 'Moon' Mullin, a Moose Jaw resident who turned 89 in 2000.

"I did meet 'Diamond Jim' Brady, his henchman. He was a Chicago gambler and a gunman, but he was a wonderful man as far as I was concerned. To us boys, he was heaven on earth - the kind of man we'd have liked to have been when we grew up.

". . . He was straight-forward looking, he was honest, and what he said he meant. I know he was supposed to have killed men. But those were different times and circumstances. If somebody interfered with everybody making a living, well, they had to pay for it."

Moon says he first met Brady in a gambling room on Moose Jaw's infamous River Street, a hot-spot at the time for gambling, prostitution and bootlegging. Brady was a tall, friendly, "very well-dressed" man "who always had time to stop and talk to everybody". On the darker side, Brady was always accompanied by two of his own henchmen, and the three men were always armed.

Perhaps surprisingly, Brady and the other gangsters admonished Moon and his pals to steer clear of the vices from which they earned their living.

 
The rum runners used hidden compartments under the floor of the back seat to transport the booze.

"They'd teach us to never gamble, never smoke and never drink. As far as we were concerned, they were the good people - they were the best men I met."

As Moon moved into his early teens, Prohibition in Canada (1916-1924) and the United States (1920-1933) provided great opportunities to those willing to bend the law. Moon, who got his nickname from a comic-strip character, became a rum runner.

"We first used an old Model T, just sneaking loads into different towns. (The bootleggers) were moving liquor west, through small railroad stations in Saskatchewan. I used to run some of the loads for my dad because the police would never bother a boy.

"Later on I'd take 'C' loads across the border into Minot, North Dakota - there'd be three cars, all 1924 Dodge high-speed cars. Each had 400 pounds of alcohol in the back seat, under the floor."

Moon said it didn't take him long to learn smuggling liquor into the States was far more dangerous than shuttling loads from town to town within Saskatchewan.

"The ones that got caught never talked about it. They were dead.

"South of the border, those Americans played for keeps. Down there, they had this idea that you were breaking their law, and you'd damn well pay for it."

At $10 for a one-day trip, however, Moon was willing to take his chances. It was far more than he could earn in an 'honest' day's work.

Moon says one run was particularly memorable for two reasons, the first was that nobody got killed. He laughed heartily when he recalled the episode.

"In the summer of 1927, I took a load across to Minot. I had a 1924 Dodge 'high-wheeler', heavily loaded. And I had a guy with me named Berl.

"This Berl was a wild young punk. He was supposed to ride along, and he had a machine gun with him in case we got caught - Berl would have been as good with a machine gun as Jesse James would have been on a piano.

"We left Moose Jaw and we were supposed to cross at Oungre. But I had this feeling they might be on to us."

Moon decided to slip east to Gladmar, where he and Berl could jump the border around midnight and be in Minot an hour or two later.

"Everything was dark, but I knew the road," says Moon. "And in those days, I could see like a cat.

"We were whipping along about 40 miles an hour, through prairie roads and over the hills. And all of a sudden lights started coming up in all different directions around us.

"Poor old Berl. He kinda lost his nerve and started shooting at the lights. And all it was was a bunch of poor old farmers who'd set out lanterns to show the way to get the load through.

"We shot our way right through a lot of people. 'Course, Berl didn't hit anybody. But those lanterns were going out pretty fast. They were snuffing them out so there'd be nothing to shoot at.

". . . Eventually a car pulled in in front of us - an American booze hauler - and we followed him closely right in to the Leland Hotel, in Minot.

"They opened up a big freight door, put the car right onto the elevator, and took us up to the fifth floor, where all the gambling took place. And who's there but Brady. It was about seven years since I last saw him and he knew me right away. I thought that was kind of nice of him."

Moon looks back on his tunnel-crawling and rum-running days with both fondness and a sense of vindication.

"Everything that was wrong then is all legal now," he says. "It makes you, over a long life time, wonder who the heck was right and who wasn't."



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