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).
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
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
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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