Morris learns from retired officers columns e 87 gasoline


I had not met Bobby until a month or so ago during a moonshine program presented by Doug Cooper, director of the Bedford County museum. I’ve known John since his days with the ABC. One thing for sure, I learned more interesting information about the two men than I have space for in this column.

So I will first highlight some of the facts I learned from Bobby. His father’s full name was Andrew Jackson Bondurant, and his grandfather was Granville Thomas Bondurant, who served on the Franklin County Board of Supervisors many years ago.

His father was 90 when he died in 2000. Bobby was the youngest of the Bondurant clan with Howard being the oldest. Forrest was born "somewhere in between" Howard and Jack. It was Forrest, I learned, who had his throat cut as a young man in perhaps a moonshine-related incident.

Jack was 21 years old when he was shot by a Franklin County deputy after he and his brothers were stopped at a road block near Maggodee Creek, north of the Blackwater Filling Station. That location later became the office of the late George Cooper’s Lumber Company.

The lone bullet that struck Jack entered the left side of his shoulder. It then crossed his back and exited the right side, according to Bobby. "It didn’t keep him from working or doing anything. But I remember he couldn’t lift his right arm high enough to shave," Bobby said.

Bobby said his earliest memories of his father were that he was a very private person, especially around the children. However, he does recall that when he was a boy, a number of people were always coming to the family’s house. He said it was when the family lived in the Mountain Valley area near Leatherwood that he realized that "there was something going on." People would come up to the house, and his father would sell them whiskey. "I didn’t know where he kept it, where it came from or any of that stuff," he said. "I just knew it was whiskey he was selling."

"I was just a youngster the first time I remember my father being caught. That day, he came walking out of the woods toward the house, telling my mother the agents had caught him. He told her that he had to clean up, change clothes and meet the officers at the courthouse," Bobby said.

Bobby also recalled his father served time on three occasions, twice in a federal prison. "He served time in Millpoint, W.Va. That time he got a year and served nine months. Jack also served time in Chillicothe, Ohio, and Petersburg. As an interesting point, Bobby said that his father served time in the state prison with one of the Allen brothers involved in the infamous Hillsville courthouse shooting from years ago.

After his father was released from Millpoint, he built and opened a store in the Figsboro community. Later, Jack retired and returned to the Snow Creek community after buying a farm. His father also bought some land, cut it up into lots and built houses. Oddly, Jack died the same year Bobby retired as a game warden.

Bobby worked at DuPont in Martinsville, along with another Snow Creek native Karl Martin. "Karl and I both worked at DuPont and left to become game wardens." They began their new duties on the same day in 1972, he noted. Bobby retired in 2000, while Martin is still accumulating years of service in Franklin County.

Following his retirement, Bobby served three two-year terms on Amherst Town Council. "When I was running for council, this man came up to me and said, ‘Bobby, you don’t have many friends and you’re going to have even less now’," he said, followed by a chuckle. "I found out real quick how many friends I had," he added with a laugh.

The 1963 graduate of Virginia Tech worked at a bank for a short time before deciding he wanted to enter the field of law enforcement. He applied for several jobs but there were no vacancies. Then he heard about an opening with the ABC department in Newport News.

With assistance from a number of letters written on his behalf, Wright landed the only law enforcement vacancy in the state. After graduating from the department’s training school, he was stationed in Newport News. It was an assignment that lasted for 18 months.

There was quite a bit of moonshine activity on the Isle of Wright and James City, according to Wright. "Those areas were full of stills, but most of them were small and the liquor being produced was filthy. Also, most of it was being transported to the Newport News and Norfolk areas. A lot of sailors were in those areas."

In 1967, he was transferred to the Lynchburg office, where there was just one state agent working with two federal agents and a supervisor in the same building. The state office covered Lynchburg, Amherst, Bedford, Nelson, Campbell and Appomattox counties.

"Most of the moonshine was in the Lynchburg area, along with gambling and prostitution. The city formed a vice squad, and I assisted them in cleaning up the city. I did my regular job during the day that ended about 4 p.m. Then I would go to work with the vice squad, he said.

Wright worked out of the Lynchburg office until 1976 when he was promoted to assistant director of law enforcement. When he arrived in Richmond, he worked under then director Stanley Gaulding. When Gaulding retired three years later in 1979, Wright took over the state’s top position.

At that time, investigators and law enforcement were two separate divisions. In 1982, the department merged the two divisions. "That didn’t make a lot of people happy on either side. There were guys who wanted to keep doing the licensing and didn’t want to carry guns. And there were agents who didn’t do the paper work the investigators were doing," Wright explained. "At the time of the merger there were 47 agents and 70 inspectors, as they were called," he added.

One of the major moves taken by Wright as director was establishing what he called the Illegal Whiskey Task Force. Members of the task force went into action in 1986. The task force was to concentrate on the counties of Franklin, Pittsylvania, Henry and part of Floyd.

The original group consisted of Sam Simmons, Butch Wright, Jimmy Rorrer, Jimmy Beheler, Randall Toney and Bev Whitmer from Franklin County. The task force was involved in a major round-up of those connected to moonshine activities in Franklin County. The majority of the violators were from Franklin County, he noted.

Wright said he was pleased with the impact the task force made on reducing the moonshine activities, especially in Franklin County. Over the years, agents retired and their work brought about the decline of moonshining. Eventually, the task force became faded into history.

Operation Lightning Strike in 1999, a federal ATF-led undercover operation in Franklin County, brought the business of manufacturing illegal whiskey to its knees, in Wright’s opinion. "It really hurt them (the people involved) when they started seizing bank accounts and property."

I was told the building next to the station on Route 122 in the curve was used for oil changes and minor mechanical work by Halifax "Fax" Pugh. The couple also lived in the adjoining house. I also learned the station sold ESSO gas from its two pumps.