All the Little Fires by the River

18″ x 20″ oil on canvas

All the Little Fires by the River

As told by John Romak, age 90

For a wedding, OK, you need 100 pounds of sugar.

Ten pounds make one gallon of alcohol. Put it in a barrel with yeast and water. Add some barley, wheat, potatoes. Not in the house because the police come and check. Put it in the bush. You make it in the summertime, it is warm during the day but chilly at night. To keep it warm you put metal underneath the barrel and insulate with canvas. Keep a coal oil lantern burning until fermentation stops, about 3 or 4 weeks.

When it is ready, put it in a milk jug, no, two milk jugs welded together, they are 5 gallons each. With a wooden stopper and pipe on top. Make a fire and put the boiling kettle on a grate, with about twenty feet of copper pipe, that bends down to cold river water, and up to a gallon jug.

It takes a whole evening sampling. The alcohol comes out of the pipe first, the water is heavier. You don’t want the water so you need to test it. When you don’t want to drink any more you can test it in a spoon and put a match to it. If it catches fire, keep going. When the match goes out, you’re done.

There was a new fire tower in the Duck Mountains near Cowan. They stopped reporting smoke in the summer because of all the little fires by the river.