Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Great West Allis Beer Adventure

In the mid-sixties, rather fresh out of the Navy, I was working for a steel company in West Allis, Wisconsin as a machine operator and sometime truck driver. West Allis is a manufacturing suburb of Milwaukee, and had some of the largest crane builders in the country at that time, along with the world’s largest tractor assembly plant under one roof.

I belonged to a social organization which, along with my employer, shall remain nameless to protect the innocent. We had a beer concession for West Allis Western Days, which was a large county fair type of thing, and I got put in charge of running the concession one year. Having me managing a beer concession was sort of like having a cat manage a canary concession, but few of our other members were exactly sterling examples of sober living either, so no one gave the selection much thought.

What complicated the task was that the brewery workers union was threatening to have a strike about the same time as the fair, which would make delivery of keg beer unavailable, so I arranged with the Pabst brewery to deliver a semi-trailer load of half barrels to the fairground before the strike deadline, and arranged for power to keep the refrigerated trailer cooled for the two weeks preceding the opening day.

Sure enough, the strike did occur and Milwaukee was not a happy place, as taverns ran out of draft beer in fairly short order. The fair opened and one of the few places in the city that had draft beer available was my tent concession at West Allis Western Days. It was, to boot, a sunny and hot weekend, and to say that our beer tent at the fairgrounds did a land office business would be a massive understatement.

Normally the ninety half barrels that filled my semi-trailer would have lasted for the entire weekend, but on the first day it was clear we were going to be running dangerously low, so I set out to see if I could find a supply from small breweries that were outside the metro area and not affected by the strike. I finally found a brewery in Potosi, about an hour away, who could supply ninety half barrels, but they had no way to deliver it to us.

So, of course, my feverish little brain went to work. I had a trailer, the Pabst one that was on the fairgrounds, but no truck. I worked, however, for a steel company which had a whole bunch of trucks. Would they miss one on a Sunday morning? Maybe not. Of course, I didn’t have permission from Pabst to use their trailer, either, but that was just a detail.

The only people at my steel plant on Sunday were the mechanics who were servicing the trucks, so I made a deal with them that they could come by the fairgrounds after they were off work and drink all the free beer they wanted if they would let me borrow one of the trucks for a couple of hours. I boogied off to the fairgrounds with one of the company trucks, hooked up the trailer and took off for Potosi.

Have you ever lifted a half barrel of beer? No? Let me tell you; that sucker is heavy. The brewer not only could not deliver the beer, he had no crew to load it either, so two of us had to load the trailer.

We headed back to the fairgrounds and I was hoping that no one was going to call my employer the following week and ask why one of our trucks was boogying down the road on Sunday morning with a Pabst trailer. Our trucks were fire engine red with gold lettering and I was feeling as conspicuous as a pimple on a bride’s nose.

Once we got back to the fairgrounds and started unloading the beer I sampled the product, which I had not thought to do earlier. Oh my God, this stuff was greener than the governor’s lawn, and tasted like the output of a dehydrated horse. Too late now, though, since all of the Pabst was gone, and we started selling this stuff in the Pabst glasses. It was still the only draft beer in the metro Milwaukee area, though, and no one seemed to notice the taste.

Well, occasionally a customer would take a swig of his beer and give the glass a kind of funny look, but no one said anything.

We sold out, setting a club profit record that has never been broken.

1 comment:

bruce said...

Hahahaha good story...
I'll bet you were sore after lifting those barrels.. and what the mechanic(s) say after drinking free green beer?

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