Repentant moonshiner gets pardon from President Bush
By: By LEON ALLIGOOD The (Nashville) Tennessean
CELINA — Eddie Trobaugh is a working man. One handshake gives him away, palms wide and rough.
“I’m an old country boy,” said the electrician, who guesses he has installed a million miles of wire during the last few decades.
“I’ve worked all over the state. I know a lot of people, and a lot of people knows me.”
But few outside his family and close friends knew he held a secret: Trobaugh was a convicted moonshiner.
In May 1965, when he was 20, Trobaugh and his father were caught red-handed with a fresh batch of 100-proof hooch.
He was sentenced to three years’ probation, while his dad got six months in jail.
After being chased through the woods by the “gov’ment men” and booked at the jail, Trobaugh pledged to reform his wayward ways. He returned to church, answering the bent-knee prayers of his mama, Irene, and sought a, well, legal line of work.
After 42 years of clean living, however, the conviction still gnawed at the father of two daughters, the grandfather of four boys. He talked to two attorneys and both told him he might as well forget it: The president of the United States isn’t likely to bother with a pardon for a Tennessee moonshiner.
Trobaugh poured out his heart to his pastor, Dale Walker. God had forgiven him long ago for his transgression, he reasoned. Surely the federal government could do the same after all this time.
But Walker, a lover of history, had been recently reading about pardons. By the next day the pastor learned more, through Internet research, and by the next Sunday presented Trobaugh with a pardon application.
“That’s the way it got started,” Trobaugh said.
Another moonshiner snitched on them.
“I’ll not call any names, but that’s the way it was,” said Trobaugh, a lean man with a toothy smile and a weathered face. It was Sunday afternoon, after lunch with his daughters and their families at his mother’s home, about a half-mile from his own place.
Leaving his mother’s house, he followed a narrow lane up a hill, long shadows from the afternoon sun trailing behind. At the top of the rise he pointed to the field on the left.
“We’d go in by that big tree and drive into the woods. See, you gotta have a lot of water to make whiskey, and about 200 yards down in the hollow, there’s a good spring. That’s where we were manufacturing,” Trobaugh said.
On that day in May 1965, he was moving a 4-gallon jug of whiskey from the still to a storage area when he spotted the first federal agent.
“I eased the whiskey down and took right up the hill,” he said. In the process he vaulted over another officer hidden behind a log.
The chase lasted for a half-mile before Trobaugh, who was just getting over a bout of flu, collapsed, completely winded.
“If I hadn’t been sick he never would have caught me.”
Trobaugh said he made moonshine for two reasons: He was helping his daddy and there was a tidy profit to be made.
“Back in them days, there wasn’t hardly any jobs around. It’s a poor neck of the woods,” he said.
The Trobaughs sold their homemade whiskey for $6 a gallon and could distill 24 gallons a week. Finding buyers wasn’t a problem.
Unfortunately, Trobaugh said, his daddy drank more than he should.
When father and son were arrested, the elder Trobaugh admitted to the agents that “he drank it all the time, had to have his whiskey every day.”
“I think that’s the reason they sent him up,” Eddie Trobaugh said, explaining that first-time offenders usually didn’t receive a jail term.
“They wanted to see if they could break him.”
They could not, he said. His father died in the early 1990s.
For the son, however, being handcuffed and carted into court got his attention. After completing his probation, Trobaugh got a job as an electrician’s and plumber’s helper. When the Tennessee Valley Authority began building a nuclear power plant near Hartsville he transferred there.
After the TVA project was mothballed, he opened Trobaugh Electrical.
“I ain’t had a drop of whiskey since the day I was charged. I hadn’t been in any other trouble,” he said.
“He’s been a shining citizen ever since,” Walker said.
The preacher was the optimist of the pair through the 19-month pardon process.
“I really felt confident that Eddie Trobaugh would get a pardon because it’s the only thing on his record,” said Walker, a man about 25 years younger than his parishioner.
“I told him to keep the faith,” the clergyman said. “Isaiah 40 says, ‘But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”’
For Trobaugh, however, the forms were confusing, the requirements complex, the questions never-ending. Finally, everything was sent to Washington, and soon after, Trobaugh was “looking in the mail for just something, well, encouraging, you might say.”
An FBI agent interviewed Trobaugh and Walker. Then came more weeks of silence.
Week before last, he got a call from a television reporter wanting an interview about his pardon. “It kind of knocked me off my feet,” Trobaugh said.
Trobaugh immediately called Walker, who went to his computer to search for the official pardons list.
The pastor called Trobaugh back in a few minutes.
“Are you sitting down?” he said.
Along with four thieves, one illegal gambler, two presenters of false statements, one tax evader, eight drug offenders and one embezzler, President George W. Bush had pardoned a moonshiner from Tennessee.
“I just wanted to clear my name,” Trobaugh said, noting that he’s not getting younger.
Far-flung cousins and friends began calling with congratulations. His mama, Irene, beamed at the news.
A few days later “it hit me and I got a little teary-eyed,” he said.
“Forty-two years is a long time to carry anything around.”
Being pardoned has brought Trobaugh a measure of fame he never expected, with appearances on television and in the local newspaper. Jan. 27 will be Eddie Trobaugh Sunday at Union Hill Wesleyan, a day of testimony and joyful prayer, Walker said.
“I never thought I would be part of a pardon process,” the pastor said.
“But I thought it was important in Eddie’s case for them to forgive it, that way he could forget it.”
Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com
Published in The Messenger 12.28.07