Sheriff George Branscome has five road deputies, a Polaroid Big Shot for identification photos and, "what you call a breath machine," to measure the levels of sour-mash whiskey and backwoods bootleg absorbed on summer nights by the hard-working men here.
His department, and the 10-cell county jail, is in the back part of the courthouse. Inside the office, an invitation to the lawman's picnic at Jimmy Honery's fishpond hangs on the wall, and across from it is a bushy, seven-foot marijuana plant -- asample of the Blue Ridge sinsemilla taken as evidence in Branscome's August offensive against marijuana merchants in the hills.
During the last three weeks Branscome has put on his Marine camouflage fatigues and raided six marijuana fields, arresting six people and confiscating more than 2,000 plants: $200,000 worth of the illegal weed. Some of the plants, Branscome says, had trunks as big around as a man's leg and had to be felled with a bush ax.
But Branscome still is not satisfied. He says there is a lot more pot in those hills, hundreds of fields and thousands of plants.
"I'm working my deputies dead trying to get it all," he says, his face as stern and creased as the thick bark of the Red Oak trees that line the gravel roadways winding through the hills. "I might not make much of a dent in it, but I sure can try."
This "marijuana thing," as folks here call it, is a new predicament for the 11,500 residents of this mountain county, 2,400 feet up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia. But lately a lot of things are new in Floyd County; marijuana is only a symptom, and the natives here are wary.
In the last 10 years, thousands of "newcomers" have found Floyd, inflating its population by 19 percent.
"And a good lot of them," says county executive Henry McDaniel, "is what you call these hippie types. They come here and live off the land and run around naked. They grow all this marijuana. It just ain't natural."
Coming to Floyd from New York, Massachusettes, Oregon and California, the "hippie-types" are pilgrims in a promised land, children of the 1960s who pulled their vans into Floyd on their way down the Blue Ridge Parkway one day and never left. They set up food co-ops and communes and one-family farms. The newcomers revived the mountain crafts and the dulcimer music long-forgotten around here, working to mix their life-styles with a tradition of moonshine and moonlight as old as the hogback hills.
But things being as they are on the mountain-- slow and quiet and timeless -- people here were not prepared for organic farming and marijuana fields, or for men who look like women from behind. For the last 150 years, families such as the Phlegars, the Morgans and the Quessenberrys have peopled the hills, and generations lived in the same rough-hewn cabins and farmhouses.
"Time was, everybody was kin some way," Branscome says.
Today, Floyd is still a familiar, comfortable place where people are known by their first names. Neighbors bring plates of food to someone who is sick; the air is as sweet as planting-time dogwoods, the corn as thick as the flattop crew cuts of the weathered men who till the rocky soil.
Newcomers and old-timers say they wouldn't trade Floyd for anywhere on earth. The pilgrims, like ponytailed, apple farmer Mark Kaynol, 29, will tell you that Floyd is "spiritual . . . full of a special kind of karma." The natives, like Branscome, simply say "it's home."
It is in this difference of language that Floyd's dilemma of 1981 lies. Even the sheriff fondly tells stories of dipping moonshine from a water bucket between dances at hillside gatherings of neighbors; getting drunk was one of the ways a man had his fun. But getting high on marijuana is something different. Not only is it illegal, it's against the ways, symbolic to the old-timers of the pollution of change.
In some ways, however, the newcomers have been good for Floyd. During the '60s, the young people of Floyd left in droves. They tired of driving their fire-breathing custom cars through the town's only stop light to the parking lot of Floyd Foods and playing "hiding from cars." They fled to the cities in search of something more, and the population declined by 20 percent.
The newcomers have replaced that lost generation, and they brought college degrees and some new money to a place where 70 percent of the people are farmers and the rest go to surrounding counties to work, mostly at blue-collar jobs. People such as Bob Butterworth opened new bars and businesses, and in 1979 Floyd began to lead the four-county New County River District in new construction starts for the first time since anyone can remember.
"We are good for the county, we supply a new energy that Floyd needed to renew itself," Butterworth says.
But still, says Daniel Lucas, chairman of the county board of supervisors and industrial maintainance teacher at Floyd County High: "A lot of the old-timers resent the newcomers. They don't agree with their lifestyle. That's where a lot of this crackdown comes from. Local people are checking these places out themselves and then reporting to the police."
"They're dirty," says county supervisor Zelda Willard, who sews bottoms onto 1,100 sweatshirts a day at a piecework rate of 4.39 cents each at the Pannill Knitting factory in town. "And I don't go for that loose kind of living, either."
"It is not my personal opinion that these hippies are contributing anything," says Lucas, 54. "Floyd has always been poor, so we don't need these people. People help each other here. That's always been the method of survival."
Even teen-agers from Floyd County High, where the buffalo is the school symbol, say, as does Anthony Haynes, 17, that "some of them's pretty weird." Haynes talks out the window of his green Duster, with the 318-cubic-inch engine and its mag wheels that gleam in the sunlight. Under a tree nearby, his classmates pose for their senior pictures with a wagon wheel and a bale of hay.
"We're a pretty respectable bunch," Haynes says of himself and the crew with the wagon wheel. "Most of the kids don't smoke marijuana, and most don't drink neither . . . . We just ride around, sit in parking lots and talk. It's a free country, but the hippies is giving us a bad name by growing all that stuff."
And so, acting on the public mandate that has elevated him in 11 years from mechanic in a Radford, Va., muffler shop to twice-elected sheriff of the 352-square-mile county, Branscome has enlisted the aid of a state police airplane, added a shotshell cartridge for killing rattlers to his belt, and tramped off into the hills and hollers in search of marijuana.
His deputies go undercover and wear civilian clothes, partly for deception and partly because their double-knit uniform pants -- which cost the men $36 out of their own pockets and $4 extra for the stripes -- snag in the underbrush.
They return from their searches with truckloads of marijuana, which they store until the trials. Afterwards they burn it, sometimes using confiscated bootleg liquor for lighter fluid, as they did last year when, in a lesser effort, they found only two fields.
"Trouble was," Branscome says, "last year we couldn't make the arrests stick. This year, we know what we're doing better. We'll get 'em."
And in rural Virginia, that resolve should worry any marijuana farmer. Growing more than five pounds of marijuana is a felony in the state and carries a 5-to-40-year prison sentence. The people who live on the new farms and communes hesitate to talk of the busts or marijuana with strangers.
They admit that pot has been grown here for years, but say it has been the publicity -- in the form of articles about the busts in the Floyd Press ("The Only Newspaper that Cares about Floyd County") and one about the newcomers in aRoanoke magazine (in which a new resident is quoted as saying that his oldtimer neighbor "drinks his corn likker and I smoke a little grass")-- that has brought stiffer law enforcement and more public pressure for them to leave the burnished beauty of the Blue Ridge countryside.
"Pot is such a miniscule part of life here," says Karen Kaynol 24. "Most of the people I know don't do pot. They don't do beer or sugar or preservatives or meat either . . . . The '60s are over. We all have kids now."
Bob Butterworth, a newcomer from Richmond, owns the New Floyd Cafe, built on the spot where, legend has it, three Confederate soldiers tried to make a last stand against a company of Yanks three weeks after the treaty at Appomatox was signed.
Butterworth has been in Floyd for ten years, and he counsels patience. Nobody ever gets much excited for long around Floyd, he says, and the marijuana crackdown will not be any different.
"Sooner or later, the old-timers are going to realize that we are good for Floyd," he says. "We replaced a whole generation of their kids who left. Some of them already realize that and accept us."
"I don't know about that," says supervisor Lucas. "What them hippies doing up there isillegal."
But what about Floyd County moonshine, the "usin' likker" brewed for generations in stills hidden from the law under mountain laurel and ivy?
"Oh that? Shoot," says Lucas. "Alcohol's legal. You can buy it in a store. I don't know no store were you can buy marijuana."