Close Encounters of the Swamp Kind

If the customs and legends of Loop Road seem strange, you probably don't live there

Mingling with wildlife is, of course, a big part of Loop Road's allure. Wolfe remembers stepping into a shed one day and discovering an alligator. He retrieved his shotgun. "I blew that gator away," he recalls. "But that shed blew away, too."

Wolfe doesn't remember whether that was before or after the federal government declared alligators an endangered species in 1970. Since 1988 the hunting season for the reptiles has been limited. Wolfe, like some of his neighbors, tends to think such regulation is unnecessary. "As far as I'm concerned there never was any shortage of gators. Now they're getting to be so many gators, if they don't open up some law and let 'em take some more, the gators are going to start eating the people. I wouldn't dare step out of my place at night if I didn't have a gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other. And I'd still be scared because there's some twelve- or fourteen-footers around."

Wolfe also recalls the days when parts of the swamp south of the road were as dry as a prairie. That was before the government established Big Cypress and state water managers started to maintain higher water levels. "So many people are used to this high water and so many people don't realize we'd been through so many years when we had no water. You could drive all over those Everglades in an automobile," Wolfe remembers. "You could drive 40 miles an hour."

Of course there were some muddy spots. Wolfe says one of his former neighbors was out on a swamp buggy with tank-like treads one day decades ago when he discovered an abandoned yellow Buick sunk deep into the mud. "There was nobody there, but there were about ten fishin' poles stickin' out," Wolfe relates. "[My neighbor] was going to be the good guy and pull it out. He got out and put the ropes to it.... This buggy was huge.... He said to his girlfriend, 'Back up.'... She pulled at the gear and gave it the gas and instead of backin' it up, she just run that big four-track right up over that car and squashed it right into the mud. And they was all so scared they just took their rope and took off. It took him about four or five years before he ever told me that he was the one who did it."

After a brief spell as a logging town in the Thirties, Pinecrest came to depend on hunting, frogging, and fishing for its livelihood. It was prosperous enough to sustain a service station, the rusty remnants of which still stand. Outdoorsmen relied on the establishment for ice, beer, and groceries. Wolfe remembers that people often took ice from an outdoor freezer without paying for it. Owner Eddie Hawkins, a Missouri native who moved to Loop Road in the late Fifties, decided to get even. "So he killed a six-and-a-half, seven-foot rattlesnake, coiled it up after he killed it, and froze it stiff. He just had it settin' inside the cooler," Wolfe relates with a laugh. "So he kind of scared off whoever was stealin' his ice. Those were the good ol' days."

According to Wolfe, Hawkins employed an elderly man named Benny. "I never saw the man eat anything in my whole life, but he always had a Budweiser in his hand. He weighed about 125 pounds. We just called him the mayor of Pinecrest. Then he died."

Near the center of Pinecrest, where the old gas pumps stand, Jim Dill Road splits off from the main drag. The chuckhole-gouged dead end, one of the bumpiest routes in the Everglades, was named after a mysterious resident who died long ago. One newspaper account describes him as a real estate developer. "There were all kind of rumors why [Dill] lived out there," Wolfe says. "He was a nice old guy. I pulled him out of the ditch a few times. He'd drink too much beer ... but he never bothered anybody. He was well [liked] on the Loop Road. So he passed and that's history."

The road's drinking and eating establishments inspire the fondest memories. One was Sullivan's, owned by Don Sullivan, a local sportsman from Homestead. "He bought a piece of property and built this beautiful barbecue," Wolfe says. "He had it all decorated with antiques and old telephones. He had an old barber's chair in there. All the kids would get their sandwich and then fight to sit in that chair. There was an upstairs. You could look out over the Everglades and see deer."

In the Sixties Wolfe leased the establishment from Sullivan, opened it on weekends, and even offered swamp-buggy rides.

One of Pinecrest's most beloved watering holes was called Gator Hook. It was originally owned and operated by retired Sweetwater policeman Jack Knight. "They always had a band," Wolfe reminisces. "There'd be a lot of Indians, a lot of people from Miami, and the locals. It was a jumpin' place, I guess you could say."

Gator Hook continued to be a popular stop for weekend gatherings throughout the Sixties. Ed, a Miramar resident who occasionally visits Wolfe (and declined to give his last name), remembers a typical outing to the bar in 1969, when he was twenty years old: "There was a wood plank over a ditch to get to the door. You had to walk the plank to get into the place. One time we couldn't get through the door because there were two guys fighting ... so we had to step over them. They had a string band in there with a fiddler and two acoustic guitars. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You talk about pure country. They were in there clogging on a plank floor and drinking on a Saturday night. Hunters and wild country life."

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