Granny's Roughnecks

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On this lazy weekday afternoon, peacocks scream and birds chirp in the banyan trees above the canal as Marshall angrily points out an entire flatbed load of garbage that was dumped off just before dawn recently. Jerry says he woke up in time to see a truck from A+B Roll-off pulling away. The compacted trash sits there in a loaf-like lump. An old, broken television console has cleaved off the mass like an iceberg and crashed to the road. Although the twins called in a complaint, the trash remained there weeks later.

"That's a third-degree felony, right there," Jerry drawls.

Keith pulls up on his green John Deere four-wheeler. "How about calling the Channel 10 Problem Solvers?" he offers his brother. "They're even better than Help Me Howard."

Marshall and Rodd roam up and down the canal in an aluminum boat, collecting garbage that's blown into the water. As the boat ambles up, Rodd jumps out and grabs Colonel Sanders, a red rooster that's one of several camp pets along with a handful of chickens and peacocks, a ten-foot albino Burmese python, dozens of cats, and even a snapping turtle Rodd keeps in a kiddie pool. His broad smile spreading the freckles on his face, he puts Colonel Sanders on his shoulder. With the bird's talons digging into Rodd's white T-shirt -- which reads "Jesus Is My Homeboy" -- he sings, "Colonel Sanders, here he comes, doo-dah doo-dah!"

The cell phone on Marshall's belt rings with a frog's rib-bitt. It's Nicole, trying to find a highway exit in the morass of Miami. Calmly, he gives her directions. "Kiss the baby for me," he says.

Now that police and water management have closed off most of the ATV trails in the eastern Everglades in the past several years (to stop riders from wiping out on the levees and then suing Water Management), Mack's feels an additional pinch. Fewer bikers come in to buy beer, water, sunscreen, and bug repellent. Says Marshall: "We just want to run a family business out here. We're not looking to make a mint. We don't have a fleet of airboats."

Occasionally, film crews have discovered the fish camp's rustic location. Parts of the Robert DeNiro flick Cape Fear were filmed here, explains Marshall, and the recently released Wild Things 2 includes several scenes shot on Danelle Lane, the road atop the levee that runs through the camp.

Business suffered after Nell died, both brothers say. They've shared responsibilities managing the camp and the trailer park, and both admit many compromises have had to be made.

"Granny always let me and my brother do man's labor and taught us how to live out here," Marshall says. "But as far as actually doing the book work for the business, she never taught us that."

The weekend hog roasts or fish fries ($10, all you can eat) are an important revenue source. The pork comes from the big wild boars captured in nearby swamps. Keith pulls out a hunk weighing about 50 pounds from a freezer chest under a gazebo.

"That's his neck," he says, hoisting it. "That's what it took to hold his head up. That's what he was swingin' my dogs around with."

The brothers fry up catfish from the canal. "I won't serve bass to the masses," Keith scoffs. People stand on the pier across from the store and fish for catfish all night. Just ask Rodd. "The record for one caught with beef liver out here is 12 pounds!" he chirps.

Like Keith and Marshall today, the sons of Mack Jones Sr. wrestled differences of opinion when it came to running the fish camp back in the 1950s. The way it ended up, Ralph Jones stayed up at the Krome Avenue location and Mack Jr. ended up on the other side of the road, down the lime-rock road that travels up and over a levee and continues for two-and-a-half miles of washboard ruts and chuckholes.

The camp itself sits about 400 yards -- or about nine telephone poles -- north of the Miami-Dade County line. In the early days, the fishing camp offered access along the canal up to Lake Okeechobee and down to Biscayne Bay. In 1948, Mack Jr. secured a liquor license and opened the one-room mahogany store that still serves fishermen and hunters. In 1954, Jones filed a homestead exemption; in 1956, he married Nell. Mack Jr., a union masonry man, worked construction in Miami while Nell minded the store.

"It was a rough life when they first started," remembers Tom Shirley, who retired as a Florida Fish and Game officer in 1985 after 30 years of service in the Everglades. "They had no electric out there. They had a little generator that didn't work half the time, so they came up the rough way."

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton