Walt Willis unfortunately did not have time to visit the San Francisco Bay area
during his epic 1952 trip. If he had, he would have met up with another thriving
fan community, which would host a worldcon only two years later. Bay area (or
Bayrea) fandom of the 1950s featured some of the most well-known fans of the time
(many of them mentioned in this article), and was the origin of some of fandom's
most enriching stories (including the celebrated Carl Brandon hoax, but more on
that another time). Here is a remembrance of one of those bits of 1950s Bayrea
It's sometime in 1954 (or was it 1955) and Dave Rike is sitting before his decrepit Underwood model 5 typer, with a spirit duplicator master unit rolled up on the platen. He had bought a flatbed spirit duper from Larry Anderson in Billings, Montana, the founder of WAPA, the Whimsical Amateur Press Association, and one of the first persons to use a 'micro-elite' 17 pitch typer in fmz fanac. While he had a mimeo, an A.B.Dick model 78, his typer wasn't too good at cutting stencils and so he was hoping that it'd be better at making master units. He wasn't having much luck with using the spirit duper, even tho Don Wegars was getting great results from his doing his zine Fog. Well, practice supposedly makes perfect, and so he was having another try at doing a zine with the infernal device.
So with a blank master unit and almost equally blank mind Dave started typing away with the usual mindless fannish nattering of someone who doesn't really have that much to say but still wants to fill up a page with writing. From a faded copy of the first page of text, things went something like this...
"This is being sent out mainly thru WAPA, what copies are left are sent to some fiends and likeable strangers. Those of you who don't belong to WAPA or send me your fmz had best do something if you desire any future issues of this publication. I would suggest that you either send me copies of your publication in exchange or write a letter so interesting and full of content that when I start wondering what to what to do with the extra copies of the next issue your name (and address) immediately comes to mind. Everyone is welcomed to send money, but it won't get you a copy of this fmz. Rather, it'll go to further the campaign a few of us Bay Area fans are starting. This is to build a ladder made out of empty bheer cans (filled with bottle caps & pasted together with a glue made from a mixture of the Nectar of the Ghods and ground glass from bourbon bottles [Jack Daniels #7, of course]). Being as the various World Powers are ruthlessly vying to be the first to reach the moon, we can not risk publicity of our efforts, so all of this is being done in secret, beneath the eyes of Authority. By keeping the Real Motive a secret, we find that we can operate for the most part out in the open, even with Vested Authority unwittingly aiding us in the Cause.
"Perhaps those of you who have corresponded with Dean A. Grennell or have read one of his splendid publications have come upon references to him making regular sojourns down to a local garbage dump to shoot rats with his .357 Magnum. In reality, unbeknownst to all but a Few, he is actually furthering his stockpile of bheer cans, readying for the Day. If you travel about the country you will note that by every community, be it big or small, lies a garbage dump, with vast mounds of empty bheer cans. They are caches, strategically placed, all waiting for the Day.
"But these caches are but empty bheer cans, [to] remedy this, we here in the Bay Area have made caches of [full] bheer cans that will serve for the Foundation. Whenever one or more of us are gathered, we pool together our small change and go and buy a couple six packs or a case or two. If we are more flush, we purchase several cases and have a Bheer Bhust. After each of these sessions, we carefully preserve each and every can and fill it with bottle caps, making sure that no Coke or other soft drink cap is allowed to contaminate the others. These are carefully hidden in or around our homes. I have a rare picture taken by Boob Stewart of one of these caches. I hope to include it in either thish or a future one, to give you an indication of how our work is proceeding along.
"As increased state taxes have raised the price of bheer, we have encountered some difficulty in being able to buy as much of the Sacred Nectar as we would desire to further the Cause, so if any of you send me a sum, be it large or small, you will be assured of having your Name inscribed on one of the Foundation cans by one of the Can Openers that opened a million bheer cans..."
The text breaks off at this point as the page ends. To judge from the quality of repro, Dave still had a bit to go before he was able to get decent repro from that duper. Within a year or so he was able to acquire a better typer that could cut stencils and more legible spirit masters and a hand-fed spirit duper from Sears & Roebuck, besides learning how to better use his mimeo to do more than put out crudzines. Such as the early issues of Innuendo, but that comes later.
With copies of whatever pages he was able to run off on his duper he went down to visit friends in San Francisco. If he had the money he'd take a Greyhound bus or, which is more likely, he'd hitchhike to downtown SF and take a bus or jitney out Mission Street to Richland and walk over to Arlington to see if Bob Stewart was home. If he wasn't then he'd walk on down thru St. Mary's Park where Bob might be hanging out and then head across Alemany Blvd. and up Cambridge to Terry Carr's place.
Though strewn with typos and twisted syntax, the writing, possibly reflecting thoughts that were going on in the heads of the other fans, struck a resonating chord and it was from this humble beginning that the fable of the Tower to the Moon from Bheer Cans began.
In a way it is ironic, since by that time they had begun to prefer foreign beers which were only to be had in bottles. Not that any of them actually drank that much. The 'cache' of empty beer cans was a photo taken by Bob Stewart (at that time nicknamed 'Boob' because he titled his zine Boo! to differentiate him from the two Bob Stewarts from Texas who were then beginning to become active fans at the time). The photo showed a bunch of cans piled in a shed in the backyard of Bob's place that were left there by his older brother and his friends after one of their beer busts. (Bob's brother and his friends weren't fans, but hard core mouldy fig jazz musicians who preferred King Oliver style ensembles to the endless string of solos of 'Dixieland' jazz in rendering the tunes they played. If it was 20 or so years later they'd probably would have weird hair-dos and be playing punk rock.)
They drank because their parents and peers did, along with most of society around them. It was a socially convivial thing to do when gathered together at one or another's house or at a meeting of the Golden Gate Futurian Society. Especially at the GGFS meetings because all of them were teenagers. Pete Graham, while one of the active fanzine fans of the group, did not drink alcoholic beverages at that time. While a few jokes might have been made about this from time to time, he was still part of the gang and welcomed at any of the get-togethers whenever he could make it down from Fairfax in Marin County. Dave's memory is vague on this detail, but his recollection is that none of them ever drank that much, that a couple of cans or bottles was all it took to satisfy them for an evening.
It didn't take long for the 'ladder' to be transformed into a tower and the myth was embroidered and elaborated at parties and from time to time in fanzines. A tower is grander and evokes mythic images (even without reading Joseph Campbell) that come from the distant past such as the Tower of Babel that was to reach up to the heavens. By the time Terry Carr and Ron Ellik were putting out Fanac in Berkeley from 1958 on it had become a running fannish gag.
While Dave Rike might have been the first to refer to the Tower in print that doesn't mean that the idea was entirely original with him. It might have been at one party or another that one of the gang would idle away his time while listening to endless fannish talk of the others by attempting to stack up some empty bheer cans. (If they're drunk by a fannish sort then they become bheer instead of beer cans.) All cans at that time were made of steel instead of extruded aluminum and might have stacked easier. "Hey, Bob, what're trying to do there?" "Oh, I dunno, jes' thinking that if I had enough cans I could build a tower that'd reach up to the moon." "Oh yeah, well you buy the bheer and I'll drink it for ya." Something like that. Dave doesn't remember any attempt to set up a Tower but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Terry probably would have remembered, but, unfortunately, he is no longer with us. Bob Stewart and Pete Graham are currently out of the fannish loop but if someone is ever able to get in touch with them then possibly they can ask them what they recall.
Anyway, it is from such humble origins that a fannish legend was born...
All illustrations by Kip Williams