The upcoming Orlando Worldcon in September
will afford attendees the chance of meeting the legendary Walter A. Willis, one of the
most reknown and best-liked fans of the 1950s. The 1992 Worldcon will be the 40th
anniversary of his first epic visit to North America and the 1952 Worldcon. Another fan
from the 1950s who will be in Orlando this coming September is Shelby Vick, who besides
being well-known himself to fans of that era, was mainly responsible for convincing
Willis to make the trip, and organized fund-raising efforts for it. The resulting "WAW
With the Crew in `52" campaign was inspiration for the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund (TAFF),
which exists to this day. The following article by Shelby is a remembrance of those
Once upon a time there was a fan named Shelby Vick.
When these two merged, one by-product was the creation of a new chapter in fan history.
Sanco was a cleaning paste my parents manufactured and sold throughout South Georgia, South Alabama, and Florida. Mostly Florida. We cooked the stuff up in a 50 gallon can, added enough food coloring to make it pink, then poured it into gallon syrup cans where it hardened to a paste. We slapped labels we designed and had printed on the cans, boxed 12 to the case, loaded our truck (actually an old car cut off behind the front seats, the rear converted to a small stake-walled flatbed) and hit the road.
In those days, paint wasn't as dirt-resistant as it is now. Nearly every front door had grime on it where hands touched as people went in and out. Sample can in hand, I'd go up, knock on the door, and usually be greeted by the lady of the house. Taking a prepared cloth off the top of my open sample can, I'd introduce myself and take a swipe at the dirt, which would quickly disappear. (Of course, I'd leave a dramatic dirty spot beneath where I'd cleaned, for contrast.) Sometimes I'd be invited in to demonstrate Sanco on some stubborn kitchen grease or whatever. It usually resulted in a sale; one can for $1, three for $2.50. Since it didn't cost $5 to manufacture a case (cost of cans and labels and box included) there was a tidy profit.
We usually sold the county school board several cases as we traveled about, and other businesses would buy caselots, as well as several cans to most service stations (after showing that our product was also good for cleaning greasy hands and white sidewall tires). Depending on the size of a town, we'd be there either several days or several weeks. Or, in the Tampa-St. Pete area, several months.
What, you ask, does this have to do with fandom? Well, I had lots of spare time. In cheap motel rooms I'd read the latest prozine, or any fanzines that had caught up with me thru the postal forwarding process, plus letters from fans I had contacted one way or another. I had a portable typer my folks had given me for graduation, plus a ream of canary second sheets, and I'd answer letters or work on stories. I even had the typer on my lap as we traveled about, so I could type as my father drove.
Did I do much? Best way to answer that is to flash forward. Back in Lynn Haven after an eight month tour of Florida, a letter showed up addressed simply to "Shelby Vick, Tampa, Fla." On the envelope an unknown postman had noted, "Try Lynn Haven, Fla."
While in the Tampa-St. Pete area, I visited someone I had met thru the mails, a great gal name of Felice Perew. Later, she married Joe Rolfe and Joe and Felice Rolfe moved to California. In between, by mail, she introduced me to Suzanne Ross. (At first I thought she was called Suzy and she went along with it for a while, then calmly explained that 'Suzy' was the name for a cow. Since she is definitely no cow, from then on she was and is Suzanne.) She and I corresponded for many years, and eventually met and married. Sanco thus made personal history.
For one thing, we made one trip to Savannah, Ga., where I was privileged to be the first fan to see, in person, that Lee Hoffman was actually Hoffwoman, leading to my introduction of LeeH to a suitably astounded Bob Tucker at the Nolacon.
The Other? While on the road I was smitten with the insane delusion that I could organize a drive to bring Walt Willis over for the next Worldcon. It fizzled, because there was only a matter of months before Nolacon, but I was so fired up that I saw my failure as only a faulty step in the right direction.
At this juncture I should own up to the fact that my life, to that point, had been filled with projects hastily started and eventually abandoned. I felt that I had never seen anything thru, and wondered if I ever could. Then and there, I decided that this was going to be different; for once in my life, I was going to show that I could complete something.
Well, I succeeded. It nearly worked Walt Willis into an early grave (for the thousandth time, Walt: sorry about that!) but WAW With The Crew made it in `52.
Now for the first time it is revealed: The Willis Campaign and the TAFF Fund and my marriage to Suzanne can trace their origin back to a can of soap paste named Sanco.
And they lived zappily ever after...
Title illustration by Kip Williams