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(June / 2010)

-------Summary: Will Anderson (later ECBA #2 and the writer of over 9 books on breweriana) in the early 1960's heard about an abandoned railroad station at Owls Head, NY that had some beer cans on the floor, and this lead resulted in one of the "discovery moments" of beer can collecting when finding older, hidden but protected beer cans. Such discoveries are unusual for most collectors, but what the finders did - taking only a few of each brand found and leaving most - was even more unusual from today's perspective. However this result illustrates a difference in collecting then and now with the many connections among collectors, books on values, etc.--------

One train route in the Northern Adirondacks:
in the 1930's and early 1940's, a passenger riding a New York Central train north out of the Adirondacks to Malone, NY would have seen railroad signs saying Tupper Lake, Saranac Inn, Lake Clear Junction, Gabriels, Stony Wold, Loon Lake, and Owls Head. When the train passed by the Owls Head station, one can imagine seeing (?) a NY Central employee waving. However what that stationmaster (?) periodically must have done (?) probably wasn't known to many persons - enjoying many cans of beer or ale at the railroad station.

Advancing to the 1960's:
Will Anderson heard from an Ardsley, NY high school friend about a railroad station in the far northern Adirondacks at Owls Head that was littered with what seemed to be older beer cans. Will called Bob Myers (later BCCA #26) and the next Saturday they were driving from Ardsley towards Owls Head going by way of Tupper Lake. South of Tupper Lake they stopped for a break by an abandoned house; after a brief look into the house, picked up two top shape Utica Club Sparkling Ale cone tops - what would now be called one of "high profile" types that are rare today. The can-finding miracles for that day were just starting... .
Reaching Owls Head in the afternoon, they stopped at the Owls Head General Store, and could see the railroad station around 250-300 feet to the NE across the railroad tracks. The inside of station was littered with Railway Express forms, etc. and a few scattered cans, mostly older Pabst.

However, they were disappointed that there were not more beer cans after making the long drive, but Bob happened to look at the waiting room's tall ceiling, 10'-11', which had a small, open hatch. Somehow he had the idea to throw a can into the attic. The downbeat feeling at the time changed instantly when the thrown can sounded like it hit metal.
Borrowing a ladder from a nearby home, Bob went up first with a flashlight and looked into a dark, low attic. Turning on the light gave the "discovery moment" of which most beer can collectors dream - out of the darkness everywhere appeared metal reflections.
Will called: "What do you see, what do you see?"
"Beer cans - piles of beer cans are up here."
A "discovery moment" was history. The attic turned out have been dry and the cans were only covered with some coal dust, overflowing the wide and deep spaces between the large, commercial building style attic joists going back many feet from the hatch opening. They spent the next several hours crawling around the attic looking to get two examples of each different beer can label they could find. In total they found about 18 different beer cans:
Fitzgerald's "J"; two different Milwaukee Club HP; three different Beverwyck Ale LP ; Old topper crown; Red Fox Ale LP, and the rarest can found, Haberle's Congress - what would now be called the "high profile" variety.
and flats: Ballantine's ale; Feigenspan Amber ale; PON Ale, Pabst beer; Pabst Old Tankard Ale; Rams Head Ale, Krueger Ale; Genesee Liebotschaner beer; Genesee, white '40's one.

Why were only two cans of each label taken?

While making such "finds" have been rare among collectors, taking only a few examples and leaving most in the attic - is beyond imagination from today's perspective. They didn't know any other collectors, so saw no reason to take more since they were beer drinkers who piled cans up for fun and weren't hoarders of "stuff". (Later Will and Sonja visited a few times when in area, but only took a few more of several brands.)

Sidelight of the coal dust on cans:
Later when Will returned to his apartment house, he cleaned the cans in a utility sink. His woman landlord walked up and said: "I have been watching you - you are washing dirty beer cans. I don't want anybody who washes dirty beer cans in my good building. Pack your things and move out."

Will Anderson takes some Owls Head cans to his first gathering of beer can collectors:
Several years later, Will read about Joe Veselsky of Hicksville, Long Island who had beer can collectors gather at his home. Will stopped by, taking a few of the Owls Head cans. He was overwhelmed with collectors wanting to buy them all, and thought to himself: "I know where hundreds of these are."
Will and Sonja knew then they had to get back to Owls Head and collect all the cans in the attic.
Will described what happened:
"Upon reaching Owls Head, I went in the general store to get some beer nuts. Walking back to the car, Sonja called out 'where is the railroad station?' I said quickly: 'don't you remember', it's over there... pointing away from the store. But when actually looking, I didn't see the station either. We found the station had been bulldozed, buried in hole, and the debris roughly covered over with dirt leaving only some wood scrapes to see. Our expectations for an easy gathering of clean beer cans to make some money were shattered. The shock of no railroad station took away any interest we had to go digging around."

The Owls Head cans furthered Will's interest in older cans:
While today only a few of the Owls Head railroad station's cans have continued to be "rare", Will Anderson went on to accumulate many more beer cans, and expanded to collecting "breweriana" - a word he coined in 1969. He has published over 9 books related to collecting "breweriana".
---Anderson's Turn of the Century Brewery Directory (1968)
---Beers, Breweries, and Breweriana (1969)
---The Beer Book (1973)
---reprinted Hundred Years of Brewing (1973)
---The Breweries of Brooklyn (1976)
---The Beer Poster Book (1977)
---Beer U.S.A. (1986)
---From Beer to Eternity (1987)
---Beer New England (1988)
---The Great State of Maine Beer Book (1996)
---and foreword to New England Breweriana (2001)
(For beer can collectors specifically: Beer, Breweries, and Breweriana, The Beer Book, and The Breweries of Brooklyn show most of the cans Will accumulated from the Joe Allis collection and the other "finds". Most of his breweriana collection was sold in the early 1980's as he focused more on writing books about Diners, activities and persons in Maine, etc.)

Update with a late 1990's picture taken by an Adirondack's collector:
shows approximately the location where the Owls Head railroad station once was, but compared to the 1964 picture, not angled as much across the former railroad right of way. The dropping ridge line of the mountain in the distance matches approximately in both pictures. Dave Lang says Will Anderson long ago told him about the location and Dave checked it out but couldn't located the pit. He doesn't think a metal detector would work well there due to scattered pieces of metal debris.
Are there remaining cans still buried at that location? With the numbers of Beverwyck cones around, there is a chance somebody got many from the location, and maybe someone has heard of later "finds" at Owls Head.


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