Steven McMoyler: Winds of Change

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 (photo credit: Jim Maurer/flickr)

A large water tower in the South Bay is not only the object of a fantastical tale handed down through generations of Steven McMoyler’s family; it’s a monument to the winds of change.

From the early to mid-1900s, the Libby Company near the border of Mountain View and Sunnyvale was the world’s largest cannery, where they processed and canned locally-grown produce. A water tower, a huge cylindrical tank, loomed 150 feet above the area. They painted the tower to look like a can of Libby’s fruit cocktail, with the peaches, pears, and cherries visible from a mile away.

When I was about four years old, I was riding in the car with my father by the water tower, and he told me a story about that can of fruit cocktail. And a generation later I recounted it to my four-year-old daughter:

“Did you know that once there was a giant windstorm, right here?
The wind was so powerful that it toppled that big can of fruit cocktail, knocking it right off its stand! Yeah! And onto this road. The can split open and the fruit cocktail poured out — chunks of peaches and pears the size of refrigerators!

Yep. Cars were skidding in the syrup and crashing! People jumped out of their cars to help, but also to snack. They lifted huge chunks of pineapple into the backs of their pickups, and tied six-foot maraschino cherries to their luggage racks, and some kids started a Slip ‘n Slide in the syrup, and –“


“Dad! You’re silly!” my little girl said. “No wind could be that strong to blow that can down!”

The Libby’s water tower remains — a colossal can of fruit standing high above the business park it straddles. It quaintly offers water to a Silicon Valley too busy to notice. But it also offers a drink of history, for any who might thirst.

The can of fruit also reminds us that the engines that drive a local economy change. Over time, a once-proud industry gives way to the next, as it must. Maybe we can put a giant golden semiconductor up on a pedestal, and one day people will tell the story of how it was toppled -- by the winds of change.

With a Perspective, I’m Steven McMoyler.

Steven McMoyler is a Bay Area native working in Silicon Valley.