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Cal Poly’s Sewer Tour plumbed the mysteries of the deep dark under SLO

New Cal Poly students take part in the Week of Welcome’s Sewer Tour, a walk through San Luis Creek under the town in 1982.
New Cal Poly students take part in the Week of Welcome’s Sewer Tour, a walk through San Luis Creek under the town in 1982. Telegram-Tribune

It is amazing my generation survived to adulthood.

A former Week of Welcome tradition was the Sewer Tour.

The group entered San Luis Creek near Marsh Street and walked underground to Mission Plaza.

The creek smelled bad — really bad, like bat and pigeon guano.

Hard to believe that in 1966 Cal Poly students held a dance there.

The deep dark was full of slippery rocks, and police tell me today it is not unusual to find syringes from intravenous drug users in the creek.

The Sewer Tour has long since been replaced with safer team-building exercises.

In a world where slip-and-fall billboards for attorneys line the highway, it is probably for the best.

S.E. Seager wrote this story for the Telegram-Tribune on Sept. 14, 1982:

Freshmen get feet wet

They tramp through the creek in the dead of night, their sloshing footsteps and echoing laughter causing a flurry of calls to the San Luis Obispo Police Department.

“Yes, ma’am, yes, ma’am, I know,” a police dispatcher on the overnight shift assured one worried caller. “Don’t worry about the noises. It’s only 20 students from Cal Poly.”

Students from Cal Poly?

They gather in groups of 20, and call themselves “Wowies.”

They are the 2,300 new students at Cal Poly, and they have come to get their feet wet during orientation week, or WOW (Week of Welcome).

Their “sewer tour” — as the late-night rite of passage is called — is part of a week of group activities designed by 400 student counselors to familiarize new students with the university and its environs.

Not all tours are as unorthodox.

Monday was “SLO Day,” when counselors take groups of 20 on walking tours of the downtown businesses. Students also take placement exams and sign up with campus clubs.

But the unofficial, unscheduled aquatic tour reigns as the favorite part of WOW week.

“It really builds a bond in the group,” said Lynn Huss, WOW chairman.

“They all hold hands, just instinctively. When it’s all over, they all say, ‘Hey, when are we going on the sewer tour again?’

“It’s a tradition,” Huss said.

The first few weeks of September mark a new tradition for San Luis Obispo traffic officers.

Four additional officers will be on duty this week and next, bringing the total of officers on duty to 10.

“We’re not saying it’s because of students, but at this time last year, we got a slight increase of traffic violations, drunken-driving arrests, and pedestrian-related accidents,” said Steve Seybold, crime prevention coordinator at the Police Department.

By the time classes begin Monday, more than 16,000 students will have flooded San Luis Obispo.

“It’s not that we want to be hard-lined about it,” explained Traffic Officer John Viegas. “But we want them to know we are going to be driving around parties, checking for IDs and citing minors for (alcohol) possession.”

Seybold also warns residents to keep a close watch on potted plants during September. “It’s traditional. We usually get reports of about $2,000 to $3,000 worth of plants stolen in September.”

David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. 805-781-7942,, @DavidMiddlecamp

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