Craig Vetter
1942 - 2017
BORN
1942
DIED
2017
Craig Sandoe Vetter

June 3, 1942 - April 10, 2017

"If the journey is the reward, I feel overpaid"
There was a recent death in Chicago that is of interest to a number of people here in the Bay Area. Craig Vetter passed away quietly in bed in the early morning of Monday, April 10th. For Craig to pass quietly in his sleep will no doubt astound many of his friends for Craig was a constant motion machine and not only an erudite and quick witted man but a risk taker par extraordinaire.
Craig made his mark on the world of letters as a writer first for the Bellarmine College Prep paper (See the photo above where he is on assignment interviewing Willie Mays), and the USF Foghorn and Gaviota, and he went on from there to Sunset magazine and eventually as the first Staff Writer for Playboy magazine. At Playboy he often did the Playboy Interview, most notably the one with his friend Gonzo Journalist Hunter Thompson for the November 1974 edition of Playboy. If you threw that months magazine out you can still catch the interview and great photos of a young Dr. Thompson in Al Satterwhites book, "The Cozumel Diary" with Craig's interview reprinted as well as a foreword by Craig.
When Hunter died Craig penned a unique eulogy to his warped friend in a Playboy article and on line book entitled "Surviving Hunter S Thompson: Remembering a 35 year Friendship".
Craig was a bit of an enigma wrapped up in a riddle. Born Peter Simmons in June of 1942, Craig never knew his father Robert Simmons. His Dad was a Naval Officer on the Destroyer USS Longshaw which went aground off of Okinawa in March of 1945, and was subsequently sunk with heavy loss of life – including his Dad.
The telling of that event is in Craig's manuscript "All my Love, Samples Later: My Mother, My Father and our Family that Almost Was. A Story of Life and War". Craig and his younger sister Pam Vetter Bouton were adopted by Roger Vetter who married his Mom, Winifred Sandoe in Palo Alto in 1948. They dropped the name Peter as well as Simmons because they thought answering to Peter Vetter would leave him open to taunting at school.
These years were not exactly wrapped in warmth and happiness at home, and to add insult to injury Craig fell into the arms of the Catholic intellectual Mafia, the Jesuits. First at Bellarmine College Prep, Class of 1959, and then the University of San Francisco, class of 1966. Along the way he married Sharon Wann, had a daughter Rebecca, and a son Peter.
Craig was a marrying man, and after Sharon he was in and out of marriage and relationships, but he finally settled down about 25 years ago when he married Barbara Biederman and he bonded with her son Eric and daughter Rebecca.
Ever the iconoclast (albeit a well-educated and talented one) he embraced the counter culture and antiwar ethic of San Francisco in the '60's while performing in plays and musicals and the USF Pipes acapella group – much to the delight of the local girls schools ladies. True to form he led revolts on USF student government and wrote for the school paper during strikes of the SF dailies. At one point he and some co-conspirators tried to abolish Student Government by a student plebiscite. At the 12th hour the Jesuits agreed to the election, but with one change – add a third choice, "Make significant changes". The vacillating students went for it instead of yeah or nay on the future of student government. This earned the Jesuits his eternal animosity.
After USF he started down the writers road always making his biting criticisms palatable by his taste for humor and sarcasm, all couched in a very readable style. He tried his hand at speech writing for Senator Cranston at one time, but couldn't get enough vitriol into what he wanted to say and so headed off to the magazines to write short essays on the characters and issues of the day. At Playboy he earned his adventure credentials by doing a series of dares – wing walking on a bi plane, climbing an ice fall and the like until he came to trying an Acapulco Cliff dive which frankly made him view his own mortality in a different light. His on line book "Adrenaline Soup, Six Tales on the Ragged Edge" recaps these hair raising exploits He backed off from that but joined the legion of 60's and 70's risk takers and wrote about first ascents of steep walls in Yosemite, epic treks, Everest ascents, slack wire dare devils, and for a Playboy article, a study of Bat Wing Flying, entitled "Icarus 2010, The Man Who Can Fly" about Dean Potter who found out he really couldn't fly when he died in a bat wing descent in Yosemite in May 2015. Craig knew all of these unique personalities and admired their courage and tried to put them in a shining light. He covered their exploits in Outside (where for one year he was an editor), Esquire, National Geographic Adventure, Sports Illustrated, and others.
To get a feel for rough manual labor he worked in Wyoming with an oil drill crew on a rig, and turned that into a book "Striking it Rich". After a bad fall off the top of the rig he earned the nickname "birdman."
Meanwhile, Craig's health was being compromised by Diabetes and Parkinsons and all the ailments of old age. He had the writers diet of cigarettes, coffee and scotch to keep the creative juices flowing. He never cared much for money but found that being sick needed a certain amount of regular income. He taught non fiction writing at Northwestern for a while. In the last two years of his life he wrote a nonfiction novella about a New Zealand saga entitled "Murder in the Rough and Tumble". When he died in April the book was being polished and sent out to publishers – look for it in the fall. The New Zealand connection was a quest for more information about his mother's family, the Sandoe's of Ashburton, New Zealand.
The relationships Craig had with the women in his life, his friends and his family will be his legacy. His friends in Chicago, the Bay Area, Aspen, and Southern California are all grateful he came into their lives, and will toast his long journey and wish him smooth sailing – most especially his wife Barbara Biederman with whom he had a very serene, loving relationship that gave him great comfort..
If you want to tweak Craig one more time, and get a splenetic outpouring from him in the heavens, have a Catholic Mass said for him by a Jesuit – the entertainment value of that will be priceless. Contact Barbara at [email protected] about the memorial wake for Craig on June 3rd at a Chicago watering hole. Toast a life well lived on what would have been his 75th birthday.
Published by San Francisco Chronicle from Apr. 21 to Apr. 30, 2017.
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19 Entries
Re Craig Vetter, author (not motorcycle accessory designer). I came across this obit in 2020. I knew Craig in Marin County, CA in the 1970s. He lived next door to me in Woodacre for a time before he moved to nearby Fairfax. We had lots of fun talks. He was smart and funny and well-read and profane and courageous. At the time he was typing his manuscripts for the Playboy daredevil series on Hunter Thompson's old typewriter (on which HT typed his Hell's Angels book). When I traveled for a year in Latin America 1979-80 I left Craig in charge of my Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd ed. We talked about everything and traded book recommendations. I lost track of Craig when I moved to Alaska and he moved to Chicago. That was in the pre-Internet days. I always regretted losing touch. He was a good friend.
Tom Webster
April 13, 2020
Craig will forever have a legacy in the motorcycle industry. We had the pleasure of working with him and his creative, adventurous, and free thinking spirit over many years. We will continue to think about him and his impact on our lives.
Leif Gustafsson
Coworker
November 2, 2018
He was a hard working and honest business man. I designed the Fair Warning radar detector for his Windjammer fairing. Met him and worked with him several times in SLO town.
Chuck Fowler
Coworker
May 3, 2018
great friend and constant joy...we will miss you now and for the ages to come mon ami, love from warren and Laura leming
warren leming
April 8, 2018
I learned late of Craig's Passing. It is so sad that another great innovator has left us. His love of motorcycles and the good things these machines and the people around them can do will never be forgotten. Craig has added fuel and creative thinking to the fire of future engineers and innovators. God Bless to Craig and his Family. May the Vetter Spirit never be lost.
Doug Parson
Acquaintance
February 16, 2018
Great man that Craig Vetter
Sorry to be so late to thank him for his story in THE HARLEY-DAVIDSON READER. It was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.Rest in Peace, Pee Wee
Jewel Whigham
Friend
February 9, 2018
We will miss u Craig. I sold your fairings at Dave's Cycle Shop in Seaside, Calif. since 1974. I'm almost ur age so I may b seeing u again soon. Gud luck on ur new adventures in ur new life.
Dave Erskine
Friend
July 7, 2017
Peace to all who knew and loved Craig, especially Barb and his family members. His writing, kindness and sensitivity will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Terry Griffin
Friend
May 4, 2017
Ed Hoban
April 29, 2017
"I'll always remember Craig's smile and laugh. He always made you feel like you were the only one in the room when you had a conversation. There's not a lot of multi-faceted and talented people in this world. Craig was one of them."
Rob Mancuso
April 29, 2017
Where do I find good conversation now? Truly a unique cynic. Humor with an edge. I will miss Craig dearly. He was a best friend. Lots of love.
Ed Hoban
April 29, 2017
Barb,
Again, we are so sorry for your great loss. Mark and I have fond memories of conversations with Craig years ago...prayers for you, all of your family and Craig.

With sympathy,
Laura & Mark Messersmith
April 26, 2017
Rebecca Vetter
April 26, 2017
Rebecca Vetter
April 26, 2017
Never knew him until reading this obit! Incredible guy, with some talented friends. Would have loved to have known him.
Bob Padgett
April 24, 2017
Rebecca Vetter
April 24, 2017
Rowland Scherman
April 24, 2017
knowledge he had great knowledge. God will be with him
Vincent Tackett
Neighbor
April 23, 2017
You squeezed a lot of living into that life! RIP, Craig!
Sue and Mike O'Hare
April 22, 2017
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