This is a series of articles published throughout 2015 in the Sierra Nevada Unit newsletter in commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the Wally Byam Caravan Club, International. The articles were written by Diane Leipper (#772). The primary sources for information included many sections of the SierraNevadaAirstreams.org website, diaries and other documents from Jo & Bryan Harrison (#772), Dale & Virginia Leipper (#1183) and other WBCCI members. A special source of information was Dale (Pee Wee) Schamborn. There is an entire section of the website specifically devoted to his contributions from the estate of his mother, Helen Byam Schwamborn. Information and quotes were also gathered from various publications, including two books written by Wally Byam. These are; Travel Trailers, Here and Abroad and Fifth Avenue on Wheels.
Articles - New Adventures -|- Who is Wally Byam -|- Airstream Caravans -|- WBCCI Important Historical Dates -|- Helen Byam Swamborn -|- International Rallies -|- Frequently Asked Questions -|- Airstream Trailers -|- Stella Byam and the Triad -|- A Few Favorite Traditions -|- WBCCI, Some Historical Highlights -|- Wally Byam Philosophy
Note: Published date links to that months newsletter
Two amazing new adventures started in 1955, both in the month of July. One of these was the formation of the Wally Byam Caravan Club, International on July 4, 1955, Wally's Birthday. The official formation of a club exclusive to owners of Airstream trailers grew out of group of people who had been traveling with Wally Byam on caravans and who now wanted to create a more organized structure. The club came into being during a caravan to Eastern Canada.
Read a detailed description of the formation of WBCCI taken from phone and email conversations with Dale Schwamborn. Dale (Pee Wee) was first cousin once removed of Wally Byam. Wally treated Dale as if he was his own son. Dale went on many adventures with Wally including the first caravan to Mexico and Central American in 1951 and the African Caravan in 1959. It was Wally who nicknamed Dale, Pee Wee. Dale came across our website several years ago. He'd been trying to share his history and because of my family history that he saw on the website, he felt this might be a good fit for his material. Since then Dale has done presentations at a wide variety of rallies and events. He has shared materials on forums and now posts pictures, stories and antidotes on his facebook page. He has also written several articles for the Blue Beret. Dale provides a fascinating insider's look at the origins and history of WBCCI. It was Dale's mother, Helen Byam Schwamborn, Wally's 1st cousin, that Wally chose to head up the newly formed WBCCI.
The other adventure that started in 1955 was Disneyland. It opened to the public on July 17, 1955. Disneyland came about from Walt Disney visiting various amusement parks with his daughters in the 1930s and 1940s. On one such visit, while sitting on a bench watching his children on a Merry go round, the idea of a "magical park" where parents and their children could have fun took root. That park bench is now in the lobby of Disneyland's Main Street Opera House. Disneyland now has a world-wide presence with a variety of theme parks.
Although vastly different in size and scope, both WBCCI and Disneyland have some similarities. They both offer an opportunity for adventure that encompasses an international component. Both organizations emphasize fun. Disneyland is called "The happiest place on earth" Fun is highlighted in WBCCI Four Freedoms - "Freedom for fun - All of the first three freedoms add up to the fourth. You just plain begin to relax and enjoy life to the full." Fun is inherent in The Code of Ethics and the Wally Byam Creed. Family is an essential part of both organizations and both provide opportunities for kids and parents to share unique adventures and create special memories.
I am taking the opportunity of the 60th Anniversary of WBCCI to share some of the history of the organization that I have collected from family as well as friends. I hope to include stories, pictures, and other memorabilia in SNU newsletters throughout 2015. Most of the material I have collected is posted on our website in the History section - History on SierraNevadaAirstreams.org I hope you'll take the opportunity to browse through this section and learn more about this unique organization. If you have history to share and would like to add to this collection, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
From the book Airstream written by Robert Landau and James Phillippi published in 1984
Note: this picture was taken in 1955 celebrating Wally's birthday. Wally's wife, Stella is to Wally's right. Stella is wearing a white tie.
Wally Byam was born in Baker, Oregon. He was the founder and chairman of Airstream Trailers, Inc, As a young boy Wally assisted his grandfather herding sheep and living in a two-wheeled wagon covered with cloth towed by a donkey. The wagon had a mat for a bed, a kerosene cook stove, a wash pail and some books. Byam graduated from Stanford in 1923 with a degree in law. Instead of practicing law he ended up in publishing. During this time he came across an article on how to build a trailer. This eventually led to Wally building trailers in his backyard for sale. He conceived the name "Airstream" in 1934 because he thought his trailers traveled like a stream of air. In the winter of 1951, during a conversation with a customer, the first glimmer of an idea about caravans was born. Wally Byam's involvement with Airstreaming and caravaning continued until his death in 1962.
To read more about Wally Byam, who he was, his family history, his early travels and to check out photo galleries and other memorabilia, check out contributions made to SierraNevadaAirstreams by Pee Wee.
These quotes come from the book Trailer Travel Here and Abroad written by Wally Byam in 1960. Thanks to the efforts of Rich Luhr of Airstream Life and others, this book, along with Fifth Avenue on Wheels also written by Wally, were republished a few years ago and now are available for purchase at the Airstream Life store
" A well-built travel trailer is so feather-light you almost forget it's there after the first few miles."
"From the time Cornelius Vanderbilt and I toured Europe in the summer of 1948, I had been completely sold on it as the most exciting place to travel - especially by trailer - in the whole world."
"It was at Copenhagen, (at the 1953 International Trailer Rally) indeed, that I received my come-uppance. Anxious not to offend anyone with a crude display of American wealth and proficiency, we had decided to take a rather primitive little 16-foot Airstream Bubble. But when I saw the fancy European trailers there, I was the one who was embarrassed."
"Parked right alongside us was one of the smartest little French jobs you ever saw...an interior that looked like Madame Pompadour's boudoir. The German trailers were mechanically ingenious, full of folding and unfolding furnishings...The British trailer was ...absolutely the last word in conservative taste...."
"I think trailering should begin at home. It is cheaper, more necessary to our education and, very important to neophytes, more convenient (than trailering abroad)."
"Trailering has been developed to a high art in America because we developed the automobile that made it possible, a technology that could make it more comfortable, and an elaborate highway network and system of fine trailer parks to make it more pleasurable."
Lining up for gas on the 1957 Mexican Caravan
A group of RV's traveling together in a caravan has been part of WBCCI since before the club was officially created. In fact, it was people who had been traveling with Wally who, in 1955 decided it was time to form a club. The first caravan came about when Wally Byam decided traveling with a new Airstream owner was a good way to introduce him to the trailer and all the benefits of trailer travel. Since the beginning WBCCI Caravans have traveled all over the U.S. and in fact, all over the world. Some of the most well known WBCCI caravans are the 1959-1960 African Caravan and the 1963-1964 Around the World Caravan. Pee Wee has provided the SierraNevadaAirstreams.org website with a wonderful collection of photos and memorabilia of these two caravans as well as other caravans, from the Estate of Helen Byam Swamborn
In his book, Travel Trailer, Here and Abroad, (talking about the 1952 Caravan to Mexico) Wally says " .. We discovered how much fun trailering could be en masse if we ran the whole shebang like a New England town meeting and let democracy have it's head, This cooperative system eliminated almost all the problems of traveling with a large group..."
Camp at Guanajuato
My Grandparent's, Bryan & Jo Harrison (#772) went on several WBCCI caravans in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. It was always exciting to hear about their adventures and see their pictures when they came to visit. These excerpts are from their travel diaries. It provides a little glimpse of what those early caravans were like. Check the Harrison travelogue on the website for the photo gallery of this caravan and all sorts of other information including the roster of participants, newspaper clippings, the caravan program and other documents.
January 15, 1957 - Left Juarez 8:10. Caravan started leaving at 8:00. Weather fine but a little chilly. What a sight after we all got strung out on the Highway. Over 200 trailers. Have to be seen to believe. Met up with our neighbors, Mr. & Mrs, North from MO and Mr. & Mrs. Luckynot from WA.
Back to Juarez for a few highlights. “The Banquet” needs some mention. Our introduction to the land of Mananna. Soup, cold beer. Shrimp cocktails – ran short and served fruit instead. By the time turkey was served at our table everything began to run short. I doubt if some of the people got anything to eat. The floor show was something they picked up out from one of the drivers in Juarez. But all in all we had a nice banquet.
Now back on the road to Chihuahua. The road is narrow and bad shoulders. We were traveling too fast so three of us decided to travel together and drive slower. Stopped for lunch about 1 o”clock. Arrived in Chihuahua about 3:30 pm. All three of us parked together. State Band here to greet us and a Mariachi band to entertain. Spent the evening sitting out in front of our trailer with our neighbors and enjoyed the new moon. Very beautiful.
January 17, 1957 – left at 8am - beautiful cattle in country from Juarez to Chihuahua but need rain more than we do in California. Arrive 3pm Parral mileage 974.4 – weather cold – little clouds very cold – lots of Mexican kids. Old mining town – very crooked streets – our campground, grand as usual. Band and mariachis to greet us – no time for sight seeing – too cold to go any place. Up at 6am left at 8:05 for Durango – 286 miles – the trip was on bad roads, lots of grades. Before arriving in Durango had to detour for about six miles and two mean detours. Have never driven a car and trailer over anything as bad as we did today – very dusty. Gassed up at Zecas and ran out of gas within one block of the campground at Durango – borrowed gas from the Norths to make it into camp – very tired. No time to visit at Parral – street too narrow and crooked – a large smelter situated on a hill opposite campground – very cold – surrounded by rolling countryside – this is the land of cactus and mesquite but beautiful cattle country – that is if they could only get rain.
Caravans are still a special benefit of being a WBCCI member. Several SNU members, including the Wheeler's, The Colligan's and the William's, have participated in caravans. Other sources for information and photos of Caravans, including past SNU newsletter articles, can be found in the caravan section of SierraNevadaAirstreams.org
Wearing blue berets made it easier to spot caravanners in a crowd
Check the Harrison Travels blog for more entries from their travel diary about the 1957 Mexican Caravan and other Airstream adventures
From the book Fifth Avenue on Wheels written by Wally Byam - I always walk in (a trailer park) and investigate before I pull my outfit in. And many of the better parks want to investigate you. Well do I remember one park where they asked for banking and social references, and when Cornelius Vanderbilt gave them his they almost fell off the Christmas tree. The next day, they presented him with a nicely scrolled welcome to their park, signed by all the residents in the park.
I put together this list of dates important to WBCCI in 2005 in a booklet I created to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of WBCCI. These dates come from a variety of sources. There have been many changes since 1978 and many dates that could be added to this list. WBCCI is continually evolving and initiating new programs while others have served their purpose and are no longer part of the club. The one thing that remains constant is the aluminum semi-monocoque construction exterior of the Airstream trailer that is recognized World-wide.
1934 Wally Byam conceived the name Airstream for his trailers
1936 The Clipper, the first "official" Airstream was built
1948 Wally Byam formed his own company, Airstream Trailers, Inc
1951 First Caravan organized. Destination - Central America
1955 WBCCI founded on August 3 at Kentville Nova Scotia. There were 80 charter members
1956 First European caravan and first caravan to Cuba
1957 The first local club (Unit) was organized. It was the New York-New Jersey WBCCI.
1957 The tradition of painting red membership numbers on the front of Airstreams of WBCCI members became a requirement
1958 The first International WBCCI rally was held Bull Shoals, AR. 300 attended.
1959 A caravan traveled 9,000 miles from Capetown to Cairo in Africa
1962 Wally Byam died. A foundation was created in his name for the purpose of hosting foreign groups on annual trailer tours of America
1976 the largest attendance at a WBCCI International rally was at Louisville, KY. Total attendance was 4493
1978 All manufacturing and executive capabilities were centralized in the Jackson Center headquarters.
WBCCI is the oldest single product RV club still in existence. It has weathered many ups and downs over the years. There have been several attempts to increase membership by including RV products other the aluminum Airstream trailer but the strength of the club has always been in that most recognizable of trailers. In recent years there seems to be an increase of interest both in the vintage Airstream trailers and the new models. It is not just the iconic Airstream trailer that attracts people, it is the history, the stories from the early days of the club. In one way or another, many people are aware of the Airstream caravan through Africa and maybe the Around the World Caravan. They are aware of the large gatherings of Airstreams at rallies and other events. Almost everyone has had an experience of seeing Airstreams on the road or possibly even seen a group of Airstreams at a rally. Although WBCCI has never kept records, there seems to be a large group of members who are second, third, and even fourth generation members. These people have experiences and memories of their parents and grandparents Airstream adventures and want to continue the tradition. When you purchase an Airstream you are purchasing a part of that history. Your own adventures in your Airstream will add to that history.
I” remember my first brush with Airstreams. Once I was flying from Ohio to Pennsylvania when I passed over what must have been 500 trailers at an Airstream rally. The reflection from all those silver trailers nearly blinded me. The formation looked magnificent from the sky.” Bob Cummings from the book, Airstream published in 1984
The information in this article comes from phone and email conversations with Helen's son Dale (Pee Wee) Schwamborn and also from documents and other memorabilia from the Estate of Helen Byam Schwamborn.
Who is Helen Byam Schamborn? In short, she was Wally Byam's first cousin. Their fathers were brothers, Bert and Ray Byam. As children and young adults Wally and Helen had little contact. That all began to change in the late 1920's through a series of circumstances.
When you learn more about the Byam family and especially their outlook on the world, you can begin to understand the characteristics that made both Wally and Helen uniquely appropriate to create and develop a product and a club that has stood the test of time. As Pee Wee says "It was an inside thing for Wally to remind my Mother that she was a Byam and a Byam can do it, or she would remind Wally that he was a Byam. This ongoing family affirmation meant something. To be a Byam was positive and full of the can do attitude to accomplish things. Helen was Wally's confident. She listened, she 'had sage', Wally valued her, her opinions, her work ethics, and he valued her as someone he could count on
It was this "can do" attitude helped Helen learn how to tow an Airstream. Wally told his ''little cousin' (as he always fondly called her) that there was nothing to towing a trailer, if you can drive a car, you can tow a trailer. Besides that he told her, you're a Byam. Helen hitched up her Airstream and headed cross country to go on a caravan. She towed for tens of thousands of miles, crossing the United Sates too may time to count. She towed #2 (her Airstream number) to Europe, Canada, and Mexico. Often she traveled with her son (Dale), a niece or a friend. However, she did all of her own towing and driving, almost unheard of for a woman of the 1950's and 1960's.
When the participants of the 1955 caravan of Eastern Canada started talking about creating a club, Wally asked Helen to join the caravan. He needed someone to take over the mechanics and the administrative demands for a Club, especially since he had to leave the caravan to go to Europe
Among Helen's many contributions to the club over the years:
She organized all of the early Caravans, including those to Mexico, Central America, the 1956 European Caravan, the 1959 African Caravan and the 1963 Around the World Caravan.
As one of the founding members of the WBCCI, Helen led a caravans, was the first editor of the Blue Beret and she created the first club directory, the first club history, and first song book.
Helen was writer and editor of the newsletter "The Caravanner",
She sat on the Airstream board of directors.
She led the Wally Byam Foundation.
When on a caravan or at a rally, Helen's door was always open. She was the one people came to anytime, night or day, when there was a problem or something needed to be straightened out. Helen, along with Wally's wife Stella, were the ones who occasionally had to smooth ruffled feathers which Wally once in a while stirred up with his exacting and sometimes cantankerous manner.
Helen retired from WBCCI in 1979 at age 75. She was 99 when she died in 2004. The quote made at her Bakersfield Memorial Service, probably sums up whom she was
"She never met a stranger!" Few of us can present this to people we have never met. My Mom was such a remarkable person. A Mother, a business lady, a friend, a confident to many people. Those that knew her loved her very much. She really was an asset to Airstream and the Club."
II say this not just because she was my Mother, but was an extraordinary human being. - Pee Wee
This photo is the 1960 organizational rally of the Arizona Unit. Helen is standing on the left. kneeling on her left is J. Aubrey Lyons (deceased) past International President. My Grandmother Jo Harrison is standing behind Helen's left shoulder. My Grandfather is standing on the right. Standing on the far right is "Pop" Riley first president of the WBCCI - This photo is from Jo & Bryan Harrison's memorabilia
The 2015 International Convention/Rally of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International, Inc. will be held in Farmington, New Mexico June 26 - July 4. This is the 58th Annual WBCCI International Rally. If you haven't been to an International Rally, it is definitely worth putting on your agenda if not this year, sometime in the future. You will learn a lot about WBCCI, have a chance to meet fellow Airstreamers from all across the country, and have a great time. The first WBCCI International rally was held in Bull Shoals, AK in 1958 AR. 300 members attended that rally. The highest attendance at a WBCCI International Rally was in 1976 in Louisville KY with 4,493 members participating.
A discussion with Pee Wee in 2009 provided these insights on the history and purpose of the WBCCI International Rallies.
For many years the Caravan, Anhanger or Trailer Clubs of Europe had their International Rallies each year. I know that Wally and Stel went to rallies in 1953, 1954, 1955 and then the 1956 European Caravan attended the International Rally.
The International Rally for WBCCI came about in the same vein that the WBCCI was formed. The WBCCI gave friends an opportunity to get together without going on a Caravan. On a much larger scale the International Rally gave friends from all over the United States, and Canada an opportunity to renew their friendships, in mass, once a year.
It was held on the 4th of July for several reasons. This was a period of time that school was out, and summer vacations could be taken. Also what a great time to celebrate the fantastic life of Airstream and the WBCCI. Also it was a tribute to Wally Byam. The Fourth of July was his birthday. Oh boy, did Wally love a party...especially his birthday. The Airstream owners wanted to share their way of life, and their affection for Wally.
The June 1958 Caravanner Newsletter, probably written by Helen Schwamborn, has this description of the upcoming rally at Bull Shoals.
Picture in your mind's eye a huge field (fifty acres in extent) covered with green turf... shaded by hundred-year old trees... on the edge of a beautiful, blue lake in the Ozarks - a field large enough to hold a thousand Airstreams in one huge caravan circle perched on a cliff two hundred feet about the lake.
Such will be the site of the First International Wally Byam Caravan Club Rally. This will be our own exclusive camping site loaned to us through the courtesy of the Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army. If you need any reassurances about the beauty of location of the site for the International Rally, your doubts should be dispelled by knowing that it is the exact location from which then-President Harry Truman dedicated Bull Shoals Dam in in 1947.
Here are some experts from Helen's article on Rally Planning written before the 1965 rally in Laramie WY - When considering a site attention must be given to the size - is it large enough to accommodate as many trailers as expected; is it level; accessible; what about the soil? Is it soft enough to dig a hole, yet hard enough so if it rains the trailers won't get bogged down? Is there protection from the weather for group activities and programs? Buildings? Tents? Are facilities available - water, sanitary, garbage, and trash disposal, electricity for the center area? What about butane, groceries, gasoline, garages? Is it an interesting location - is the climate pleasing at this time of year?
A sample of other parts of the planning include: Bids for twelve thousand feet of water pipe, electricity and telephones. Special electrical requirements need to be considered including outlets for electric shavers, ironing, hair dryers. Ten telephone booths would be needed and six numbers set up for WBCCI use. 400 huge cans were purchased for garbage and a First-aid trailer station set up.
My grandparents, Jo and Bryan Harrison (#772) attended several WBCCI International Rallies including the second one at Wisconsin Dells, the 1960 Rally in Colorado Springs, CO and the 1962 Rally at Auburn, WA. My parent's, Dale & Virginia Leipper (#1183) attended at least two International Rallies including 1986 at Boise, ID and 1989 at Bozeman, MT. Bryan and I have attended two officially - 1998 Boise and 2006 Salem - and one unofficially. Several SNU members have attended WBCCI International Rallies and a few have worked on some of the rally committees. Some of the things I remember from my grandparent's stories were that the rallies were essentially a big campout. In the early days, the utility companies would come to the rally with their post hole digger and dig a "gopher hole" for each trailer. All the activities took place at the rally site. There were pot lucks and parades as well as local entertainment and WBCCI meetings. Many of these activities are part of today's International rallies. In recent years attendance at WBCCI International rallies has been steadily decreasing and attendance is now under 400 rigs. There are several reasons for this, some of which could be addressed and some which are probably related to societal changes. The International Rallies are still a great way to catch up with old friends from across the country and to meet new friends. Often it is the informal gatherings at the International Rally that are the most rewarding. Informal and ad hoc groups gather around the airstreams for happy hours, BBQ's, pot lucks or just visiting. Caravanners that are passing by usually get invited to join the group. There's nothing better than sharing experiences and adventures with fellow Airstreamers.
Pictures Bull Shoals logo -|- 1962 Auburn, WA -|- 1959 Wisconsin Dells -|- 1960 Colorado Springs Church Services
Although the Airstream trailer is recognized world-wide there are many elements of Airstream and especially, WBCCI that are not as well known. This is a list of some of the most common questions asked about Airstreams and WBCCI.
Who is Wally Byam?- Wally Byam is the creator of the Airstream trailer and founder of the Wally Byam Caravan Club (WBCCI)
What is WBCCI? - A non-profit primarily volunteer organization with headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio. The organization, which includes Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Australia is comprised of regional divisions. Each region is composed of between 25 to 500 local units.
How did the first Caravan occur and when? - Mr. Byam, in a discussion with a customer who had recently purchased an Airstream but wasn't getting as much out of trailering as he could, suggested they go on a trip together. That way Byam could help him learn about the "efficiency and pleasure" of trailer travel. The year was 1951.
What are the big red numbers all about? - The numbers indicate membership in WBCCI. They came about during the second trip (the first somewhat official caravan) to Mexico and were used to identify trailers so they could be checked in at each stop. They are included in the member directory so when you pass an Airstream on the road you can look them up and see who they are and where they are from.
What are the red stars you see on some Airstreams with the numbers? - The stars indicate tenure. Each star represents five years membership in WBCCI.
When was the first Airstream trailer built? - On January 17, 1936 Byam's Airstream Trailer Company introduced the Clipper. This trailer is still on display at the Airstream factory. Mr. Byam had been building trailers and improving techniques since the late 1920's. The Clipper though, is considered the first official Airstream.
What makes Airstream trailers unique? - Airstream trailers are recognized world-wide because of their aluminum semi-monocoque construction exterior that is much like that used in the aircraft industry. Their construction makes the Airstream lighter in weight than most other trailers and the rounded, aerodynamic shape with low center of gravity makes towing smoother and requires less horsepower.
Who can become a member of WBCCI? - Anyone who owns an Airstream or Argosy RV product can become a member. Membership is paid to the international headquarters on an annual basis. For an additional minimal cost you can also become a member of your local unit.
What do members of WBCCI do? - The primary activities are caravans and rallies. Caravans are extended trips that cover a specific section of a country or visits to several countries. Rallies are held in a specific location and usually range from two or three days to a week or more. Both rallies and caravans can be sponsored and organized by the Airstream company, by WBCCI, by individual regions, or by local units. There are also special event rallies usually centered around a specific local event such as the Rose Parade in CA, or the Mardi Gra in LA. Since it's inception, WBCCI has also been involved in community service projects. In addition to promoting good will, WBCCI supports local programs both at the international and the local Unit level. A committee for the International rally is in charge of determining, organizing, and carrying out a local service project in conjunction with the rally. Many units adopt a specific non-profit or charity and provide support through various activities and contributions.
Photo captions: top pic 2014 Alyska Caravan -|- bottom pic 1962 Four Corners Rally
Before all the environmental regulations, gopher holes were a common way to empty both the black and gray tanks at a rally or on a caravan. Often the local utility company came out to the rally site and dug holes for each Airstream. Decorating your gopher hole was a big deal and contests were often part of the rally activities. The photo is one of my Grandpa Harrison's (#772) gopher holes.
Even as late as 1975 when my parent's joined WBCCI, gopher holes were mentioned in the information new members received from WBCCI. Here are some experts from that letter.
When using gopher holes, keep the hole tightly covered at all times and take all possible precautions to prevent overflow. When leaving camp, fill and tamp the hole securely; level the ground if possible.
Always carry essentials for happy and co-operative rally living (including) two water pails, one for drains when without gopher holes and a gopher hole shovel and strong metal gopher hole cover.
This letter also states: Never under any circumstances, dump a holding tank on the highway or in any place not provided for this purpose. DO NOT even dump rinse water... it may result in criticism and complaints of improper dumping.
Times have changed. Provisions for appropriately dumping your tanks are now widespread. Individual sewer hook ups are standard at RV Parks and even some campgrounds. Many campgrounds have a public dump station near the camping area. There are service stations and even rest areas that have public dump stations. Many of these options are free others charge a fee. There are now apps and various computer programs that provide locations and other information on available dump stations. For large rallies a local company with a "honey wagon" is hired to come to the rally site and empty participants tanks. At a small rally or personal camping trips, there are a variety of portable tanks and other options to assist with waste disposal. For more information check the Owner's Guide on SierraNevadaAirstreams.org.
This is from a 1980 Airstream Wally Byam Caravans Bulletin. The Bulletin provides information for an upcoming caravan to Mexico.
The Blue Beret is the symbol of Airstream ownership, Wally Byam Caravans and International Goodwill. It helps assure you a warm welcome in a foreign country. Airstream Caravans have been to Mexico many times and the blue beret is well known and respected there. All Caravanners are encouraged to wear the blue beret during their caravan travels. Berets will be available at the rendezvous site.
What makes WBCCI unique is the Airstream trailer and the fact that the club is the oldest single product RV club still in existence. This is a compilation of comments about Airstreams from various people and historical documents. Check the website for photos and information about early Airstream trailers provided by Pee Wee from the Estate of his mother, Helen Byam Schwamborn.
From the 1952 Issue of Neil Vanderbilt's newsletter Vagabonding with Vanderbilt - A word about my new landliner Commodore IV. It was built especially for me by Airstream Trailers in Los Angeles. Wally Byam, head of the company is travelling with me on this first shakedown cruise, It is 33 feet long, is made of aluminum and fibre-glass, done entirely in the modern manner, and in the famous colors of my great, great, grandfather Commodore Vanderbilt's blue and white. The interior decorative scheme is the work of Charles Criqui, Jr. of Buffalo and Beverley Hills, Calif. The main cabin seats 12 comfortably. The top feature of the new Commodore IV is the astradome, a clear plexiglass bubble from which I can take motion pictures either through the bubble or rolled back through the opening above the heads of the crowds. It gives the Commodore IV a rocket-ship appearance. We have gas-refrigeration from our own butane supply, TV and radio, a practical and luxurious bathroom, places for all my many trunks and bags and a short-wave, two way phone-service. The names of all the principal places that the previous Commodore trailers have been to are lettered around the sides. It has plenty of picture windows, making it a perfect goldfish bowl for the crowds that are always peering in.
Pee Wee found a note in his files written by Wally Byam describing his definition of a travel trailer “A travel trailer is one whose unladen weight is not more that the normal passenger car that tows it. Used mainly for travel and not as a residence exclusively and legally towable without permits in any state in which it is used.”
The bulletin for the 1957 WBCCI Caravan to Mexico written by Wally Byam "An Airstream trailer can go over any road. Only in a few places will your trailer ever be hooked up to electricity or water from a hose."
Wally Byam - Trailer Travel Here and Abroad "Several things surprised those of us who started building trailers commercially in the early days. * The ease with which they could be towed. * The apparent unlimited number of gadgets that could be incorporated into trailer design * The way folks took to trailers, even during the depression years...."
Bob Cummings - introduction to the book Airstream "Somewhere in this book, someone lauds the founder of the Airstream Trailer for finding a way to camp without sleeping in cow patties. The rest is history. Americans in the 1930s and 40s began packing their belongings into twenty, then thirty-foot riveted aluminum wagons and hitting the road."
Airstreams are the only travel trailers made that have stood the test of time. They continue to prove their durability and appeal. Airstreams are one of the few, if not the only travel trailers that people seek out regardless of age. Vintage Airstreams that are 50, or 60 years old or even older are highly prized and very often, lovingly restored. There are several SNU members who can attest to the appeal of vintage Airstreams. Among them are Barney & Marybeth with their 1951 Cruisette and Brian & Jeni with their 1954 Cruiser. Both have recently been restored. Take a look at these Airstreams and many others in the Show-N-Tell section of our website. Also check out some experts from early Airstream promotional brochures. If you are ever in Jackson Center, OH schedule a tour of the Airstream factory and see how Airstreams are made today.
The following comments were developed from notes taken in phone conversations with Pee Wee in January 2008
Stella Byam is probably the least known of people important to the history of WBCCI. Stella was Wally's second wife. Pee Wee isn't sure how they met. Wally married Estelle (Stel) Hall September 5, 1953. Pee Wee always thought of her as an “aunt”. The family called her Stel. From the beginning Stel was an enthusiastic participant in caravans and rallies. Pee Wee says that Wally and Stel were a perfect match and very happily married. Stel was more of a night person, often sleeping during the day with an eye protector to block out the light. She and Wally both enjoyed dancing and other forms of entertainment. During their travels they often ate at local restaurants, sometimes with other caravanners or with local dignitaries.
Pee Wee's first memory of Stel was on a camping trip in the Sierra's before she and Wally were married. Wally was essentially checking Pee Wee out to determine if he should take him on a caravan to Mexico and Central America. Stel was along on that camping trip too. Pee Wee's most vivid memory was Stel's spaghetti. She hadn't taken into account the high altitude and the spaghetti turned to mush. A similar memory was on the 1951 Caravan to Mexico and Central American when Stel made a stew with chilis that was too hot to eat. Despite these incidents, Pee Wee says Stel was a very good cook. Both Pee Wee and Stel went on the 1951 Caravan to Mexico and Central America along with Stel's mother Lela. Stel and Lela had their own Airstream and Stel did the driving. Pee Wee says he often went grocery shopping with Stel on that trip.
After Wally's death, Stel served on the board of Airstream for a while. She eventually sold all interests in Airstream to Art Costello and two others. She died in 1968 or 1969 in Sacramento CA. Stel is buried next to Wally at Forest Lawn. Her mother, Lela outlived her by a few years. Stel has a son John by her first marriage. For a time he was manager at the Holiday trailer plant.
The following was developed from notes taken in phone conversations with Pee Wee in January 2008
There were three people instrumental in the creation and development of WBCCI. Without them and a group of dedicated caravanners WBCCI would not exist today or would be a different organization. These three people were:
Wally Byam - the creative and imaginative motivating force behind Airstream trailers and the caravans developed in part to promote the trailers and the lifestyle they represented.
Stella Byam – Wally's wife. The mostly behind the scenes supporter of Wally and his adventures. The perfect compliment to Wally, Stella was a quiet but effective ambassador and public relations partner.
Helen Byam Schwamborn – The organizer, the diplomat and the “people” person. Helen was the one to whom caravanners turned for assistance and support. She handled the concerns and issues that came up at rallies and on caravans thus making it easier for Wally to focus on other aspects of these adventures. She was responsible for much of the planning, organizing, and production that made things happen smoothly and efficiently.
It was the combination of these three people, whose talents, skills, and personalities worked so effectively together that made WBCCI the first organization of it's kind. An organization that as of 2008 (and still in 2015), is the longest still active and most recognized RV association in the world. Wally's trust in both Stella and Helen and his respect for their opinions and input supported the development of an organization open to the needs and interests of the membership. Helen and Stella were the best of friends. They balanced out the sometimes abrasive edges of Wally's creative and impatient personality. They made the perfect team to provide support to Wally on the often very tiring and sometimes arduous caravans and rallies.
Together Wally, Stella, and Helen helped create the foundation for an association that included many activities and traditions that were unique in the 1950's. This foundation still functions to the present day and continues to change and evolve while maintaining many of the traditions of the past.
WBCCI has developed many traditions over it's 60 years of existence. In addition to the club in general, each region, unit, and intra-club, has their own traditions. Three traditions that are almost universal in one form or another are pot luck meals, happy hour, and entertainment and education.
Pot Luck Meals - These are communal meals held at rallies and other gatherings. Food is usually contributed by all participants. There are numerous variations on the pot luck including the "mustgo" meal held at the end of a rally to help get rid of any left-overs before hitting the road. The SNU calls it's pot lucks, Shared Meals. The idea being that each person brings what they want to eat with a little extra to share with others. The SNU has developed another variety of pot luck in response to certain weather conditions. It is called the go-round dinner. This developed at a rally where a snow squall right at dinner time prevented us from gathering together outside for our meal. Instead, everyone took their dinner contribution from trailer to trailer so people could help themselves while staying in the comfort of their trailer.
Happy Hour - This is usually a social time at the end of the day before supper. This provides a chance for everyone to share the days experiences and adventures, discuss plans for the evening and for the following day. Happy Hours usually include light snacks. Wally used the term "Sidewalk Cafe" to describe his version of Happy Hour. This came about from his experiences traveling in Europe.
Entertainment & Education - Rallies and other gatherings often include some form of entertainment, usually provided by the rally participants. Skits, slide shows, crafts, games, sports, and all kinds of music related activities are some of the favorites. Aristreamers also like to learn about the areas they visit. Museum tours, site visits, and checking out local specialties are some examples. Check the website to see some of the special rally activities the SNU has done over the years
Another common activity at WBCCI events is community service. The WBCCI International rally always includes at least one service project for the community in which the rally is held. The SNU has done a variety of community service projects including working with the Friends of Inyo to clean up the Obsidian area, assisting in a variety of ways at the Lyon County Fly-In, participating in Amateur Radio Field Day and providing a Bambi for a Trailer Park Troubadours Concert.
Some of the traditions of the SNU include morning campfires and coffee, pink flamingos and solar lights. Randy’s unique work of art epitomizes The SNU’s affinity for flamingos and solar lights. It’s quite a site, especially at night.
Like many groups, food plays a vital role in bringing people together and creating special memories. The recipe book pictured with this article was given to my Grandparents by some of their Airstream friends whose membership number was 773. My Grandparents was 772. This book contains a lot of recipes that were used for pot lucks.
Traditions are a form of identity and a link to the past. Although not set in concrete, the basic concepts provide a foundation to evolve and build on. One of the benefits of WBCCI membership is the opportunity to participate in rallies and other events of any Unit or other WBCCI group. It’s a great way to learn about traditions, how they are adapted by various groups and maybe learn things that you can bring to your home Unit to add to it’s traditions.
Pictures: 1980’s MBCU rally Hula Dance, 1959 pot luck at the WBCCI rally in Wisconsin Dells
This material comes primarily from phone conversations and emails from Dale (Pee Wee) Schawmborn,
Pee Wee says the idea for a club started percolating in 1953 as mentioned in a post card to Pee Wee’s Mother, Helen in which Wally said that he would take care of her “itchy foot”.
The Wally Byam Caravan Club International officially came into being in Kentville Nova Scotia in 1955 during a caravan through Eastern Canada. The primary motivation was a group of people who had been on several caravans who decided it was time to create a more formal structure. Early caravans were not limited to just Airstream trailers. The Airstream owners in this group decided it was time to form a club exclusive to Airstreams trailers. This ad-hoc group of people called themselves The Jack Rabbits. Although Pee Wee isn’t sure of the origins of this name, they were instrumental in the formation of the club and laying it’s foundations.
Wally had asked his cousin Helen Schwamborn to join the 1955 caravan when the idea for a club became a real possibility Wally was going to leave the caravan to go to Europe to scout for a later caravan and he needed someone he knew and trusted to keep an eye on things. Wally asked Helen to take over the mechanics and administration for the fledgling club.
On July 11, 1955 there was a farewell dinner for Wally and Stella before they left for Europe. There was also a meeting of an advisory board for the fledgling club. The advisory board consisted of those caravanners best suited to assist Helen with any issues or problems that might occur with the caravan or the establishment of a club. This board included Hamp Millender, Oscar Selent, Fred Beltner, Mark Smith, Pop Riley, and John McNamara. These people became life long friends.
A unique aspect of the club was it’s relationship with the history and manufacturing of Airstream trailers. The Airstream trailer was the brainchild of Wally Byam and Wally was the inspiration for WBCCI, the club bearing his name. The two entities, although symbiotic in many ways, are and always were in the mind of Wally, two separate and independent components of the same dream. One was a manufacturing entity and the other a social membership club of product owners. That dream was Wally’s idea of creating a unique travel trailer that was fully self contained and could go anywhere. He promoted that dream by actually doing what the Airstream was meant to do – traveling the country and the world. Setting an example and leading the way.
The first two headquarters offices of WBCCI were in the Schwamborn’s homes in Bakersfield CA. Helen started the office with a typewriter, a notebook and a 3 x 5 file box with lined cards. As time passed and the club and headquarters needs grew, the office was moved to the Airstream plant in Cerritos and from there eventually to Jackson Center.
The first president of WBCCI was “Pop” Riley. He was a retired railroad engineer from Arizona. “Pop” and his wife Minnie went on many of the early caravans with Wally. “Pop” was part of the constitution committee for WBCCI.
Apparently by 1957 WBCCI was showing some growing pains which is to be expected in all groups. In a letter to Helen and Wally, Alice Beatty refers to this. Here is an expert from that letter.
“I feel that we are able to stand alone as an Airstream Club and become one if not the largest nationwide club in the U.S. A. and hate to see us loose our identity.”
This was transcribed by Mike Orchard from a book provided to the participants at the 1979 WBCCI International Rally in Kentucky. It was written by Helen Schwamborn
From a very modest beginning in 1955, with only 39 Airstream families, the WBCCI has become the largest travel trailer club in the world composed of one make of trailer. It now numbers well over 25,000 families – approximately 80,000 individuals. The club envelops Canada, Mexico and the United States with honorary members from several European countries. It is divided into 12 regions which are made up of some 181 Units.
In the last 60 years WBCCI has grown, evolved, and changed. While there have been and still are, challenges and while that core identity has taken some hits, the club as a whole continues to be the longest tenured single product RV association still in existence. As of 2016 there seems to be a resurgence of interest in the iconic Airstream trailer and the club. The manufacturing plant in Jackson Center can’t seem to get new Airstreams out the door fast enough. The club continues to attract new members. As long as WBCCI stays true to the ideals envisioned and written down by Wally in his Creed and Four Freedoms, the future looks bright.
Wally Byam not only created the Airstream trailer, developed the concept of caravans and provided the inspiration for the creation of the Wally Byam Caravan Club, he wrote down essentially what was his philosophy of the RV lifestyle. The two primary documents are the Wally Byam Creed and Wally Byam's Four Freedoms. They were the guiding principles behind the re-organization of the Sierra Nevada Unit in 2002. Wally’s words in both his Creed and Four Freedoms are as valid today as they were when he first wrote them down.
"In the heart of these words is an entire life's dream. To those of you who find in the promise of these words your promise. I bequeath this creed. . . my dream belongs to you." - Wally Byam
To Place the great wide world at your doorstep for you who yearn to travel with all the comforts of home.
To provide a more satisfying, meaningful way of travel that offers complete travel independence, wherever and whenever you choose.
To keep alive and make real an enduring promise of high adventure and faraway lands . . .of rediscovering old places and new interests.
To open a whole world of new experiences . . .a new dimension in enjoyment where travel adventure and good fellowship are your constant companions.
To encourage clubs and rallies that provide an endless source of friendships, travel fun, and personal expression.
To lead caravans wherever the four winds blow. . .over twinkling boulevards, across trackless deserts. . .to the traveled and untraveled corners of the earth.
To play some part in promoting international goodwill and understanding among the peoples of the world through person-to-person contact.
To refine and perfect our product by continuous travel-testing over the highways and byways of the world.
To strive endlessly to stir the venturesome spirit that moves you to follow a rainbow to its end. . .and thus make your travel dreams come true.
For a very, very long time I have wanted to put pictures with Wally's Creed. Also, for a long time, I had the hope that all rallies and gatherings of the Wally Byam Caravan Club might read these simple and poignant words at the beginning of their meetings. Assign each one to a person to read out loud. Then have a few minutes to discuss each of Wally's comments. Whether this comes to pass or not, the Creed is there, and it is one of Wally's legacies to all Airstream owners and Wally Byam Caravan Club Members. Enjoy, Wally's legacy for you. Dale "Pee Wee" Schwamborn
Excerpts from the book Trailer Travel Here and Abroad by Wally Byam
Freedom from Arrangements - from reservations, schedules, taxi's, tips, etc; in short, most of the inconveniences of modern travel
Freedom from the problems of age - trailer travel provides an antidote to boredom, an economical way to make new friends, visit new places, and share new adventures. Trailer travel makes it easier to take care of and amuse children.
Freedom to know - Trailer travel provides a better opportunity to get to know a country and it's people and an increased opportunity to discover the world.
Freedom for fun - All of the first three freedoms add up to the fourth. You just plain begin to relax and enjoy life to the full.
This is the last article in a series published in SNU newsletters to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the creation of the Wally Byam Caravan Club in 1955. All of the articles have been posted as an independent page on SierraNevadaAirstreams.org It is hoped that these articles along with a wealth of WBCCI and Airstream history available on the website, including a section devoted to contributions from Pee Wee, will provide insight into what makes WBCCI a unique organization. Hopefully it will inspire you “to strive endlessly to stir the venturesome spirit that moves you to follow a rainbow to its end. . .and thus make your travel dreams come true.”
pictures: 1959 African Caravan, 1963 WBCCI International PowWow, 1965 Nevada Unit rally at Belmont
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