Sierra Nevada Airstreams: Memories

Note: These are excerpts from Charles Spiher's (WBCCI #3745 ) blog and used with permission. They are meant to cover some of the highlights and provide an overall feeling for that special Caravan experience. Be sure to read his blog and enjoy his and Lynn's adventure in it's entirety.

Caravan Experience

After three very short days, we have assimilated into a very lively group. Everyone we've met has been very nice; many veteran travelers, rallyers, and/or caravanners and yet none has been condescending to 'rookies'. This is a relief, but they don't know us.

Highlights included the opening banquet (Studebaker's in the Soo) which was much like Saturday Night Live for the elderly. Heckling from the audience is not only tolerated, but seems to be encouraged. Our leaders, the Rich and Kathy Griffin, Dave and Carole Keller Show (picture Lucy and Desi, Fred and Ethel Mertz) are competent, covered with road leather, and resilient.

Late afternoon Lynn and I hosted the first GAM meeting. This is not the slang term referring to the legs of beautiful women, but an acronym for get acquainted meeting, in airstreamspeak, the happy hour. Good fun, the Smiths from Wakefield, Oh., the Tagues from Ponca City, OK, the Tills from Oxford, Pa. and our old friends from the antlers, The Sullivans.

In the early evening, the first meeting of the journal staff convened. Attending, Fran Perrucci, Brenda Cribbs, Doris Jean & Chuck Cabalka, Bonnie MacDonald joined Lynn and me. Fran and Brenda are veteran journalists, Bonnie a grammarian, editor, champion speller, and the Cabalkas advanced computer IT experts, so they appointed me chairman. They will do all the grunt work and my responsibility will be to take the credit. Lynn was assigned to keep me awake during the meetings. This group has real chemistry, from day one.

The last night in Lunenburg, at our driver's briefing, we had guests Natalie Corkum, age 90, and her 65 y/o son Hugh Jr. In 1955, Natalies' late husband was then Lunenburg chief of police and the 100 trailer caravan was parked here on this same community center parking area. She entertained the crowd with her recollection of the caravan, told how she stills walks two miles each morning at six a.m., and regularly rows a boat, her favorite sport, for 2, 3, or even 4 hours at a time. Natalie is trim, energetic, and does nothing differently now than when she was 30, 40, or 50. She attributes longevity to her interest in nature, faith in God, and singing in the church choir, each Sunday, for the last eighty years. In an irony too stark to be ignored, Natalie, a lifelong Canadian, related that in 1955, although the caravan had several members adept at the piano, she was the only person who could play the Star Spangled Banner at the special dinner for the American guests. So with this entry, on a tangent thinner than an eggshell, I've decided to examine political demeanor.....

In Windsor, NS, the Rossi family from Halifax happened to discover our caravan in the Hant County fairground, stopped with their dog, two daughters and 24' Safari to visit with two of our authentic Canadian caravanners, Vic and Elaine Carson from Brantford, Ontario. No matter how hard you try, you can't stop making friends in your airstream.

We are nearing the end and I'd like to share with you what has developed into a caravan "rhythm". With little variation at each successive stop, the advance team (the parkers) prepares for the troop arrival. It begins innocently and slowly, a few large trailers, a steady stream of motorhomes as large as buses with shiny new cars in tow, vans and trucks packed full of eager and hopeful faces, pouring past the park gatehouse. A small, private, empty campground can erupt into a suburban development gone mad, new neighbors moving in every minute.

Dr. Seuss would have loved it. They come in every imaginable contraption, motors revving, brakes squeaking, as they search for their numbered piece of paradise. Husbands yell at wives as they manuever their homes on wheels backwards. Motorhomes are leveled, awnings stretched, electric jacks whine, hitches unclick, tarps and welcome mats laid, extension cords, hoses strategically construed to define each homestead.

Satellite dishes emerge, set-up, aimed, re-aimed in a choreography resembling a tribal dance. Away from irritating trees, atop picnic tables, anchored on tripods, the musical score of beeping signals resonating 200 channel success from the southwest sky. More of a performance than work, every task a collaborative effort in its execution.

Finally, as if to signal the end of it all, lawn chairs begin to snap to attention as they stop and sit for a moment, satisfied, content, able to get away from it all. An interesting phenomenon occurs when people are gathered together. Some begin to spend time looking at one another, wondering what the others must be like. That is what happened here...slowly recognizing the importance of each individual, if only on the surface, then disembarking in seventy two hours to begin the process anew.

In the beginning I indicated that the caravan invaded Canada in a staggered start, 3 sections of 35 units in intervals of 3 days. We are now staggering toward the finish. Our rigs are filthy, systems internal and external have failed including but not limited to: cabinets falling off walls, drawers coming apart, microwave exploding, electric jack melting, toilet seals deteriorate, cabin bodies loosening from frames, broken axles, flat tires, fan belts shred, refrigerator failure. We are like a deuce in the discard pile.

The final banquet is held in the dining room of a local country club. There is no head table, no stage, the ceiling is too low and the room is full of posts. We have our own basic audio system (a mechanical hand held mike), a podium that served as a doghouse in a previous life, and we're underway. It ended with a robust version of "God Bless America", hugs, handshakes, and the free flowing of tears. Truly a bittersweet moment. Survivors of an endurance contest, assembled by fate, selected at random, we had become an amalgam of nicely dressed friends. Below the surface, we, like distempered raccoons, know each other as rumpled denim, wrinkled dockers, boat trips & bus rides, bumpy roads & smooth-as-glass sunsets, lobster boil on the Gaspe', Amoeba day-sailing in Baddeck, peasant soup in Antigonish, corduroy only on special occasions, the night belonged to each and everyone of us, a spirit only we could share, this night, our last night together....forever.

WBCCI History

The first and oldest RV travel club, the WBCCI, was established on the grounds of the Palmeter's China Shop in Kentville, Nova Scotia in August, 1955. Although named the Wally Byam Caravan Club, that is a misnomer. Mr. Byam, as founder of the Airstream Trailer Company, had established a blueprint, but in actuality, the club was constructed, developed, and nurtured for thirty years by his 'little cousin', the diminutive 5'2", Helen Byam Schwamborn. Helen had left a position with the Bakersfield, Ca., probation office to serve as a secretary and personal assistant to her older cousin Wally. There was no term, 'glass ceiling' then, or Helen would have been a rooftop of crystal goblets.

Addendum: Helen was born in 1904 and died in 2004 at the age of 99. She was quick to point out that she was in the 100th year of her life. Thanks to PeeWee for correcting my error. Chas. He (Pee Wee) was able to display an original pennant, which he had been in charge of selling back then, his mother's personal diary from the trip, and with great difficulty read letters and telegrams his mother had received. There were few dry eyes in the crowd.

It was a poignant moment when Caroline turned toward the old mansion, looked upward, smiled, and said, " yes, I remember this place"....recalling how as a twelve year old, now looking through the eyes of a sixty-two year old, still cherished those halcyon days of her youth. Good stuff.

There is little doubt that without Helen Byam Schwamborn, the club would never have passed the embryionic stage, the Airstream company would never have survived the RV industry crash in the early 80s, and none, let me repeat, none of us would have been on that lawn today, a gorgeous afternoon in rural Nova Scotia.

The Ceremonies

Today, August 17, 2005, nearly three hundred of the most loyal members gathered together on the same lawn that Helen had described in her 1955 diary. Led by James Hadaway, a former club president and formidable prime mover for re-enacting this golden caravan, the faithful watched as a plaque commemorating the founding was unveiled.

For me as a newcomer, and really, an outsider looking in, I felt honored just to be on those grounds today. I hope that everyone who ever contributed to this club, either by participation in rallies, caravans, or unit activities, could be with us vicariously and in spirit. A day to remember.

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