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Airstream Owners Heed The Call of The Open Road
By education Wally Byam was a lawyer. By vocation, however, the founder of Airstream Trailers was a true visionary.
Byam’s vision wasn’t just to create a company that manufacturer the silver, bullet-shaped travel trailers that became the ultimate symbol of travel freedom. No, his vision was to see that travel expanded minds, crossed cultures, opened opportunities and strengthened ties among human beings. He saw, sooner than many experts, that the people of Planet Earth needed to unite one day into “one world,” or there would be no world left to enjoy.
Byam was born on the Fourth of July, 1896, in Baker, Oregon. Not much is known about his early life because despite being a vociferous character, he rarely talked about himself. He did once tell the tale of how as a teen-ager he was dispatched to take the family’s herd of sheep to high pastures for the summer. He was accompanied on the trek by a donkey pulling a herder’s wagon, a small rectangular covered contraption that could be opened to reveal supplies and equipment. Byam later said that sheepherder’s wagon was the inspiration behind his designs for Airstream trailers.
Byam’s dream, found in a creed he wrote, was in part to “provide a more satisfying, meaningful way of travel that offers complete travel independence, wherever and whenever you choose to go or stay.” Byam followed his own dream by setting up Airstream Trailers to be run by unit managers or plant executives while he himself took “caravans” of Airstream owners on trips to both domestic and international locales.
Photos from various web sites show an Airstream ring pulled up at one such caravan or rally, with eager travelers sharing adventures with one another. Byam’s trademark blue beret with its Airstream badge sat atop his head while he drove his Cadillac towing an Airstream from Mont St. Michel in France or across African deserts.
When his followers decided to formalize their travels, they elected to call it the Wally Byam Caravan Club, later adding “International” to the name. The idea behind the club – known by its initials WBCCI -- was that Airstream owners would long have an association through which they could organize their own caravans and rallies to continue the dream of free, interesting and life-changing travel.
Although Wally Byam died July 22, 1962, the WBCCI still exists. Each year members plan trips and rallies that bring together those whose enjoyment of seeing new places is matched by a zest for meeting new friends.
Byam’s original Airstream Trailers was dissolved five months after his death, but another firm bought the rights to the model and continues to build Airstream trailers from the historic plant in Ohio. Many “Airstreamers” enjoy their travel in vintage trailers that have been restored or have stood the test of time as quality workmanship always does.
No doubt what would please Wally Byam the most, however, is that vintage Airstream owners and their various clubs including the WBCCI continue to keep alive his creed:
“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 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.”