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memories of wally

Airstream Mexican Caravan 1955

In 1955, a group of 55 avid Airstream owners—mostly friends of founder Wally—became charter members of the Wally Byam Caravan Club. During that year, the largest Airstream caravan in history was launched to Mexico.

Ralph’s Norwegian grandmother Odne and her husband George were part of the historic WBCCI Western Mexico Winter Caravan of ’55. During our visit to Detroit Lakes, Ralph’s mother—Odne’s daughter—dug through a box of keepsakes and produced Odne’s journals about the trip that winter, handwritten in notebooks she purchased along the way.

Update the cultural references and much of her chronicle could be written about an Airstream caravan in 2010 (though hopefully highway conditions have improved by today). Odne describes spectacular scenery and recounts harrowing tales of road hazards, blowouts, treacherous river crossings and refrigerators needing service. It was a pleasure to read about the kindness of the Mexican townies and the other caravanners who helped them get back on the road.

The couple stopped to shop (“I bought a Van Huesen shirt for George for which I paid 38 pesos; grass mats; and a mata moscas – a fly swatter”), sampled the local cuisine (“Each item was cooked in its own kettle over its own fire. On a table were vegetables and other food and flies galore. It was all in the open!”), and witnessed freaky amateur entertainments. (“The fireworks were really wild. The man shooting them off held them in his hand and a display in the form of a bull was carried by a young man and another young kid pretended to fight him. All this time sparks were flying every which way. No one knows why the town didn’t burn down.”)

They toured local sights (Aztec ruins, and Rivera, Siqueiros, Tamayo and Orozco murals), and met new friends (“The couple to our left are reportedly ‘pink’”).

Allegedly there are color slides of this adventure packed away in a closet in Reno. Following are Odne’s journal entries from the exciting first days of the caravan.

Mon. Jan 3  We left Tucson around noon and were all set up in Nogales by 2:30pm. We were parked in the War memorial park which is a ball park. There are flood lights and water and garbage barrels near by. A large grandstand will be used for the meeting. The park is enclosed with a high wall and we’re parked against it. We sat in candle light but decided it was just too primitive.

Tues. Jan 4   We went up town to shop for some items we’d forgotten like a Coleman lantern, etc. It rained all day and we were in a sea of mud before long. I was a prisoner in the trailer as I had no rubbers. In the p.m. I tied newspapers on my shoes to walk over to the car but they came off and I got muddy anyway. In the evening we went to the Roxy Theater where we were welcomed by the mayor of “Ambos” Nogales, Wally Byam gave us the word, we saw movies of the Canadian caravan [Eastern Canada, Summer 1955], and a group of Mexican Musicians entertained. They were good but didn’t know when to stop. Their costumes were very good looking. I went to a general meeting at 11:00 a.m. and took pictures from the grandstand. Counted 157 trailers in this park.

Weds. Jan 5   It rained intermittently but dried the gumbo up a little [‘dried the gumbo’? What the?]. George and I walked up a high hill behind the park and took pictures. We went to a meeting in the armory in the evening and then over to a bonfire.

Fri. Jan 7   Big day. Cold. It was down to 22 degrees this morning with frost on the cars. We’re waiting now to move on. The trailers from other private parks and vacant lots will go first. Then we’ll come next, and lastly the people parked in the athletic field. A man from Life will take pictures of our encampment. They plan to send a trailer a minute through the customs. Even so, that will take hours to push through the 530 (rumored) registrants. -Later- We left before 9am and went through the customs in a short time. People lined the streets and waved and the children called “good-bye”. The countryside was interesting because it was so different. Even the cattle are not like ours. Burros roam all over. People along the route lined up to see us.

We were parked in a field at Hermosilla especially prepared for us. It was graded very nicely. We didn’t go up town, as the townspeople came out to see us. The mayor and city officials, the Governor and Vice Governor of Sonora and other dignitaries came out to welcome us and an orchestra played for us at our meeting. We were invited to a dance the next evening and so we voted on whether or not we should stay. Everyone wanted to.”

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