“In an intelligent and beautiful format, 1859 explores the landscapes, the personalities, the movers and shakers, the history and the architecture that is the jewel of the Pacific Northwest,” states their website. We were thrilled (I think, mostly) to learn that the Oregon Wally Club would be featured in the July/August 2013 issue.
A real live professional photographer was assigned to attend our rally at River Bend RV Resort on the Willamette River in Harrisburg and document the deep awesomeness that is the Oregon Airstream LIfestyle.
The shoot was long but pleasurable, and provided an opportunity for some hasty spring cleaning and touchup polishing of the rigs selected for the "Trailer Panache" spread in the Food & Home section of the magazine.
This just in: photographer Dave Bassett ("say Dave-Bas-say") has generously shared his gallery of outtakes as a gift to the participants. (Models, please read Dave’s message to you in the gallery and contact him directly regarding usage of the photos.)
Sadly omitted in the magazine is the photo of the DWR with me inside at the galley bar—my natural habitat—bruising a martini. The magazine did accept my story that accompanies the photos. As is my wont, I composed a too-long article; an edited version appeared on page 118.
For those of you who ended up on the cutting room floor, following is the complete story. (As a fellow 16-footer, I can relate to one of Bambi-owner Boomer’s priceless quotes: “The closet has room for ten Hawaiian shirts and a sweatshirt.”)
by rg coleman
“When you knock on someone’s Airstream door and say ‘Hey, can I look inside your trailer?’, people not only open their door and say ‘Sure, come on in,’ they say ‘We’re cooking breakfast, how do you like your eggs?’”
That’s Brad Taylor, Airstream owner and one of a group of friends—Oregonians of all ages and backgrounds—who might never have met without their common love of aluminum. Specifically, their aluminum Airstream trailers.
“Trailer people just are friendly,” Taylor said. “Welcoming and inviting. Particularly in the Airstream club.”
The friends are all members of the “Oregon Wally Club”, the Oregon Unit of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI), the official association for “owners of the world’s finest RV” and named for Wally Byam, inventor of the Airstream, who introduced glamour to trailer travel nearly sixty years ago.
Members gallivant about the state, playing hard and glamping in their gleaming rolling homes, and attend theme weekend club rallies surrounding seafood, sandcastles and kayaking at the Coast, dark sky stargazing in Summer Lake, watching old movies at the defunct drive-in theater in Sutherlin, and celebrating the fall colors (and Oregon wines) near Champoeg State Park. The annual Let ‘er Buck Rally at the Pendleton Roundup is an Oregon Unit tradition that has attracted Airstreamers across the country and Canada for nearly fifty years.
In April, Photographer Dave Bassett spent a sunny afternoon with the Oregon Unit and their silver ‘streams at a rally in Harrisburg, where he discovered that the trailers cared for by club members are as varied as their owners.
The Oregon Airstreams range from squeeworthy, award winning vintage trailers to sleek high tech models fresh from the dealerships. All are welcome and the camaraderie is contagious. “When new members come to an event, they soak up stories and knowledge from the others; super-secret tricks on how to fix this or protect that,” said club president Mona Heath, an Airstream serial-owner.
She and her husband Doug own five—count ‘em—five Airstreams. The flagship of their fleet, rescued several years ago from the Vernonia flood, is a 25-foot 1969 Tradewind that recently bagged the People’s Choice award at Modernism Week in Palm Springs after an extensive two-plus year remodel.
The Mid Century Modern decor—an extension of the Heath’s home aesthetic—includes a kidney shaped couch and long countertop bar for meals and entertaining. “We’ve had eight, ten people in there,” said Heath. “It works.”
Outside, the Heath trailer proudly wears her “Big Red Numbers”, the designation affixed to the front and rear shells of the Airstreams owned by more than 12,000 members of the WBCCI. A practice adopted by Wally Byam himself during the early Airstream caravans of the 1950s, WBCCI members continue to use the numbers—cross referenced in the annual directory—to identify one another.
“I’ve never belonged to a club in my life,” said Heath, “but belonging to the WBCCI and having the big red numbers are synonymous to me with the heritage of the Airstream. I think you need to continue to show that.”
So, why an Airstream? “ I always thought they were hip,” explained one member. “My husband said, ‘I only want an Airstream, it can’t be anything but an Airstream’,” said another. “It’s the cool factor,” say Airstreamers across the nation.
Airstream is but a tiny, shiny star in the RV universe, and RV choice is an interesting phenomenon. Those whose primary desire is to camp or see America shop for something to do that with, and, for a variety of reasons, will likely choose a “White Box” trailer or an S.O.B. (“some other brand” in silver trailer-speak). Airstream owners want an Airstream. “People love them,” said Oregon WBCCI past president Teresa Taylor. “It’s not just a travel trailer for them to go camping somewhere. They want an Airstream. And now they can go camping.”
After eighty years, more than sixty percent of all the Airstreams manufactured are still on the road, and the 2013 models roll out of the factory in Ohio every day. The binary decision becomes, vintage or new?
“The vintage life is a different life, it’s not always as simple,” said Heath, whose trailers date from 1958 to 2011. “We learned a lot having a vintage first. I love having the shower,” she said of her newer models, “I love having plumbing, and I love the sinks and the storage. But even with the oldest vintage model you’re certainly not sleeping on the ground. That’s a huge thing for me. I’ve only camped in a tent once in my life.” Heath is a self-identified glamper—glamour camper—and her 2011 International bears the license plate Glampr. “Doug says it sucks the manhood out of him every time he pulls it,” she laughed.
Brad and Susan Taylor work around the lack of indoor plumbing in their popular “park model” 19-foot 1953 Flying Cloud. “It’s very primitive compared to newer Airstreams,” said Brad Taylor. “What makes owning a vintage wonderful is everyone sees you coming, and they come up and talk to you.” The Taylors have appointed their trailer with period collectibles unearthed at the estate sales, old barns, and storage units that Taylor scours as part of his work as a “horse trader—I buy and sell things. And I never retail shop, ever,” he said. Outside, amid the pink flamingos, the Taylors display pink vintage parking meters (that once lined the streets in Eugene), mid-century Schwinn bikes, and a rare pink Coleman cooler.
Every Airstream owner, even those towing the latest models, faces a common challenge: space management. Tom Griffin and Katy Hurley recently upgraded to a luxurious 27-foot 2012 Serenity International and replaced the shabby-chic cowgirl kitsch in their former trailer with colorful Southwest decor that suits their relaxed lifestyle.
Though the new trailer is “actually larger than what we had, storage is always a challenge,” said Hurley. “I always take more than I should. There are lessons to be learned about thinking small, thinking simple.”
Mona Heath agrees. “The living space is definitely a challenge,” she said. “What it makes you do is make choices of what you bring with you. I overloaded our first trailer, and then started editing. I learned to get things that collapse so they are space saving, and things that are multipurpose.”
Living in an aluminum pod poses other problems. “Doug sleeps next to the wall and when he snores it kind of bounces off the wall,” Heath said. “It’s like this acoustical amplification. And Mellie, our hound dog snores! I can’t just get up and sleep on the couch because it’s only two feet away.”
“The key to living in a Bambi is plastic tubs,” said Greg “Boomer” Boam, a former surfer living fulltime in his 16-foot 2006 trailer surrounded by tie-dye, peace signs and lava lamps. “The closet has room for ten Hawaiian shirts and a sweatshirt,” he said of the tiny floorplan, the smallest offered by Airstream.
“I look at it like I got an east wing and a west wing and I open the door and that’s my living room,” Boam said during breakfast in the large meeting room overlooking the river, where the Oregon Unit assembled during the spring rally at Riverbend Resort.
“Look at us,” Boam said, gesturing to the gathering. “It’s a buzz in here. And the community is so diverse. I mean you see people twice my age and half my age. It’s really opened up to the younger generation and the enthusiasm that group has brought really reflects in the Oregon club.”
“Everybody is so very outgoing,” said Panamerica owner Steve Prokop. “It’s that brotherhood of Airstream. You flash your brights at each other and wave when you see another on the road, and you always talk to each other at the rallies and see if each other needs help. You don’t see the other types of trailer people out visiting with each other.”
“When you go into a campground, you drive around and look for other Airstreams,” agrees Brad Taylor. “Obviously this club has given us a wealth of friends. Probably the best part of the WBCCI Oregon Unit is it’s a very socio-economically diverse group. We have people from all sorts of spectrums of society. The common thread is people like to get out and experience things.”
“This club has become family to me,” said Mona Heath. “Without having an Airstream I would never have had an opportunity to meet all these people I can’t imagine not knowing now. It has completely changed our life.”
“You have a whole different circle of friends,” said Teresa Taylor, a former interior designer who owns an award-winning vintage model with her husband Glenn, a former city planner. “You have your Airstream friends, and then you have your other friends. We seem to do more with our Airstream friends! We have so much in common, because they are looking for something more aesthetic, more artistic. Or like Glenn, they are people who are interested more in quality of workmanship and engineering. People who are thinking outside the box.” Literally, outside the White Box.