Posts Tagged ‘wally byam/wbcci’
Like Madison County in Iowa, Linn County and Lane County in Oregon are lousy with covered bridges.
Nearly 30 Airstreams and their Oregon “Wally Club” owners convened at green and spacious Sunnyside County Park on Foster Reservoir for the Covered Bridge Rally.
Many of the Airstreamers brought bikes in hopes of riding the Covered Bridge Bicycle Tour, but only the hardest-core cyclists ventured forth to try legs on the “68, 85 and 100-mile routes” (even the “short” tour was 40 miles; fughettaboutit).
Maupin, Oregon is a two-horse town perched above a pleasing bend in the Deschutes that exists solely for the enjoyment of fly fishermen and as a place for river rafters to put in.
We joined the Oregon Unit of the WBCCI “Deschutes and Ladders Rally” at Maupin City Park, which isn’t a city park at all but a shady, grassy RV campground. As always, we were late to sign up for the sold-out rally and were relegated to the cheap seats in the adjacent overflow dry camping lot. Not a problem.
I used to be crazy-patriotic. I walked precincts for the party when I was eleven, voted in every election since I’ve been able (wearing pajamas to the dorm polling place to be first in line at age 18), and I know every flag etiquette rule and the harmony part to This Land is Your Land. I grew out of it though, jaded in recent years by my understanding of the bigger world, media massaging, and our electoral system.
But, this Independence Day I had to turn my head so no one would see me choking up over a red white and blue birthday cake.
Jackson Center, Ohio: population 1365—where Wally Byam found the vacant paper factory in 1952 that would house his Airstream production center. Today, workers in JC continue to crank out the aluminum beauties at the only plant that builds new Airstreams and delivers them by flatbed to dealers across the country.
‘Streamers, plan a pilgrimage to the factory at your earliest convenience. (New buyer tip: order from a dealer, obtain the production number of your unit, and scurry to Jackson Center where you’re welcome to watch [and photograph] your very own Airstream being built step by step on the line during its nine day assembly process.)
I fully expected the WBCCI Oregon Unit members to know how to have a good time when I met their club president at the International. Expectations fulfilled: The HiWay Haven rally in Sutherlin OR—a nonstop block party with Airstreams and the people who love them—pegged the fun meter.
A little Airstream history was thrown in between the eating and drinking; the weekend commemorated the 50th anniversary of the famous Cape Town to Cairo caravan with a special lecture and a screening of two films about Wally Byam and his followers to Africa and Mexico. Other movies on the old drive in screen included the unwatchable RV and The Long, Long Trailer, unwatchable for other reasons.
Lowered expectations are the key to happiness. Every Airstreamer under fifty warned me about the dork factor of the WBCCI 53rd International Rally. Thusly, we had a rockin good time.
Yes, there was a weird opening ceremony involving unit flags and the procession of club officers in their blue berets; the sort of ancient tradition like the Elks’ 11 O’Clock Toast or the Shriners’ love of clown cars that many people enjoy. And I was confounded by the focus on structured indoor activities that had nothing to do with camping: byzantine meetings heavy on the Robert’s Rules of Order, some board game called Joker, ham radio workshops…it was like being on a senior cruise without the buffet.
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).
Wally Byam, the founder of Airstream, was a guy who knew how to have a good time. In 1952, Byam and a group of funloving maniacs towed their trailers down to Central America en masse, initiating an annual tradition of winter Airstream trips to Mexico and other destinations worldwide. It’s been nearly fifty years since the Cape Town to Cairo caravan he led across Africa in 1959.
Ralph’s grandparents actually accompanied Byam on one of his caravans to Mexico in the early 50s. He doesn’t remember much of the story, (“I was bored by the pictures when I was a kid,”) but has his grandmother Toring’s original Blue Beret.