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wally byam’s birthday

Wally Byam's birthday 2011, exhibit and Airstream rally, Baker City, Oregon


I used to be crazy-patriotic. I walked precincts for the party when I was eleven, and voted in every election since I’ve been able (wearing pajamas to the dorm polling place to be first in line at age 18). 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.


July 4th is the birthday of Airstream creator Wally Byam, born in Baker City, Oregon in 1896. In observance, the Oregon Unit of the WBCCI and the Baker Heritage Museum threw a summer-long celebration: an exhibit of rare memorabilia from the life and travels of the hometown boy, highlighted by a “living history” open house rally of vintage and new Airstreams on Byam’s birthday weekend


Artifacts in the museum included personal items and photos from Byam’s caravan trips and rarities from the early days of Airstream manufacturing, mostly donated by cousin Dale “Pee Wee” Schwamborn, custodian of Byam’s history, who also presented an insightful and comprehensive decade-by-decade lecture on everything you ever wanted to learn (and more, if you know what I mean) about Byam, his origins, motivation, and travels. 


The rally had a historic focus (in conjunction with the expected fraternizing and overserving): Scott Goranson described his experience rescuing and restoring one of the trailers from Byam’s famous Around the World Caravan, and unit member Tom Golden shared the journals and collectibles saved from his mother’s adventure from Cape Town to Cairo.


Our rigs in the park adjacent to the museum drew crowds of visitors, including an inspiring couple pedaling their way to whatever’s next, filming and blogging along the way, who captured our rally and birthday party at the museum in a video.


At the party I reflected on Wally Byam, the man who brought us all together. An American innovator who created a fine American-made machine, still in production after 80 years, still employing American workers. How apt that he was born on the fourth of July. (Pee Wee recounted a funny fact: four year old Wallace, unaware of the broader meaning of that date, believed the town parade on his birthday to be in his honor.)


Before the museum director cut the flag-frosted cake, she led the gathering in song. “Happy birthday to youuuu, happy birthday dear wall-lee…"

To which one voice added, “and America!” So corny. That’s when I hid my silly patriotic tears.



Group photo above courtesy of Bill Ferry. Visit his Airstream photoblog.


2 Responses to “wally byam’s birthday”

  • Lynda:

    Great job of summing up a terrific rally! It was wonderful to meet ‘Streamers from around the Pacific Northwest and California. Here’s hoping Oregon WBCCI does it again next year!

  • Mona:

    Such a fantastic weekend – I was like a kid in a candy store!

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