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The Great Big Glorious Success

Wally Byam. Who is he? Wally is Airstream: how did this industrialist develop the iconic, legendary Silver Bullet trailer? His approach to ownership, as an entrepreneur and leader, differed from others who sought wealth above all else. In 1916, the same year that Wally graduated from Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon, he wrote down his affirmations, life goals, and his inner view of who he was. The following thought was his life’s fuel, which propelled him forward. “I am a man of extremes – either I will be a big boss, a rousing success, or a blank failure. In

From Primitive to State of the Art

Today’s Airstreams offer a complete camping experience. With kitchens, restrooms, and even showers, it’s quite the glamorous experience as compared to the early days of Airstream. But this didn’t happen overnight. Let’s take a look back. Everyone who goes camping needs water. Before the electronically-measured water tank, the common water carrier was the five-gallon Jerry can. Just think: today’s Airstreams have black tanks, which means you can take wastewater with you. But early on, there were no tanks and no marine toilets. The old ceramic or enamel “thunder mug” was in use as required, then carried to a location for burial. Since then,

Airstream Visits Cuba

In 1962, newspaper headlines screamed alarming news about the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy and the United States were locked in a tense political game of chess with the Soviet Union. For 13 days, American citizens – and people all over the world – waited with unease for the confrontation to come to a head. Ultimately, President Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to a compromise that ended the standoff and the Soviet Union removed the nuclear missiles they’d placed in Cuba, just 90 miles from the coast of Florida. Just five years previously, Cuban President Fulgencio Batista was still

Fate, Chance, and the Family History of Airstream

On August 15, 1862, at twenty-four years old, a farmer named Loren Byam enlisted in the Union Army. He served until the war came to a close and was released in Brownsville, Texas almost three years later to the day. The Byam family history is important: Loren, as the progenitor, had two sons whose two grandchildren affected the lives of today’s Airstreamers. Wally Byam was born in 1896 and his cousin, Helen Byam Schwamborn, was born in 1904. Without Wally and Helen, there would have been no Airstream and no Wally Byam Caravan Club. In 1910, Loren received a Certificate

Airstream and the Hurricane Power Test

From the time the first line was drawn on a blueprint, Wally Byam was cognizant of quality. Two important aspects that Wally focused on were usability and durability. The early Airstreams, the Torpedo and the Airlite, had less complicated designs. The Airstream Clipper, which first appeared in 1936, could be compared with a jigsaw puzzle. It was made up of thousands of rivets, aluminum panels, plumbing and electrical components, propane lines, cabinets, kitchens, and fitted interior wood paneling. Attention had to be paid to the integrity of every single rivet. Rivets, doors, and windows were sealed to keep out dust

Stories from Africa: Drum Hill

Travel opens doors for unexpected experiences. It was no different for the 1959 Airstream Caravan. After leaving northern Rhodesia, we began to experience many different types of roads. Limited tarmac, smooth but unpaved roads, and even shake-you-up washboard roads. If you’ve ever experienced road construction in the United States, you’ve seen how we control traffic. A flagger directs you with a handheld stop sign, hand motions, or some other way of coaching you through safe passage. In the Belgian Congo, the Caravan approached an area called Drum Hill. In several respects, the tight control of the Hill was atypical of

History, Like Lightning, Can Strike Twice

In 1960, the Airstream Caravan traveled across the great continent of Africa. One destination was the ancient Roman ruins located at Jerash in Jordan. The ruins were nearby the capital city of Amman. The 1963-1964 Around-the-World Caravan arrived and stayed at the Jerash ruins in 1964. Wally Byam always enjoyed the benefits of advertising, beginning with his Stanford University days working on the school newspaper as advertising manager. Wally would have enjoyed this two-page spread in an RV magazine, published in 1968, with the caravan once again parking in a wagon wheel in the main plaza at Jerash. This area

Wally Byam Stores

Airstream has a long history of retail store sales. It all started in 1945. Wally Byam, founder of Airstream, was working with Lockheed as an engineer. He kept highly detailed notebooks, both dealing with work and personal entries. One personal note pointed to his post-war endeavors. He decided he wanted to become involved in the direct mail order business, but when the war ended, he instead returned to manufacturing. In 1947, Wally reopened the Airstream factory. Years later in 1960, when the African Caravan ended, he returned to Los Angeles. He was making the necessary arrangements to transfer Airstream’s responsibilities to

Family Thanksgiving 1943

While family gatherings were commonplace during World War II, it was a rare and wonderful occasion when a member of the military could join in. In 1943, the Schwamborn, Byam, and Boyce families gathered with friends to share in a celebration of the holiday. This was a particularly special occasion because of the time period this story takes place in – gasoline was rationed, which limited auto travel. During wartime, a celebration with family is very special. While I don’t recall what we ate on this Thanksgiving, food rationing made a holiday like Thanksgiving a changed experience. I remember my

See America First, Part III: At Journey’s End

Over the next three weeks, we’ll be featuring Dale Schwamborn’s account of the 1965 “See America First” tour of the American West. Two weeks ago, Dale learned he’d be embarking on another great adventure – with a very special guest. Last week, the group visited three majestic Western locations. Grand Tetons: July 6-13, 1965 If Atlas were to become indifferent to his duty of fending off the enclosing heavens, he could find proxy in the Grand Tetons. Rising above a 7000-foot base, the massive granite silently guides the four winds along their troubled paths. Jackson Hole has been synonymous with the