May 14, 2015

Was Airstream an Accident?

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Was Airstream an Accident?

Wally Byam, not unlike a mighty oak growing from an acorn, groomed and cultivated himself over the course of his lifetime. Frequently, the question comes up: why did Wally have the vision to create an Airstream, the legendary and iconic recreational vehicle whose lifetime stretches from one century to the next? Wallace Merle Byam came from pioneer stock. His paternal and maternal grandparents came overland on the Oregon Trail to settle down in Eastern Oregon. As an adolescent, he tended to his grandfather’s sheep on the rolling hills of eastern Oregon. This fostered his deep-seated love for camping. His sailing

Airstream’s Enduring Promise

“To keep alive and make real an enduring promise of high adventure and faraway lands…of rediscovering old places and new interests.” Stories of Airstream’s history take you to exotic, far away places as well as unvisited destinations just over the horizon, closer to home. The old times will tell stories of visiting pygmies in the old Belgian Congo, or parking beneath the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Even more amazing is landing in Singapore and traveling overland to Land’s End in Portugal. Andy Charles reported the Around the World Caravan was on the road for 403 days and 31,000 winding

Sinking Under the Nubian Sand

The Cape Town to Cairo Caravan traveled over 12,000 miles over seven arduous months, trekking through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt. One notable experience, prior to traversing the Nubian Desert to Wadi Halfa (in present-day Sudan) took place after stocking up on supplies in Abu Hamed. Before leaving Khartoum, all Caravanners attended a general meeting run by Wally. Caravanners heading to Wadi Halfa had two choices. They could either safely and painlessly go by train and flat car, or they could elect to cross the sandy and ever-so-treacherous Nubian Desert. Wally had one stipulation:

The Troubleshooters

Do we take for granted that Airstream trailers appear on television programs, in movies, and in advertisements today? Perhaps. During the middle of the 20th century, things were a little different. Today, Airstream has proliferated as a “rock star.” But in those days, Airstream trailers appeared in Life, Look, National Geographic, Smithsonian, and in numerous other magazines. There were Airstream Wally Byam Caravans traveling across five continents, with newspapers and periodicals covering the Airstream adventures. But movies, television, and advertising hadn’t adopted Airstream as a movie star just yet. Then NBC scheduled a new series in 1959, The Troubleshooters, starring

The Bowlus and the Clipper

I am always amazed when I go through old files and uncover wonderful treasures that take me back to an earlier time, or provoke thoughts of how far Airstream has come since its early days. This time, it’s a photograph taken in 1984 of a very iconic trailer: a 1936 Airstream Clipper. A note attached to the photograph says it’s the prototype for Wally Byam’s Airstream Clipper models. There are many experts who can – and will – qualify this photograph. Over time, I’ve learned about the Bowlus, a predecessor of the Airstream trailer, as well as certain Airstream configurations.

Toughness, Leadership, and Trust

Last week, Dale wrote about Art Costello, former President of Airstream, Inc. He discussed the way Art’s leadership continued to move the company forward after the passing of Airstream founder Wally Byam. This week, read about the trust Costello instilled in others. Wally Byam had many talents. As a leader, he was thoughtful and caring, a master at understanding the strengths and weaknesses of his employees. When Wally returned from the African Caravan in 1959, he planned to go into retirement. The seas were calling, and he wanted to spend time on the water, sailing under open skies. So he

Who was Art Costello?

Some individuals are so much larger than life they cast a shadow over others. Wally Byam was one of these people. But having known Art and his family, I have no doubt about his strength as a leader and the important void he filled after Wally’s death in 1962. Without his knowledge, and without the lessons he learned as Wally’s protégé, Airstream’s survival is doubtful. The two met at a time when Wally was general manager for travel trailer manufacturer Curtis Wright. They weren’t hiring, but Wally met with Art anyway. Suddenly they were interrupted – a worker needed a

Into the Forest

We enjoy dreams, sometimes in our sub-conscious and sometimes in reality. Wally Byam, Airstream’s founder and creator for the Airstream Wally Byam Caravan, took 41 Airstream owners, 104 people, and three auxiliary vehicles to Africa. They traveled from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt. How do you staff an African Caravan? Wally Byam was the Caravan’s leader. He had to make several significant choices. From the Airstream factory in Santa Fe Springs, California, he chose Arthur Ruiz to be the group’s mechanic. Through longtime media friends, Pete Turner was selected as the official photographer. Pete would go on to

An Airstream Summer

During the summer between my junior and senior years in college, I was fortunate enough to find work at the Airstream factory in Santa Fe Springs, CA. I had always been told “work is what you have to do, so do it well.” Now I didn’t know too much about fiberglass insulation when I started, but it wasn’t too long before I was introduced to its finer qualities. How fine, you ask? Try little glass needles penetrating all the pores in your skin. At night, even after a long shower, you’d go to bed knowing somewhere under the covers there’d

From #1 to #29187: the Origin of Airstream Numbers

The first Airstream Wally Byam Caravan traveled to Mexico and Central America. Wally Byam called the tour the “1951 First Annual Inter-American Trailercoach Caravan Tour, El Paso, Texas to Managua, Nicaragua.” The tour was open to all manufactured travel trailers, though Airstream was predominant. One hearty soul went from Texas to Mexico City towing a Spartan. Wally found it necessary to keep track of his brood, so he issued numbers to each trailer. Wally’s Airstream was #1, naturally. But his number wasn’t the lowest – his dear friends Andy and Dell Anderson labeled their trailer with a double-zero: #00. The