I don’t remember the very first time I met Wally Byam. I was just a baby in diapers.
Over the years, I visited Wally and his first wife, Marion, at a typical California bungalow on St. Andrews Place in Los Angeles. When Wally remarried, I spent the occasional weekend with him and Stella at their home on Roseview, which had a marvelous view of Los Angeles.
Wally, in 1951, was planning and organizing a new project within and outside of Airstream Trailers, Inc. His first Caravan would soon travel from the Texas border to Managua, Nicaragua and back. It was open not just to Airstreamers but to all makes of travel trailer.
I was about to begin the eighth grade when my parents received a call from Wally. He was planning a weeklong hike in the High Sierra.
Wally, always an avid hiker, went up there often for relaxation to hike and camp. He even owned two burros.
In our party were Wally and his wife Stella, Clive and Gareth Glassey, and me, Dale Schwamborn.
For my first hike, this was an amazing trail. We left from Onion Valley (9000′ elevation) and hiked over three amazing passes, Kearsarge Pass (11,834′), Forester Pass (13,127′), and Whitney Portal Pass (13,777′). This was a real introduction for a 12-year-old with short legs to high adventure.
Recently, I remembered that he called me “Butch,” not “Pee Wee,” when I visited the Byams at St. Andrews Place.
So where did the name Pee Wee come from? On our hike, I was the youngest and shortest, so Wally started to call me Pee Wee. The name stuck, and I began to use it frequently.
By anyone’s standards, Stella was a gourmet cook.
Yet one meal, halfway through our hike, Stella was cooking up a tasty spaghetti dinner for a very hungry group. To Stella’s chagrin, the spaghetti turned into a globule, we hadn’t accounted for the altitude when considering the cooking time. Stella and I laughed for years about “Stella Paste.”
In October, my parents received another call from Wally. This time, he asked if I could be a guest on his Caravan. My parents said yes. I applied for a passport, got the proper immunizations, and packed clothing for the trip. I was going to Mexico.
I joined Wally at his home in Los Angeles. No longer was I Dale, I was now Pee Wee for certain, a name that would last through Caravans and Airstream events not only through the 1950’s, but beyond.
On the first Caravan, Wally had Clive and Gareth to handle the generators and tent. Stella traveled with her mother, Lela North.
In Aguascalientes, Mexico, Stella and I went shopping for the evening meal. Stel was going to make a hearty beef stew, using potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions.
Wally, Stella, Clive, Gareth, Lela and I sat down for dinner. We each had our first and last bite. Unfortunately, Stella had purchased a chili pepper to add some flavor to the stew. Indeed, it ranked very high on the Scoville scale. Our mouths still steaming, we left in Wally’s Mercury to find a suitable restaurant.
Two years later, I visted the Byams once more. Stella’s two nieces from Michigan were there, and she wanted to show them a favorite night spot. Also invited were Clive and Gareth. This was a special evening; we left for the Ambassador Hotel and an evening at the world famous Coconut Grove for dinner and dancing. I learned what a Shirley Temple was, a drink for those underage, made from grenadine and 7-Up.
This would be the last time I saw Clive and Gareth and Stel’s cousins.
Pee Wee, Pee Wee, Pee Wee. This nickname became a constant around Airstreamers, Wally, and Stel.
As it was then, it is now. To this day, I am Pee Wee.
Over the past eight years, I’ve been asked, “do we call you Pee Wee or Dale?”
My answer? Pick the name you want to know me by. Of course, I was Dale to my parents. If you prefer Pee Wee, remember: if it was Wally’s choice, it certainly can be yours.
Dale “Pee Wee” Schwamborn has silver in his blood. Each week, Pee Wee shares one of his many stories, including his experiences on the iconic Airstream Caravans, his time spent working in the Airstream factory, and the many Airstreamers he’s befriended, far and wide.