An Instant Connection

This article is part four of a series about the Airstream Caravan in Europe. To read additional entries, click the links at the end of this entry.

The Allen family from San Diego met headlines just about everywhere the Caravan visited throughout the European Caravan. They brought their pet Ocelot with them. It was a beautiful cat that mesmerized the European visitors as well as the media, even appearing on the cover of a weekly publication.

Andy and Della Anderson had been friends with Wally Byam for many years. They were even on the first Caravan, which traveled in 1951 to Mexico and Central America. Andy was a naturalized American, originally from Denmark. His background was setting overseas automotive plants for General Motors. Andy's WBCCI number was unusual: a double zero (00).

When the Caravan visited Denmark, Andy became the tour leader, eager to show off his country of origin to his new friends. Andy later became the fourth International President of the Wally Byam Caravan Club. (A side note: during the European Caravan, the club's first International President, Fred "Pop" Riley, was leading the summer's Caravan to Western Canada.)

The Bos family, Joe and Toots from Marshalltown, Iowa, were Caravanners. They were on the three big ones: Europe 1956, Africa 1959, and the Around-The-World Caravan in 1963.

They were Seventh Day Adventists who practiced their beliefs without fail. When it was apparent that the sun was going down on Friday, they inched their rig over to celebrate their Sabbath. In Africa, any one of their friends stopped with them during their 24-hour religious observation. They brought out their chairs and read their Bibles. When their religious observance was over, they drove until they caught up with the rest of the Caravan.

When you have Land Yachts you need a sailor, and so there was Tom Fenner. He and his wife Dolly hailed from Vancouver, British Columbia. Tom was a retired tugboat captain, and you could still see the salt in his hair and the spray from the ocean in his clothes.

On a Caravan, the leaders need, at times, an escape Airstream to relax in (and perhaps have a glass filled with something. So Tom and Dolly were there for Wally and Helen. Tom had a wonderful saying after drinking "grog." When you were with the Fenners, you could hear the whistle blast "all clear."

Oh my goodness - where do you even start with Harry and Allene Halbritter? Let's start in San Diego, during the war. Harry owned a hotel, with a ground floor saloon frequented both by sailors and Marines either stationed in San Diego or enjoying shore leave.

Harry and Allene enjoyed dancing and nightclubs, and so did Wally and Stella. Their friendship was apparent when the two couples went out to shows and danced. They always had the Byams’ backs. Harry’s sense of humor, though, set him apart: many remember his smiling face pointing at the many Airstream trips he’d taken. His sense of humor and joviality was second to none. The morning after a date on the African Caravan, Harry would walk towards me with a Cheshire grin and ask, “Did the lion roar last night?” No comment!

Who else? Oscar and Etta Payne were hearty midwesterners who moved to Wyoming. They reminded me very much of early pioneers who worked the land and settled the West. They were friends to everyone, and well-liked by their fellow Caravanners. By 1963, they had traveled on eight Caravans! Etta even wrote two books about their adventures in Mexico, Central America, and Europe.

When Wally led a Caravan, it was the most experienced Airstreamers who supported him in tough times and cheered when they achieved a goal. This is the mutual friendship the Byams and Paynes shared. I remember on the European Caravan, the day we entered Pisa, Italy, Oscar was so taken with the Leaning Tower that he rammed a small Fiat with his Cadillac. Its two oversized bullet breasts on the front bumper pierced the side of the car. What’s amazing, though, is the collision produced no flailing arms, no red faces, no anger. Oscar and the Italian driver settled the cost for repairs, became friends, and then toured Italy together, taking the Paynes to locales only a resident would be familiar with.

Wally always believed goodwill came from the Caravans. The domino effect of networking is so very interesting. These great many people came together for the adventure of an eternity and, in so doing, became lifelong friends. Those same bonds are felt even by Airstreamers who meet in passing, an instant connection and fondness experienced by likeminded folks. That magic is what makes Airstream, well, Airstream.

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.

Part One: A Natural Leader

Part Two: Across The Sea

Part Three: From New York to Zurich

Part Five: Brimming With Enthusiasm

Part Six: An Early Morning Excursion