The Year Was 1964

The current edition of Airstream Life has a two-page picture spread covering the wonderful 7th Wally Byam Caravan Club’s International Rally, which was held in Princeton, New Jersey in 1964.

Flashbacks came fast and furious, as I recalled memories from long ago.

In 1963, I was stationed at Ft. Dix in New Jersey. At that time, I was in the U.S. Army. Once a week, we gathered for our weekly entertainment, often coming in the form of personal presentations. I contacted Airstream and asked them to send film from Africa so I could share stories from my travels.

Click here to see the full story, printed in the October 11, 1963 edition of the Fort Dix Post, about my travels.

Airstream in 1964 endured a period of financial struggle. Founder Wally Byam had passed away in 1962, and Art Costello was handed the reins.

During this time, the company made efforts to go public, which it ultimately did four years later, in 1966. After Wally's death, Stella Byam, the sole heir, sold her liquidity to different board members, including Art Costello. There is no doubt that those "smitten with silver" and had any knowledge about Airstream's circumstances invested in the company.

It was all on Art to streamline the company. He went by individual responsibilities throughout the company, outlining in great detail the shortcomings that plagued Airstream. Everyone was given a deadline to review their responsibilities, duties, and ways of cutting costs in order to stabilize the company.

Art had learned from the best, Wally Byam, about a corporation’s financial health. There is no doubt he gave everyone full opportunity to correct any problems within their departments.

The outcome? The company began to heal, and thanks to Art’s leadership, 1966 was the most successful in the company’s history.

One year later, Beatrice Foods acquired Airstream in an attempt to diversify their investments. And Art Costello would continue to lead the company into the future. As Airstream's employee newsletter, The Main Stream, made clear, "It is the company's philosophy to join good companies with good management and they are smart enough to leave them alone...there will be no change in management and Airstream will continue to be known as Airstream-Ohio and Airstream-California."

A quotation I found in the 1964 issue of Trailer Life I found amusing. The article is titled, “Art Costello Talks About Trailer Design.”

A product as complex as the modern travel trailer is always a collection of many separate products. Each piece of equipment…has gone through its own little history of development. The overall design of a trailer is thus, to some extent, a collection of individual designs, each with its own age and degree of development.

Improvements in Airstream trailers are a tradition, and so it was with the 1964 Airstream. For the first time, they featured a uni-volt wiring system, a silent marine water pump, a new consolidated connection service area, increased storage space, and enlarged holding tanks.

But in addition to improving the products and working through supply and manufacturing inefficiencies, an ongoing emphasis was placed on engaging the community of passionate Airstream families.

Later that year, the Wally Byam Caravan Club would hold a special International Rally in Princeton, held in conjunction with the World’s Fair in New York. In April, I made a presentation to the Greater Princeton Chamber and Civic Council on behalf of the Caravan Club. It was an honor to leave Ft. Dix to represent Airstream, to show the film and to discuss the WBCCI, the International Rallies, and the Airstream Caravans.

Airstream provided an added bonus for rally attendees visiting the World’s Fair and New York City. For nine days, they booked a suite of rooms at the Astor Hotel to use as a hospitality center, at the north end of Times Square within easy walking distance of many famous sights.

The WBCCA president at the time was Enos Axtell. He and his wife, Frona, were close friends with President Harry Truman.

Over 2,000 Airstream families attended the event, the largest assembly for any group of travel trailers in history. My favorite part of the Rally was taking furlough and staying with my mother, Helen Byam Schwamborn for the duration.

Good ideas grow and grow. Next to Airstream #2 were Joe and Marybelle Bennett from Georgia. During the rally, they managed to get over 100 Caravanners to tell their stories, create original artwork, mimeograph, and produce a newspaper with the unlikely name The Blue Beret. A new tradition had begun.

Click above to expand.

Over the next few months, Helen Byam Schwamborn discussed the importance of a newsletter for the WBCCI. The Caravanner, an Airstream newspaper, had one huge drawback: the mailings were not timely; they reported on rallies that had already passed. At its peak, circulation of The Caravanner topped 500,000. Yet this inability to provide timely information led to The Blue Beret ultimately becoming the house organ for the Club.

The first official issue was published in August 1965. It’s served members for the past 50 years. There have been changes, and growth, the most recent and memorable being the availability of a downloadable digital version.

Imagine the stories that have been told, year after year. Stories of Airstream adventure, exploring new places, and discovering new things. And imagine one more thing: this is only the beginning.

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.