See America First, Part I: Lynda Bird Johnson

Over the next three weeks, we'll be featuring Dale Schwamborn's account of the 1965 "See America First" tour of the American West. This week, Dale introduces the trip - and the special guest that joined them on their journey.

By 1965, caravanning had become an integral part of what Airstream represented. An incalculable number of miles and days had been spent traveling; curious adventurers crossed the world in awe. Within the perimeter of our own nation, the excitement of travel lured us to visit summer palaces, majestic mountains, and lyrical waterways.

That year, President Johnson inaugurated a program called “See America First.” To the unknowing traveler, the lure of Paris, London, and Rome may hold interest that Los Angeles, Denver, and Boston do not. But the beauty of the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons have no equals on this Earth of ours.

In May, I received a telephone call one morning from Art Costello, who at that time was Airstream’s President. Art informed me that the Wally Byam Foundation would be sponsoring a trip of the western United States.

Our team included Byron Versteegh, mechanic and troubleshooter; Nick Charles, who had been my assistant advance scout on the African Caravan; Mrs. Carolyn Bennett Patterson, National Geographic editor and Chairman of the Board for the Foundation; and William Allard, National Geographic photographer famous for his work with cowboys and the Amish.

In initiating this program, the President’s daughter, Lynda Bird Johnson, was also chosen to tour the western part of the United States. Her Secret Service detail also joined us on our journey. Their background work, day and night, added to the accomplishment of the trip. A greater group of young men cannot be found; their dedication to their jobs was paramount, and their execution of their duties was without question.

Lynda herself was a gracious person, with a keen and perceptive mind. It is impossible to create an image of the personality of Lynda Bird. Amidst her life in Washington, her identity as a young woman was lost in the fact that she was an international figure, who was unable to truly enjoy a normal life due to her position in society. Yet on our voyage, we became very adept at outmaneuvering the gentlemen of the press!

Under the auspices of the Wally Byam Foundation and Airstream, we spent five weeks touring the natural beauty of our country, touring places like the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, the Grand Tetons, Monument Valley, and the Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park.

Pictured: Lynda Bird Johnson, aboard an airport bus in Denver, guarded by a Secret Service agent. 

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.

This article is part one of a three-part series. To read the other entries, click below.

Part II: The Marvels of the West

Part III: At Journey's End