Airstreams, Wally Byam and Me
An Interesting Story about a Travel Icon
by David "Sumoflam" Kravetz
May 12, 2008: This was yet another day to drive back to Ontario from Kentucky. This time I made only one stop along the way and it was in Jackson Center, OH, home of the Airstream Corporation and the Wally Byam Caravan Club. Unlike my many other trip journals, this one is going to be more personal and will take you back to a period of my life in the 1970s. I am also using a number of photos gleaned from the internet.
Bozeman, MT, May 1973
My story begins with the conclusion of my junior year in high school in Bozeman, MT. At the time I had been involved with the high school newspaper and each of us had received an assignment from the teacher to do an article about summer vacation. Mine was to cover the Wally Byam Caravan Club International Convention which would be held that summer at Montana State University. I knew nothing about Wally Byam, but took on the assignment. I found out that Wally Byam Caravan Club was synonymous with Airstream trailers and so I was ready to go. In Bozeman, we lived about 7 miles south of town in the mountains...a place called Bear Canyon. Just down the road from our house was a KOA Campground and there were a few trailers that started arriving there. One of the visitors was the Gilman family from Summit, NJ. I frequented the campground to swim and play pool, etc., and had the opportunity to meet the Gilmans. They had two high school aged daughters and so for two weeks of summer I became friends with them. I had asked why they were at the KOA rather than at the MU gathering and they told me they were Mormons and wanted to stay away from all the drinking and partying and also preferred the solitude. Sue Gilman, who was a year younger than me, was to also be a participant in the Wally Byam Beauty Pageant. So, I was really excited to meet them.
The rally in Bozeman was amazing. Unfortunately, I don't have any of the photos from that event, but the following two photos are kind of what the event looked like but on a grander scale. There were literally hundreds of trailer all parked in the parking lot at MSU.
Typical Wally Byam rallies: many are huge
I took my photos and had a story ready to go, but a week after the Airstreams had all rolled out of town, my dad found out he would be transferred to Salt Lake City and we would move there within a couple of weeks. My story never got turned in and the photos I took are long gone. But the memories remained. Ironically, Sue Gilman and her family were the first Mormons (officially members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) I had ever met and I later joined the church in Salt Lake City, served as a missionary for the church in Japan from 1976-78 and came back. Then, in 1978, while attending BYU in Provo, UT, I ran into Sue Gilman. It was really a shock...but a pleasant one. But, I deviate from the main theme of this story.
Fast forward to 1993 and Shelbyville, KY -- By this time I was married, had five lovely children and we had just returned from living in Japan for 4 years. I had trouble finding work back in Arizona, but had an opportunity to go to Kentucky to work as a Japanese interpreter for Katayama American. Upon arrival I met and worked with another guy...Antsy McClain (this is his stage name, not his real name). At the time he also worked as a Japanese interpreter. We worked together for 8 months. In the evenings I would often visit his motel room and listen to him sing. I enjoyed the humor in his songs and we became good friends.
Conrad, Ms. Ogawa, Antsy, David, Mr. Ogawa in Shelbyville, KY 1993
A couple of years later I was living in Lexington and Antsy had joined up with another guy and were performing "Parlor Concerts" at people's homes in Lexington. They billed themselves as the "Trailer Park Troubadours". They later won a competition, moved to Nashville and since that time the group has grown to national exposure. Along the way they developed an association with me as their web designer/manager, something I have done for nearly 12 years. As well, the group has grown an involvement with Airstream. In fact, Antsy McClain helped design a guitar patterned after an Airstream. It is called an Airscreamer and was made and distributed by Epiphone Guitars. The guitar was even featured on a TV show (The Simple Life) with Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton. The Trailer Park Troubadours have twice performed shows at Jackson Center for Airstream birthdays. The Troubs are also known for their theme song called "Living in Aluminum" which can be heard and seen performed on my YouTube Site.
Nicole, Paris and Sumoflam with Airscreamer Guitars
This is the point where my visit to Airstream is significant. The ironies of life sometimes take us full circle. Little did I know in 1973 that I would be involved with a musical group associated with Airstream trailers in the 1990s and early 2000s. But, here I am today, visiting the factory where these are made and having this whole story unfold in front of me again. Airstreams have a long history, but I won't go into that here since there are a number of sites with the history. (see A, B and C). Needless to say, the trailers were begun by Wally Byam, who was a world traveler. Like me, Wally had a wanderlust to see the world and did so with Airstream travel trailers. In fact, in many ways, I live by one of his famous quotes:
"Donít stop. Keep right on going. Hitch up your trailer and go to Canada or down to Old Mexico. Head for Europe, if you can afford it, or go to the Mardi Gras. Go someplace youíve heard about, where you can fish or hunt or collect rocks or just look up at the sky. Find out whatís at the end of some country road. Go see whatís over the next hill, and the one after that, and the one after that."
Wally Byam and photos of some his trips
Wally Byam's Creed has led thousands of Airstreamers on rallies around the world:
"In the heart of these words is an entire life's dream. To those of you who find in the promise of these words your promise, I bequeath this creed... my dream belongs to you."
To place the great wide world at your doorstep for you who yearn to travel with all the comforts of home.
To provide a more satisfying, meaningful way of travel that offers complete travel independence, wherever and whenever you choose to go or stay.
To keep alive and make real an enduring promise of high adventure and faraway lands... of rediscovering old places and new interests.
To open a whole world of new experiences... a new dimension in enjoyment where travel adventure and good fellowship are your constant companions.
To encourage clubs and rallies that provide an endless source of friendships, travel fun and personal expressions.
To lead caravans wherever the four winds blow... over twinkling boulevards, across trackless deserts... to the traveled and untraveled corners of the earth.
To play some part in promoting international goodwill and understanding among the peoples of the world through person-to-person contact.
To refine and perfect our product by continuous travel-testing over the highways and byways of the world.
To strive endlessly to stir the venturesome spirit that moves you to follow a rainbow to its end... and thus make your travel dreams come true.
- Wally Byam
So, here I am at the Airstream headquarters:
Airstream's factory in Jackson Center, OH
This is the main visitor's lobby. Notice the trailer parts everywhere. Pretty darn cool!!
Antsy and Troubs CDs for sale at the Gift Shop
After my visit to the headquarters, I drove down the road to Wally Byam Caravan Club International Headquarters. While there I met Joan Larsen and Linda Beu. these are the wives of WBCC Presidents elect for 2009 and 2010. In another twist of irony, Joan was at the Bozeman Rally back in 1973 (though we never met).
Joan Larson and Linda Beu at Wally Byam; a painting in the lobby
The ribbons on the right are given out at various rallies. There is an entire wall of ribbons at WBCC HQ.
This visit was fun and I was only disappointed that I did not have time to actually tour the factory and see the trailers being built. But this is not the end of the story.
I want to return back to Antsy McClain. Last year I took a two week 1600 mile trip with my son Sol (see the trip report here). It would have been nice to have done it with an Airstream!! Anyway, part of the trip took us to Dayton, WA where the Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours were to perform for two nights. In association with this I contacted Nick and Karyn at Airstream of Spokane about a possible small Wally Byam Rally in Dayton to join us for the show. They worked hard and got a small rally together. We had 30 trailers there for the shows, the first real Trailer Park Troubadours Airstream Rally! And, I was involved in it. What fun it was! Here is a link to a video of Antsy mingling and singing with the Airstreamers.
Nick and Karyn with Antsy in Dayton, WA. The Troubs with some Airstreamers
playing away at the Rally. This was an acoustic special for all the rally folks.
Antsy McClain sang and signed trailers in Dayton
Yet another interesting Airstream story came about earlier this year when Donald Trump had a special version of his hit show Apprentice, called Celebrity Apprentice. On one of the episodes an Airstream was used. I actually found one of the trailers on the Airstream lot.
The ad, the trailer and a shot of them filming the show in New York
Finally, as a tribute to the modern version of the covered wagon and the wagon train, here are a few of my favorite Airstream photos from the web and then a bunch more are in this slide show.
Airstream Slide Show
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