A Club Rich in Heritage

Pre-History: The story of the Wally Byam Caravan Club begins with the man whose global travels inspired the Club, Wally Byam. Born in 1896, Wally was a traveler from an early age. In the 1920’s he began building travel trailers for his own use. In 1931 he began selling trailers and the Airstream company was formed. In 1936, Airstream built its first iconic riveted aluminum trailer.

Fast forward to 1951 when Wally Byam conceived the idea to lead a group of travel trailer friends on a trip to Central America. After a magazine picked up the story, 63 trailers showed up to start the trip. This group made it to Managua, Nicaragua before turning back. The route was challenging and the roads often almost impassable, but the group safely completed the trip and the idea of group travel via trailer caravan was proven. Participants quickly began asking when the next caravan would be.

Founding of WBCCI : Wally Byam went on to lead caravans to Mexico and Canada in the following years. Many caravanners were repeat participants and soon they wanted to form a club. Wally eventually gave in and the Wally Byam Caravan Club was founded on August 3, 1955 in Nova Scotia during Eastern Canada Caravan. The club soon introduced a new type of Airstream event, the “Rally”. Rallies typically lasted a few days at a specific location and they opened up Airstream camaraderie to club members that did not have the time to take an extended caravan.

The expanding of WBCCI - Units & Regions: Shortly after the formation of WBCCI, local Units started to be formed within WBCCI, with the first Unit chartered in November 1955. As WBCCI membership soared to eventually reach over 25,000 families by the mid 1970s, the number of units increased too, until over 170 local Units had been formed in the USA, Canada, & Mexico. These units offered their own caravans and rallies and other activities. In 2013 the Australia Unit became the first WBCCI overseas Unit and in 2015 the Europe Unit became the second.

In the mid 1960s, an intermediate layer of club organization consisting of 12 geographic, multi-state/province Regions was created. These Regions quickly began offering their own caravans and rallies.

The expanding of WBCCI – Caravans & Rallies: After the club was formed, caravans continued to became more frequent and destinations more exotic. Caravans in the USA, Canada, and Mexico were offered every year and caravans to Central America were offered every few years. Some caravans were truly epic adventures that received national and international media attention and required the shipping Airstreams and tow vehicles overseas:

  • 1956 & 1960 Europe
  • 1956 & 1958: Cuba
  • 1959-60: Capetown to Cairo (the length of Africa)
  • 1963-64: Around the World (Singapore to Portugal overland)
  • 1970 Jamaica
  • 1971, 1973, & 1977: Old World Europe
  • 1985-88: China (a series of 9 caravans over a 4 year period)

By the late 1950s, the club began organizing National Rallies and Special Event Rallies tied to events and festivals like the Rose Parade and Indianapolis 500 Race. Some of these were one time offerings and others ran annually for decades. They offered and continue to offer club members an easy way to attend these events without having to do all of the planning themselves.

In 1958 the first WBCCI International Rally was held in Bull Shoals, Arkansas with 300 Airstreams attending. It was modeled after the International Trailer Rallies that Wally Byam had attended in Europe. This quickly became WBCCI’s biggest annual event with the number of Airstreams attending passing 1000 in 1962, 2000 in 1965, 3000 in 1970, and 4000 in 1975.

Today, the International Rally remains WBCCI’s largest annual gathering and many National and Special Event Rallies are offered each year. In addition to these, hundreds of Unit and Region Rallies and dozens of National, Regional, and Unit Caravans are offered, thus providing club members with many opportunities to use their Airstreams.

The expanding of WBCCI – Intra-Clubs: By the early 1960s, club members with special interests began forming theme specific sub-clubs within WBCCI. We now call these Intra-Clubs. The first Intra-Clubs allowed members to share their interests in square dancing, amateur radios, and CB radios. Eventually intra-clubs were formed with a variety of other focuses ranging from single Airstreamers, “Teen-Streamers”, and “Full Timers” to Gems & Minerals, Personal Computers, Geneology, and Vintage Airstreams. Several Intra-Clubs remain active today.

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More WBCCI History: Check out Historically Speaking articles below or in previously published in the Blue Beret Magazine.