Updated: 17 May 2015
Early Airstream owners were passionate travelers with a strong desire to tour the world, but many were daunted to set out solo on an adventure to destinations unknown. Wally Byam found a thrilling solution.
In 1951, Byam organized a group of 50 Airstream-owning friends for a caravan together through Central America. Though the route was always challenging and the roads often impassable, the group safely and successfully completed the trip.
The exotic Central American caravan was a hit. Another Airstream trip to Mexico was organized a year later, then another to Eastern Canada in 1955. While Byam was busy scouting the 1956 caravan to Europe he enlisted his cousin Helen, who had never towed a trailer, to lead the Eastern Canadian trip. It was during this caravan that Airstreamers envisioned a formal organization, and the Wally Byam Caravan Club was founded on August 3, 1955 in Kentville, Nova Scotia.
As one of the founding members of the WBCCI, Helen Byam Schwamborn—WBCCI member #2—established the first WBCC headquarters office and served as the first editor of the club newsletter, the Blue Beret.
In the coming years, caravans became even more daring and spectacular. In 1956, Caravan #8 toured Europe; news and photos of the Airstreams and their owners appeared in the June 1957 National Geographic magazine. Caravan #20 made history when the fleet of Airstreams traveled 9,000 miles in 1959 to traverse the length of Africa from Capetown to Cairo. In 1963, Caravan #35 took a full year to go around the world.
Wally Byam caravans have traveled the globe, including stops near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Great Pyramids of Egypt; in 1985, a group of WBCCI members traveled in 11 trailers through China.
Today, WBCCI members continue to travel in style with their Airstreams each year on dozens of national and international caravans, and enjoy camping with new and old friends at the hundreds of local, regional, and special event rallies.
Watchung NJ Unit History
The following is documentation from Edward Ambry on the formation of the Watchung NJ Unit and its original Charter Members for historical purposes:
The basic reason, for folks living in Central and Northern New Jersey, to begin to discuss the possibility of forming a new WBCCI Unit in New Jersey was geography, pure and simple.
Our choices were to belong to an out-of-State Unit in New York or Pennsylvania or join the New Jersey Unit. Most of us joined the New Jersey Unit but very few of us ever went to meetings or rallies since these were held below the “Mason Dixon Line”. I attended one meeting so I could be presented with my “Jersey Devil” pennant.
So, as the Northerners met around the State, we entertained the idea that we should petition the WBCCI to allow us to form a North Jersey Unit. We were informed by WBCCI that the procedure for this proposal called for our informal group to enlist at least 25 persons who either held membership in another unit or who owned Airstream trailers and wished to become first time members of WBCCI through our proposed “new” Unit.
This was accomplished. A petition was drafted and signed by twenty-five petitioners in 1965. WBCCI advised us to collect dues from at least 25 potential members. (Those petitioners, if still interested, and anyone else who owned and Airstream trailer and wanted to become members of what then was named the Watchung Unit.)
Telephone and letter writing committees were formed. Contacts were made. Dues for the 1966 year were collected and mailed to WBCCI before the December 1, 1965 deadline. This deadline was for existing as well as new Units being formed in New Jersey and other States. The Watchung Unit was official and received a Charter document sometime in 1966. Our efforts produced 90 members who paid their respective dues before December 1, 1965 deadline and two members who paid dues on December 4, 1965.
Jack Brunger, who prepared the list of members, was careful and honest when he prepared the list to note that he and Will Dennick did not mail in their memberships before the 1st of December. Both of these members went on to become President of the Watchung Unit.
The date was critical since WBCCI had informed the petitioners that all new members of the new unit would be considered Charter members, if their dues were mailed by the December 1, 1965. At that time, I believe, the Watchung Unit considered Brunger and Dennick to be Charter members, even if WBCCI did not. They were really the two most important instigators of the plan to form the new Unit. They worked harder than anyone else but I guess they were too busy to get their dues to WBCCI on time.
I guess we could say that Watchung set sail in our Land Yachts with 92 members (Charter Members) in 1966.
Recently, while in Ohio, I visited the WBCCI Headquarters. I presented my notes and recollections of the 1965-66 series of events. Two of the staff agreed that the procedure used by the petitioners and the dues collectors when Watchung Unit was formed was the correct procedure in 1965-66 and, in fact, was and still is, the identical procedure used today if a new unit wishes to be formed. All members who pay their dues before November 1st (new dues date) in the formation year are considered Charter members of the new unit in its first year of operation as a unit.
Highlights through the Years
1970’s – During a gas shortage, the club bought property in Tusten, NY. The idea was to leave their trailers on this property allowing them to use their ‘smaller’, more economical vehicles to drive up for weekends. Many members helped with work around the camp area.
1990’s – Work/Play Weekend Rallies were a staple of our annual rally schedule. Members would bring their trailers or go up for the day to work on floats and Bulletin Boards (for competition at International). These rallies were hosted by Johanna and Don Bookholt (#28459) for many years.
2003 – 2016 – Superior Merit Award Under the leadership of every single president, our club received the ‘Superior Merit Award’, resulting in a gold banner to be hung from our unit flag. This award was weighted on such things as: Member communication (Newsletter), Rally / Luncheon Schedule, Officers, Member Retention, Community Service (a form was completed twice per year by contributing members, tallied up by hours volunteered and money/value of items donated to thrift stores/food pantries during each six month period. We would also add in our group contributions as well, including Toys for Tots, food bank, and the various charities throughout the year)
2007 – During the reigns of Steve Nehlig (#4284), Fred Spencer (#8790) and Lea Plant (#2256), Watchung launched our first website, with Dave Morrision (#6481) as Webmaster.
2016 – Under the leadership of Richard Short (#1512), and in an effort from Headquarters to identify our names with the Airstream brand, ‘Watchung NJ Unit’ was approved to also be known as ‘Watchung NJ
2018 – Under the leadership of David Cahall (#4058), our unit flag (lovely know as ‘Big Blue’) was redesigned and approved by WBCCI.