Chartered in 1955, the Airstream Club has served the needs of its members for nearly 70 years.
The club continues Wally Byam’s mission to “encourage clubs and rallies that provide an endless source of friendships, travel fun and personal expressions.”
While Wally was the driving force behind getting Airstream off the ground, it was another who took the reigns to make the club what it is today.
Helen Byam Schwamborn was born on Aug. 8, 1904, in Baker City, Oregon. The first cousin of Wally, the pair set the groundwork for Airstream and the Club.
Helen led her first caravan in 1955, when she and her son, Dale “Pee Wee”, embarked on the Eastern Canadian Caravan.
While Wally’s Big Red Number was No. 1, he gave Helen No. 2, signifying the bond the two shared and the importance of her organization, preparation and planning for Airstream, and later the club.
The No. 2 BRN has since been passed down to Pee Wee.
Always dedicated, and a confidant in Wally, Helen worked with Airstream from 1955 until her retirement in 1979 at the age of 75.
Helen passed away on July 22, 2004, and Pee Wee has since made it his mission to ensure that her legacy isn’t forgotten.
“In 2004, when my mother passed, nobody in the club and nobody at Airstream knew who she was. My main motivation was to make sure that they knew about her in the Airstream world. And that they would never forget her,” Pee Wee said. “I accomplished that with what’s happening in the museum. You honor her, too.”
Pee Wee visited Jackson Center early last month, attending Alumapalooza and leading a “Night at the Museum” tour of the Airstream Heritage Center.
Both the editor of the “Blue Beret” and Airstream’s “The Caravanner,” Helen wrote plenty; but she didn’t always use her name, using the pseudonym ‘Ray Loren’ for some.
“Ray Loren was very interesting,” said Pee Wee. “Ray was her father’s name, and Loren was her grandfather’s name. “She was a good journalist and writer. It was nice she was able to fill that need for both Airstream and the Club.”
Pee Wee noted a letter his mother received from the former president of Airstream, Inc. Gerard Letourneau.
“He said, ‘Helen, you’ll never know how much you saved Airstream. Between the publicity for the caravans at that time, and for the club, that was the real marketing tools that came about.’”
Pee Wee has donated hundreds of items from Helen’s estate to the Airstream headquarters in Jackson Center, as well as the Baker Heritage Museum in Helen’s hometown of Baker City.
“Now I can share this with the world,” he said.
Pee Wee was given his nickname by Wally in 1951 while on a hike over the Sierras. Having formed a bond with him, he was invited to go on the first Airstream caravan through Mexico and Central America; a trip that was full of adventure.
Later, Pee Wee was an advance scout for the Wally Byam African Caravan in 1959. The trip allowed him to camp near the Egyptian Pyramids, be with the Pigmy people and meet the late Haile Selassie, the former emperor of Ethiopia.
The opportunities that Airstream, and later the Club, have presented to Airstream owners and members are vast. Wally’s vision is alive and well long past his death and Helen’s contributions are still felt to this day.
“The simplicity and the common thread was the universal friendship that people had. Because you didn’t really have anything more than that,” said Pee Wee. “The club and Airstream; that was a natural. I began looking at it through the eyes of people who understand what my mother and Wally did. It’s sort of amazing how it changed the lives of so many people.”