Luxury meets the road
A book review
By Linda Kissam & Adrianne Morrison & Mary Margaret Brown
Did you know iconic, aluminum-bodied Airstream trailers have been around for 85 years? Don’t believe me? Just flip through the pages of a great new coffee table style book, Airstream: America’s World Traveler by Patrick R. Foster to get the full photo-rich story.
Travel trailers were all the rage during the 1930’s, with scores of new companies producing them for a travel-hungry public. Magazines offered plans for building your own, one of which influenced Wally to enter the business with his design.” (p.15). Wally who? Wally Byam, the man responsible for this iconic travel trailer and leader of world-wide travel in Airstreams.
Wally and his wife, Stella went all over the world in their Airstream and lead caravans “promoting international goodwill and understanding among the peoples of the world through person-to-person contact.” This phase is taken from “The Wally Byam Creed” (p. 41) which perfectly presents his ‘set of beliefs or aims that guide someone’s actions’ and could easily be adopted by every person who loves to travel, especially those who love road-trips. You will enjoy the nostalgic photos and travel stories.
Airstreams have been used as mobile hospitals, minibuses, even funeral coaches, plus their motor home model was modified by NASA as a transfer unit for carrying astronauts to the space shuttle and one was made for quarantining astronauts after returning from the moon! (p. 45) Today, preowned Airstreams are being re purposed as food-trucks and tiny-homes. The idea of parking your ‘Land Yacht’ home-away-from-home, then separately using your vehicle to explore each new destination still carries great appeal.
There’s no doubt, a vintage Airstream is intriguing – check Pinterest for a taste of their charm and versatility. Better yet, own this superb book — there’s nothing like hands-on turning pages to learn the story of how this American company has survived and thrived under the guidance of visionary leaders who today bring us “a combination of work space and living area… aimed at people whose jobs allow them to live and work anywhere…” (p. 181).
Review partners Adrianne Morrison, Mary Margaret Brown and Linda Kissam all give this a five-star rating. The Airstream story is one of travel, adventure, and memories that last a lifetime. Perfect gift for the Airstream owner or want-a-be owner.
Mary Margaret Brown
Airstream by Patrick R. Foster is a timely and well written historical pictorial perspective of this world class trailer camper from 1931 until today. With fuel prices the lowest in decades, one sees a lot more campers on the road than in previous years. Amazingly, one sees Airstreams, both old and new and in various sizes, at many American and Canadian campgrounds.
This book appeals to a broad section of readers. It addresses the historical perspective of manufacturing campers since the 1930’s and gives you an insight to the struggles and ambitions of Wally Byan. He stayed at the helm of this company for over 30 years as its chief engineer, designer, and market spokesman. Wally not only made an excellent product, he and his wife travelled in his own version of the Airstream around the world promoting this excellent product. The book provides a lot of beautiful pictures of these many trips.
Patrick Foster’s pictorial book of Airstream’s world-wide appeal includes excellent photographs, both in color and in black and white, of the many places Wally traveled with his “Caravans”. Pictures include such famous places as: Charminar in India; The Great Pyramid at El Gizeh in Egypt; Parthenon in Athens, Greece; Katmandu in Nepal; and St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Russia.
The personal story of Wally Byan’s life starts with his birth in 1896 in Baker City, Oregon. When he was 12 years old, he worked as a sheep herder for his uncle in Oregon. He had a two wheeled wagon that was pulled by a donkey. The little wagon carried a bed mat, blankets, kerosene cook stove and a supply of food and water. Wally married Marion James in 1924. Wally enjoyed camping in a tent and sleeping on the ground; but Marion did not! “If Wally ever hoped to change Marion’s ideas about camping, he would have to come up with some new way to make camping more palatable to her.” Using the idea of his shepherd’s wagon, Wally built an enclosed room on top of a Ford chassis. Wally built a teardrop-shaped room—a primitive trailer home! This “teardrop” style of a camper trailer is coming back into style by other companies such as the Colorado Teardrop featured in sunset Magazine (May 2015).
Many baby-boomers today are looking again at the need for a small camper. Those who were ‘tent campers’ want a more “palatable” camping experience with a kitchen stove, built in bed and indoor plumbing! Newer companies are designing small 15ft-18ft camper trailers that look a lot like Airstream’s “Bambi” design of the 1960’s. Wally’s early designs continue to influence the industry.
Finally, the latter part of this book explains the transformations in the Airstream Company after Wally’s death in the 1960’s. Today, Airstream is owned and operated by Thor Industries. Along with the traditional aluminum silver camper trailers, they also manufacture a touring coach; a Dodge Sprinter Westfalia; and motor homes.
This is an historical book of the life of a successful business man and his personal ups and downs to save his company. It describes the evolution of an historical company in American history. But most importantly, it is a Fantastic “Table Top” pictorial book of more than 200 photos from Airstream archives.
I give this book a 5 out of 5. It has been of great interest to me; but also to the visitors to our house this summer. I intend to keep it in our camper trailer to show fellow campers.
Your private luxury vacation on wheels? My parents sure thought so. And, apparently so do my neighbors 50 years later. Yep. There’s an Airstream in their driveway.
I wish I had one too — a classy, classic aluminum Airstream travel trailer is pretty darn special and very desirable. It reminds me of an airplane with its graceful, aerodynamic design sans wings.As I read more about Wally, his company and vision, I was reminded of another dream-maker, Walt Disney. “He was well liked by many of his employees. Many saw him as inspirational, driving them to accomplish more than they thought they could.” (p. 49)
This is the perfect book for all of us who turn our heads every time an Airstream passes by. It is a thoughtful gift for grandparents and a must-have for anyone who owns, or has owned a ‘Silver Bullet’. Those who travel the world today will enjoy the history and pictures while imagining their own travels differently — as it might have been on an Airstream Caravan.
I am fortunate to travel the world as a writer. I’ve used most every type of transportation one can think of. After reading this book, I have a new bucket list item. We all know Airstream trailers have been an iconic American travel staple, but how many of us actually knew the full story and personal experience behind this American icon? Families, travelers, and adventure-seekers have taken these trailers around the world, maybe you and I should think about doing the same?
Patrick Foster wrote the book Airstream: America’s World Traveler highlighting the history, design, and manufacturing and discusses what makes Airstreams truly special. From restored Airstream hotels to caravans across the globe, these remain a travel icon for a reason and he does a heck of a job convincing his readers that we should be a part of it, making history one mile and smile at a time.
Airstream: America’s World Traveler