The 1956 European Caravan
In 1948, Wally left for his first overseas trailer trip for Europe with Cornelius “Neil” Vanderbilt, Jr, a lifelong friend of his. Neil wanted to film postwar Europe for his lecture tours and Wally wanted to road-test his trailer to discover weaknesses that needed fixing, as well as any improvements that could be made. The two traveled in a 22’ Airstream to about a dozen countries and Wally painted the name of each city that they visited on the trailer, labeling it the “World’s Most Traveled Trailer.” With their knowledge, this overseas trailer trip between the two friends would be a precursor to the famous Airstream caravans.
Perhaps inspired by fond memories of his trip with Neil, in 1956, Wally took on an unprecedented task of shipping 36 Airstreams and 87 caravanners across the Atlantic Ocean. He did this for the first Wally Byam Caravan to Europe. Throughout the course of six months, the group of caravanners visited 16 countries and traveled a total of 16,000 miles. Wally and his wife Stella traveled in a custom-built 26’ Airstream that was painted white, making it easy to spot the caravan leader.
The caravan became a hit worldwide. It was covered by National Geographic in an article written by Norma Miller and photographed by her husband Ardean Miller. Ardean Miller would go on to photograph many of the early iconic Airstream advertisements.
Three freighters were used to ship and tow the Airstreams from New York to Rotterdam. The caravanners met with foreign officials and members of European caravan clubs. Along the journey, they visited famous sites including the Alps, the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Vatican, and several castles in Germany. They camped along the Rhine and toured the canals in Venice. They watched a bullfight in Barcelona and the opera in Vienna. They fed carrots to bears in Switzerland and danced with locals in a town square in Belgium. Once they had to return home from Europe, they once again had made memories that would last a lifetime. After this moment, Wally knew that this would be the first of many Airstream caravans to Europe.
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