Yukon Nuggets

1965 Yukon Nuggets

Wally Byam


Have you ever driven behind a caravan of trailers on the Alaska Highway and wondered how you were ever going to pass them all? It’s a reality. Trailers bunch up on the highway. So imagine a week back in the summer of 1965, when a caravan of more than 100 Airstream trailers pulled into Whitehorse. Imagine trying to pass that crew on the very dusty highway. Impossible.

It was called the Wally Byam Caravan and was one of the largest ever assembled to travel the Alaska Highway. I interviewed the travellers for local radio and recall that they were a fun bunch - on the trip of a lifetime in their Airstream trailers.

So who, I got to wondering, was Wally Byam? Here’s the story. Wally Byam was a pioneer, a legendary figure in the mobile home business.

He was born in Oregon in 1896, and spent his childhood tending the family's large flock of sheep in the mountains. He lived in a small, two-wheeled cloth-covered wagon which was pulled by a donkey. Wally once told his friends that the shepherd boy’s wagon had something to do with his later interest in trailers.

Wally Byam received a college law degree. However, he was interested in writing, advertizing and carpentry. He began publishing a how-to-do-it magazine for home carpenters and builders.

One day, Wally came across an article about how to build a trailer and bought it for publication. He printed the story and letters of complaint started to roll in. So he decided to follow the instructions himself. He quickly found them impossible. So he tried to design a trailer himself. Soon, in his backyard, he was building made-to-order trailers for sale.

In 1934, he came up with the name "Airstream". That’s what he would call his trailers. He continued to build trailers until 1942, when the war stopped production.

In 1946, he rented a small building near Van Nuys, California , and was back in the trailer business. Thus was formed Airstream Trailers Incorporated. During the next ten years, his company grew to become a major American business enterprise.

He would often leave the factory to take personal charge of caravan tours. They were, he said, the best way to show what could be done in a travel trailer. Airstream owners became a loyal bunch. In 1955 a group of his followers founded a club that is now one of the largest trailering clubs in the world. It's called the Wally Byam Caravan Club.

I can’t recall if Wally Byam was with the big group who slowed traffic to a crawl in the summer of 1965, but they still travel the Alaska Highway. With pavement, however, it’s easier nowadays to pass them.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.