By Michelle Dunlop
Sunday, July 25, 2004
When their mild-mannered son's seventh grade geography teacher summoned Florence and LeRoy Wallis for a conference, the couple admits they were a bit surprised. When the teacher accused their son, Kim, of having a problem telling the truth, the couple was amused.
"She said that whenever they would talk about a different site in the U.S., Kim would say, 'I've been there,'" Florence Wallis said. "She didn't think he could have been to all those places."
However, for families like Wallises of Portland, Ore., travel became a way of life once they purchased their first Airstream -- those shiny silver trailers resembling a rounded railway car. This weekend, Airstream owners who are members of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International will celebrate their regional chapter's 40th anniversary at the Twin Falls County Fairgrounds in Filer.
Wally Byam founded his international organization nearly 50 years ago. During his teenage years, Byam worked as a shepherd and lived out of a small donkey cart around Baker City, Ore. He credited those formidable years as the inspiration for his Airstream trailers and motor homes
The Wallises purchased their first Airstream in 1963
. In that same year, they participated in their first caravan, a trek through western Canada.
"That was a fantastic experience," Florence Wallis said.
"It's a good life," Wallis said. "We've raised our kids in it. It's a wonderful way to raise kids."
The Wallises originally decided to purchase an Airstream after seeing a documentary narrated by Vincent Price on television about the Wally Byam Caravan Club's famous journeys. Byam guided 27 caravans including nine to Mexico and one to Europe and Africa before his death in 1962
. Today, club members can participate in a variety of caravans year round. Popular trips include the Michigan Lighthouse, Oregon Trail and Polar Bear Safari caravans.
After watching the program on Wally Byam's club, the Wallises decided it was time to experience the country themselves.
"The reason we started traveling is I taught geography," Wallis said. "And, how can you teach geography when you haven't been anywhere?"
In the 40 years since their maiden journey, the Wallises have led 37 international caravans, including ones to Europe, Australia and New Zealand. This year already, the couple have attended 10 or 11 rallies and participated in two overseas caravans. In August, they will head to Europe for another trip.
"We've enjoyed doing it," Wallis said. "I wouldn't do anything else."
The Wallises have somehow managed to miss two states in their travels: Oklahoma and Kansas.
"Next year, we're going to correct that," LeRoy Wallis said. "We have more fun than we have good sense."
Only owners of Airstream trailers and motor homes can join the Wally Byam Caravan Club. Its current membership stands at about 8,000. The members are organized into 12 regions, including region 10 -- the northwest organization holding the rally in Filer. Overall, the Airstream company and Wally Byam club organizes about 1,500 activities or more annually.
The club will hold an open house Sunday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Club members invite the public to check out the sights and learn more about Airstreams. Perhaps some visitors will fall in love with Airstreams the way the Wallises have.
The Wallises' grandson, now 18, staked his claim to their Airstream at the age of 5 or 6. Florence Wallis said she wouldn't be surprised to find his name scrawled on the belly of their trailer.
"One day, he told us, 'Someday you're going to get old and you're going to die, and I'm going to get your Airstream,'" she said.