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The Airstream-Jeep Rabbit Hole

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Some of you may have seen an image of a CJ-2A setup to pull an Airstream trailer that has gone around Facebook. Unfortunately, there was no history attached to that image. So, that’ got me hunting for more information. Below is my quick education on the Airstream history. I’m sure some of. you folks know more, so correct me if need be.

I was able to find a few more images of that CJ-2A and trailer, which has led me to believe that Airstream founder Wally Byam used that jeep, probably purchased in Europe, to pull his trailer around Europe during Wally’s first trip in 1948, which he used to scout various countries for future caravans. However, I have so far been unable to find anyone explicitly saying that Wally did that. But, the jeep is a CJ-2A, so the timeline fits. The top looks similar to other European tops of the late 1940s, and in Europe I suspect there weren’t many vehicle options at that time. Here are the pics I found, the first being the one circulating on Facebook:


Wally Byam sitting in one of his early trailers. A Cj-2A with a European style top appears to be the pull-rig. I believe this would be 1948.

This photo, clearly in Europe, was posted on this site taken in Turkey, from the 1948 trip:


And this photo posted on this site. I assume this is in Europe, but cannot confirm it:


As the Airstream trailer business grew, Wally began encouraging traveling, leading some international caravans himself.

In 1951, he led a trip into Mexico and Central America, using what looks to be an early Jeep Wagon.


I found this example of a wagon pulling a trailer, but can’t determine when or where this occurred.


Eventually, Wally assembled the first around-the-world Airstream caravan that travelled over the course of 1963-1964 30,000 miles through thirty countries with 104 people in 40 Airstream trailers. Here’s a video about one family’s take on the event.

According to the video’s summary, Journalist Mac Smith was hired to document the trip and brought along his wife Jackie and their three children, Lorie, Judy, and Scott. Mac would go on to write an account of the Around the World Caravan in his 1966 book, Thank You, Marco Polo: The Story of the First Around-the-World Trailer Caravan [which appears to be out of print].”

So, as you can see, I kind of fell down a rabbit hole of Airstream history.


9 Comments on “The Airstream-Jeep Rabbit Hole

  1. JohnB

    In the early 1990s the Wally Byam Caravan Club had its annual convention in (exotic) Dayton, Ohio.
    I was stationed at nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the convention site where they parked their trailers was nearby Wright State University.
    I never saw that many Airstreams before or since.
    The club’s unofficial tow vehicle for many years was the International Travellall, though I’m sure the introduction of the Wagoneer in the early ’60s gave it a lot of competition. I’m assuming the early Jeep wagon was seen as too small or underpowered by many members, especially as the trailer size increased.
    Back then it was just the Travellall, Wagoneer and Surburban if you wanted something other than a pickup.
    IIRC, in the late “50s the Travellall offered FACTORY 4WD, when the Chevy/GMC still offered only NAPCO conversions.

  2. Tom in Paris

    There is another Jeep far in the background in the second picture, just off the back end of the Airstream. And I think picture two was taken in Frankfurt, Germany. In the third photo, what is between the 2A and Airstream? It looks like a pipe organ on a trailer.

  3. David Eilers Post author


    That’s a calliope that Wally owned. Apparently, he traveled some with it (unclear to how far and how long).

    – Dave

  4. Jordan Ruff

    Man… i was just at the Airstream plant in Jackson Center Ohio doing some work. Next time i’m there i’ll have to ask around about the Jeep.

  5. Noe-Schitt Sherlock

    Why did Wally shun free wheeling hubs on his highway only ‘Jeep’? He seems like a well-informed/rounded, individual. Anybody wutt owns a calliope, gots ta know which way da wind blows.

  6. David Eilers Post author

    Dear Mr. Holmes,

    This would have been 1948. The only hubs that I know of at that time were the “summer” hubs made by Warn, which was a tiny business at that point (Warn wasn’t made a Willys equipment dealer until 1954). In addition, Wally was in Europe, so doubtful anyone there had heard of Warn’s hubs.

    You faithful servant,

    Doc Watson

  7. N.S. Sherlock

    Dear David; Mr. Holmes is my brother-in-law. My name is Noe. The former, Mrs. Jack Schitt. You don’t know me, but I’m yer biggest fan.

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