Imagine the world’s highways teeming with travel aficionados, exploring the nooks and crannies of new places in style and comfort to the tune of refined aesthetic sensibilities, with shared appreciation for classic curves, polished industrial steel and rocket-like headlights. This was a world in fact imagined by the endlessly intriguing Wally Byam, the designer/inventor of the Airstream and founder of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International, the organization that facilitated this year’s spring rally for its Ontario chapter right here in Paris.
What seems to have been a part business, part social occasion for the club members, it was fun as outsiders to nose around the dozens of vehicles (there appeared to be a greater number because of their size and impressiveness). Few people were out and about to speak to, but those we met clearly knew their Airstreams, easily distinguishing designs of different decades. One of our favourites was from the eighties featuring a painting of someone painting an Airstream with a painting of someone painting an Airstream. Love and fandom for these vehicles runs deep.
Wally Byam’s Creed (yes, there’s an Airstream creed) pronounces a series of ideological statements: highways as conduits for fulfilling a traveler’s dream, the balance between adventure and exploration and the comforts of home, even travel as a means for healthy international relations. It’s interesting at this point to see how Wally’s career history informed these ideas. After a stint as a merchant marine he studied law at Stanford University, owned an advertising agency, and became a magazine publisher, which ultimately led to him build a trailer prototype from one of his magazine’s DIY articles and form the fledgling Airstream company. It seems like he was able to make connections from these disparate experiences to gain an understanding of how people thought and what they deeply desired, which is still at the heart of good product design. Who knew we would find such inspiration here?
Beyond this particular Airstream show, we think it’s cool how the Fairgrounds (run by the Paris Agricultural Society) bring such a wide variety of special interests to Paris, with events ranging from antiques and gem shows and the popular annual fall fair to hosting regular meetings for the local Brant County Women’s Institute and other groups. It’s venues like these that bring people through town and link together an ecosystem of tourism, commerce and community. For example, one of the few people we spoke to who was also roaming the grounds said they’d had a grand old day in Paris so far visiting John Hall’s and Mary Maxim’s.
While we heard the out-of-towners were packing up and heading out on Monday, you might still catch a few leaving town today if you are lucky. If you really want to get in the mood, put on your sunglasses and sit back in your lawn chairs on Grand River Street North to watch those living the dream drive by.
Special thanks to Shelly Gracey who posted the context for the event on the Paris, Prettiest Town in Canada Facebook page, leading us down the Wally Byam rabbit hole.