We sometimes tested light and composition with Polaroids before taking certain photos. This is me during a test. The owners of this Airstream had an organ.
Not a Wally Byam rally...just a get-together I photographed.
During that one week, I fostered a love of the Airstream and camping that would last a lifetime. I especially fell in love with the Bambi. Some 30 years later, I still don't have my Bambi, but my love of the road is strong and I still enjoy talking to campers and photographing vintage campers, especially the smaller models.
When I heard that a vintage trailer rally was happening near me I went through my arsenal of photo gear, picking just one camera and one lens (a wide angle) and headed to the Riverbend Campground in Hiawassee to take a few snaps and see how much 'camping' had changed; not much, I quickly discovered. There were no tape measures, police, or post-offices, but the people were the same: warm, friendly, and enthusiastic about the camping-life. I wasn't around to see the night come to life under little strings of colored lights, but I would imagine it would have felt like that first night in the Adirondacks: magical.
Some things never change and the vintage-trailer enthusiasts are aiming to keep it that way. I hope to join you one day, not as a retired photographer, but as a member, sitting under the awning of my Bambi - vintage, of course.
In 1985 I traveled to the Adirondacks with another photographer to assist him in a photo shoot for the Smithsonian Magazine. The subject was the WBCCI International Rally. Around 4,000 Airstreams created an awe-inspiring vision; each meticulously dotting the pristine landscape. I use "meticulous" because the motor-homes were parked by a volunteer crew that used measuring tapes to insure that each motor-home was separated by precisely measured spaces. Even the wheels had to be facing the right direction. It was captivating to watch the members work at making a complex mathematical design out of large silver objects.
The entire place was abuzz with golf carts and 'officials' making sure everything was perfect before the sun set. I quickly found out that members had their own post office, medical staff, and police, not that there was any hint the police would be needed, especially in those days, but they were there, just in case, and because it was a proper thing for a city to have. I didn't think much about a fire department at the time but looking back, I know there must have been one.
Gradually the buzz died down as one-by- one the motor-homes and their occupants, like pieces of a complex puzzle, came together, creating a picture-perfect evening of red sky, sizzling steaks, campfires, and faint laughter. By morning the landscape had been transformed into an gleaming city of silver, with nothing lacking.
We spent a week with the members, sharing food, drink, listening to stories, and photographing endless activities, even the pet show. If you still have an old copy of that issue, I took the pet show photo, though I was not credited.
I learned from members little quasi-rules that created a refined but relaxed atmosphere. For instance, one woman told me that stepping out of the motor-home with curlers in your hair was a no-no. Another man told me that, unless entertaining, booze should be covered with a cozy or put away in a cabinet.
During a time when few people had satellite TV, I was amazed at the number of satellite dishes on the Airstreams. Inside, each motor-home had a unique and professional look; and a few sported pianos and even organs.
I remember that the Airstream was never referred to as a trailer or camper. I believe it was proper, at the time, to call it a motor-home or RV. But things have changed (they are referenced as trailers all over the Internet) and I would suspect that getting 4000 Airstreams in one place would be a difficult chore today
Inside a Vintage trailer in Hiawassee, Ga. 2016.
More photos from 2016 Hiawassee Vintage Trailer Rally at Riverbend