Following World War II, family camping became a popular way to spend at least part of your summer vacation. Compared to a resort hotel or something that required travel tickets you had to pay for, it was inexpensive, and you could go almost anywhere, depending on how far you wanted to drive. Our camping trips when the kids were young — mostly in the ’60s — took us to Nova Scotia, Cape Hatteras, the mountains of Virginia, upper Michigan, Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron, and many other places closer to home —exploration as we wished, all with our Plymouth station wagon and 9 x 12-foot wall tent.
Compared to the cost of everything else, gasoline was cheap, and nobody worried about carbon emissions in the atmosphere. (Once, in the ’60s, there was a “price war” among the four gas stations at the Route 1 circle at Penns Neck. It got down to 13 cents per gallon. Its regular price had been about 40 cents. Of course, everything was cheaper then, but gasoline was plentiful, and nobody worried much about where it came from or what the gas mileage was on their cars.)
For camping, many families like us used tents, which had to be erected when you reached the campground. For some, it was easier if they had a tent-trailer. This was a two-wheeled trailer that was towed by the car and detached when you reached the campsite. Pitching camp simply meant unfolding the tent where it was on top of the trailer. There were four beds or cots in many trailers like this, and it was a lot easier than having to put up a tent fastened to the ground with tent pegs and ropes and using sleeping bags.
But the ultimate in luxury for the camping set was a fully enclosed trailer with a rigid metal or wooden body that provided — almost — all the comforts of home. (In fact, many tent campers wondered how the users of such trailers could even consider themselves to be campers. But they did.)
One of the trailers — or trailer-homes, as they were often called — that became very popular was called the “Airstream.” This was made mostly of aluminum and used construction similar to that used in the manufacture of airplanes. Usually the bare aluminum skin was riveted together just the way it was in the P-38s and B-17s used during the war. Since the ’40s and ’50s a whole travel culture had developed centered on the Airstream trailer, including massive conventions of owners from around the country who wouldn’t travel any other way. Many Airstream owners belonged to the Wally Byam Caravan Club, named for the founder of Airstream, and it was that organization that sponsored and arranged the rallies.
In 1971 the Wally Byam culture came to rest in West Windsor for the weekend of the Princeton University football game against the University of Pennsylvania. On the north side of Washington Road between Route 1 and the D&R Canal, on land owned by Princeton, the university set aside enough parking area for more than 100 trailers and their towing vehicles.
The trailers, with model names like Globetrotter, Land Yacht, and Safari, were arranged in rows across the field. For the game the trailer families were invited to sit in a 400-seat section of Palmer Stadium reserved just for them. The university also conducted tours of the campus and arranged other activities for the trailerites. Some of them lingered in the area for several days following the formal convention. It was announced that there were 15 Airstream Trailer owners in the Princeton area. (There’s at least one still in West Windsor today.)
Only a few miles from here — in Skillman, north of Princeton — a much larger Airstream Trailer rally had been held in 1964. On that occasion more than 2,000 trailers met in a field in which they were arranged in nine concentric circles. It was the seventh international rally for the Wally Byam Caravan Club, and probably the largest.
Accommodating a group of that size might have been difficult for West Windsor, even then. But come to think of it, though, there’s a very large piece of vacant land out along Clarksville Road that has ample room for a Wally Byam convention. Hmmm. No! Traffic is bad enough now without adding trailers to the mix.