Sampling Oregon: Day 21-24, Baker City, Here we come!

BY: PHILIP TERHORST

The day has arrived! We leave today for Baker City, OR, birthplace of Wally Byam, Inventor of the Airstream. July 4 will be the 115th anniversary of his birth. And, yes, he’s sill dead…

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Baker City, OR located on the Oregon Trail, lies at the eastern border adjacent to Idaho.

Baker City was a gold mining town, and an important stop along the Oregon Trail. But Airstream owners have another reason for a pilgrimage to Baker City: Wally Byam, the “inventor” of the Airstream trailer and the Airstream caravans, was born in Baker City on July 4, 1896. The city is celebrating his 115th birthday with an enlarged exhibit of his life and of the Airstream trailer.

Baker City, OR is proud of its history, and has a wonderful downtown, restored to its 1890s glory.

The caravan Left Delintment Lake a little after 8:00am on Friday morning. We stayed together today because we were taking gravel/dirt forest service and/or logging roads out of the campground for about 10 miles or so…

After the gravel/dirt roads, the rest of the trip was uneventful. The green, hills, forested mountains, and rushing streams and rivers belie the description of this are as a desert, but for now we’ll go with it…

We arrived in Baker City at around 12:30, found our campsites, set up camp, and then we had a few minutes to relax. By 3:00 or so we were headed to the city park and the Baker Heritage Museum to register for this rally and to get started on all the Airstream fun.

Over the next four days our Sampling Oregon caravan merged with the Oregon Unit’s Baker City Rally. The caravaners went their various ways, enjoying the many opportunities this rally made available. The following descriptions and photos are representative of our activities; not all caravaners did the same thing at the same time.

The center of the weekend was the Baker Heritage Museum. The museum was created from a building that was originally a natatorium.

The Baker Municipal Natatorium building served as a community center and natatorium for Baker City from 1921 until the beginning of World War II. The building had steam baths, showers, meeting rooms, a maple floored ballroom, and an full Olympic sized pool.

By the late 1930s use was dropping and with the start of World War II use further declined, so the City decided to close the Natatorium. The building was converted to a war production facility in 1943. Following the war, the National Guard used the building for drills for a while. The pool was filled and capped with dirt and used for a variety of purposes including 4-H barn, city garage and a temporary fire station.

By 1975 the people of Baker City considered the abandoned building as an eyesore and a contract was let to demolish the “Nat”. The Baker County Historical Society proposed the creation of a museum in the “Nat”, and the City agreed to lease the building at no cost to the BCHS as long as the building was run as a museum. The Baker Heritage Museum opened in 1982. Today it houses a large exhibit on Wally Byam and the story of the Airstream.

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Across from the Museum is the Park. Here about 25 vintage Airstreams are parked. (Other attendees, including the caravaners, are parked in two other RV parks nearby…)

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Friday evening was happy hour and dinner in the park. Many people were met and re-met, and many trailers were viewed.

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The Around-the World Airstream…

A special Airstream at this event is the “Around-the-World” Airstream. This Airstream participated in the 1962-1963 Around-the-World Caravan. The Gorensons rescued this trailer just before it was to have been converted into a travelling honey bee exhibit.

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We were given a short talk about the history of the trailer, the original couple who traveled in it on the Around-the-World Caravan, and all the many hours and much effort than has been spent in restoring this very special Airstream.

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Many other Vintage Airstreams were on display, and on Saturday afternoon there was the official, open to the public, Open House.

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The Airstreams overflowed onto the street…

Other activities included hearing Tom Golden talk about the 1959- 1960 Capetown to Cairo Caravan. Tom’s parents were on this historic caravan, and Tom had many artifacts to show us; he also read selected passages from his mother’s journal.

Some of us went to visit the nearby town of Sumpter. There are many old mining artifacts to see, as well as a giant flea-market.

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Just about all of us visited the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, located just east of Baker City. In the mid 1800s about 300,000 people made the 2,000 mile journey, walking beside their covered wagons for about 6 months, enduring many hardships. From the Interpretive Center, we could view down upon the surrounding area, see the wagon tracks, and see re-created covered wagons.

In this cluster of about 6 wagons we could just imagine the pioneers sitting around the campfire, taking in the view, maybe also enjoying happy hour with some nice fresh bruschetta and some chilled French rose’ wine… Being a pioneer on the Oregon trail must have been fun! Much like our caravans today…

Most all caravaners also spent time (and money) in Historic Downtown Baker City. We strolled the quiet residential streets, visited a church, and walking downtown sidewalks window shopping and stopping for lunch or an ice cream cone.

The Geiser Grand Hotel opened in 1889. In 1968, it hosted the entire cast and crew filming the movie, Paint Your Wagon. When the movie wrapped, the hotel closed. The Hotel has received a complete restoration, and it reopened in 1993. Decorations include mahogany columns up to a high ceiling, Victorian-style chandeliers, and a stained glass ceiling. It was known as “the Queen of the Mines” during Gold Rush times and described as being the finest hotel between Portland, Oregon and Salt Lake City with the third elevator built west of the Mississippi River.

Another interesting the Cathedral of Saint Sales It is the Cathedral Parish of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baker Constructed in 1906–08 of local volcanic tuff, the cathedral was renovated on several occasions, most recently in mid-2007.

One of the highlights of the rally was hearing Dale “Pee Wee” Schwamborn speak and tell us “The Wally Byam Story”. Dale was on Wally’s firat and last caravan, plus a few in between. Dale’s Mother, Wally’s cousin, Helen Schwamborn, was instrumental in the formation of the WBCCI Club and many oif the caravans. Dale has done immense research and has been trhough thousands of documents to uncover the true, real, Wally Byam. While the four hours and 900 slides might have been too much of a good thing for many rally attendees, some of us were fascinated by the whole thing. In the Museum are many Wally Byam and Airstream artifacts.

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We had many happy hours and many happy meals together during the long weekend. We celebrated the 4th of July, Wally’s and our country’s birthday, with a BBQ in the park, surrounded by many beautiful Airstreams. It was a fitting ending to a wonderful weekend. An enjoyable time was had by all…

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Group Shot… All the Birthday Rally attendees…