Caravans across America - John Yoxall reports

[published in the July 1967 edition of "En Route", the Member's magazine of the Caravan Club]

We'll survive the mileage -- but hospitality may wreck us!

Gettysburg, June 6,1967.

With Chairman Frank Collins in command, the 20 "Club Units" duly left London Airport for Washington, D.C., on the afternoon of June 3. The five hours' time difference, plus another 1½ hour's delay at the London end of the flight, made life a trifle difficult for the participants. We found ourselves still enjoying American hospitality at 5 a.m. B.S.T. before getting to bed.

On arrival at Dulles Airport, Washington, could be seen a gleaming row of 20 Byam Airstream caravans and Pontiac cars, all spanking new. These were parked under the control tower, and made a brave sight. To welcome us officially were John Black, Director of U.S. Travel Agencies, and Mrs. Carolyn Bennett Patterson, chairman of the Wally Byam Foundation, sponsors of the tour.

Settling In

In addition were 20 representatives of the Mid·Atlantic Section, Wally Byam Caravan Club International, to each of whom was allocated the responsibility of shepherding one British family to its outfit and driving the outfit to Bulls Run Park, the site for the next three days. On arrival at Bulls Run Park we were entertained to dinner in the various vans, but some of the guests were a bit too tired to take full advantage of such lavish kindness.

Come Sunday morning, and there was a coach to take the party to a service in the National Cathedral, lunch at the National Geographical Society, and a tour of the many memorials and sights in Washington.

Monday morning, and we were off to be shown over the White House as a very special privilege. Halfway through the visit everyone was thrilled to see Lady Bird Johnson leave for an appointment and to receive Lynda Bird Johnson's " I See America First" , with a hand·written personal note for each family.

The White House tour was followed by a reception at the Ministry of Agriculture and Parks, where special Park passes were given, together with a special set of pictures. These were complementary to a splendid volume of "America's Wonderland" from the National Geographic Society.

At 4 p.m. the ladies were let loose on a buying spree in Super Giant Supermarket in Fairfax. Back at camp there was an "indoctrination" meeting to acquaint the British element with the complex workings of a Pontiac Bonneville and an Airstream caravan. Drivers were seen wending their careful way all over the field, trying to remember just how light were the powered controls in operation.

Tuesday, June 6, and we proceeded under police escort to the Mall, near the Capitol, where we were received by Senator Bible and officially started on our way. To-night we sleep on the famous Gettysburg Battlefield and tomorrow are visiting General Eisenhower before starting on a 340·mile run to Punderson State Park. We may survive the long mileage ahead, but the astounding hospitality is likely to leave us a crowd of wrecks.


a) Outfits parked under the control tower at Dulles airport, Washington.

b) A closer look at part of some outfits.

c) Chairman Frank Colllns, wearIng hIs Caravan America beret returns thanks for an overwhelming reception. In the white dress is Mrs. Carolyn Bennett Patterson, Chairman of the Wally 8yam Foundation.

d) At Bull Run Park, starting place for the trans-Amerlcan tour: looking out to the vans from the "cookhouse", where a "Wee Roast" was being prepared for the visitors.

John Yoxall concludes the story of the 5,600-mile Caravan America

[published in the September 1967 edition of "En Route", the Member's magazine of the Caravan Club]

Luxury , touring, but hard work (we grounded a ship, flew in 35-year-old planes)

In the narrative sent back from Washington at the start of "Caravan America" I voiced the opinion that hospitality might be our undoing -- if not the mileage. Neither succeeded in defeating us. In an aggregate of over 100,000 towing miles only one small piece of tinware got bent (trying to turn left from a wrong traffic lane).

Your correspondent managed to wrap his own outfit to complete immobility around a petrol pump at Sundance, without touching it, and to ditch his car at Grassy Lake when the edge of a newly thawed road gave way. The latter entailed a 10-mile walk in the dark back to camp through a forest in which only the previous week a person had been seriously mauled by bears. All we saw before being picked up after five miles was two porcupines. The car was retrieved unscratched.

Hospitality was remarkable. wearing and most enjoyable. About another week of it and some would have had to give in. Let me give a typical briefing by "Pete" Peterson, our American shepherd, for a 'travelling' day. of which there were 22 out of 32.

"Tomorrow we have 360 miles to go and you must be at the camp in time to visit the bird reserve at 3 p.m. This means that you must leave not later than 6 a.m. -- and don't spend too long on your elevenses". And sure enough at five o'clock the next morning the voice of Pete would be heard again in the early sunshine. "British caravanners, British caravanners, it's a lovely morning, why not get up and use it?"

Pete was a wonderful character we all fell for -- we even clubbed together to buy him an 18ft. stock whip to lend emphasis to his bull horn!

To continue the typical day. The bird reserve would be 25 miles round and on return to the site at, say, 5.40 p.m. there would be 20 minutes for a meal before setting off for a reception, which might last until 11 p.m. A few hours in bed and off we would go again, thinking it to be an easy day if there were less than 250 miles to go.

If I could have three complete issues of En Route in which to recount our travels, they could all be filled. But here a good outline is possible. Having been despatched from outside the Capitol with much pomp and circumstance, our first stop was on the battlefields of Gettysburg. Here that fine old soldier, Gen. Eisenhower, was kind enough to receive us -- and recount how he, too, did a similar journey 40 years ago, mostly over earth roads.

At Gettysburg, too, we had our first experience of "dumping". The American sanitary system for trailers involves the use of a holding tank, to be emptied as opportunity affords. It is a messy business: an enormous length of flexible hose has to be connected to the outlet, a cut-off valve operated and then the piping washed out.

East Harbor State Park, on the shores of Lake Erie, gave us the chance, at the invitation of Parks Director Fred Morr, to sample the pleasures of a ride on the world's shortest airline -- 10 miles, out to Small Bass Island. The aircraft used are three museum-piece Ford Trimotors of 1932 vintage. Some of the party spent the evening at Cedar Point, a sort of poor man's edition of Disneyland.

Another night halt on the Great Lakes at Indiana Dunes, by Lake Michigan, and then on to Goose Island County Park in Wisconsin State. Here we were entertained to a display of square dancing, followed by a Mississippi river trip and party on a stern-wheeler.

Weighty people these British caravanners; their combined weight was sufficient to ground the ship at its moorings. The captain had to request them to move aft before he could get clear. During the party the 'reserved' British treated their hosts to a fairly raucous rendering of camp-fire songs.

A day's run of 360 miles took the tour to Newton Hills State Park, and a further 267 miles brought them to Ghost Hawk Campground in the Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota. Here we were treated to our first Sioux (pronounced Soo) ceremonial dances. The following day's run of 250 miles went through the Badlands to Sheridan Lake in Black Hills. In the evening there was a short lecture with coloured slides before the floodlights were switched on to illuminate the 60ft. heads of four early presidents, cut In the rock face of Mount Rushmore. Now we were starting the mountain sections and approaching the more interesting parts of the journey.

A long day followed, 334 miles towing. This was the day on which I wrapped the outfit around a petrol pump at Sundance. Fortunately Bill Mellor, the very able mechanic from Airstreams, came along at that moment and helped me disconnect and re•hitch -- no small job with an American outfit.

After a long stretch of grassland, with little in the way of habitation, the road wound its way up to the Granite Pass, at 9,050ft. over the Big Horn Mountains. This was climbed in thick fog and pouring rain; all that could be seen through the murk were notices suggesting a stop to admire and photograph the view! Some of the gradients tamed the powerful outfits down to 35-40 m.p.h.

The site at Prune Creek Campground was flooded, but in the evening the 'local' people from Sheridan, 45 miles distant, threw a Wild West party for us. This was in a log cabin. with an enormous wood fire roaring up the chimney and a hoot'n, shoot'n sheriff, complete with six-shooter.

"Rest" time

Almost a day off, only 141 miles, took us to Clearwater Picnic Ground in Shoshone National Forest. On the way a stop was made to visit the Cody (Buffalo Bill) museum, which also houses the Whitney collection of Western art, an interesting place. The camp was suffering from recent rains and in some cases manpower had to supplement the 325 horses hiding under each Pontiac bonnet.

A rest at last, three days at Huckleberry Ranch, from where Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks could be explored. Was a rest suggested? One could have had one by foregoing the pleasures of seeing the hot springs and geysers -- including Old Faithful, which erupts every 67 minutes -- the Canyon and the Madison River earthquake area, where, in August 1959, 26 caravanners and campers were swallowed up during the night.

There was a trip out to Togwotee Pass, 9,658ft., marking the continental divide between waters which flowed into the Atlantic and those finding their way to the Pacific Ocean. On the way to the Pass is the Jackson Hole Wild Life Park, where herds of buffalo could be seen browsing against a background of the Grand Teton Mountains and Jackson Lake; a timeless picture, beautiful in the extreme.

From Jackson Lodge started perhaps the most interesting event of the trip, a 22-mile cruise by raft down the Snake River with a picnic lunch half way. This was at the invitation of the Rockefeller Foundation. The rafts are inflated pontoons with a seating capacity of 18 and a crude steering gear at each end. Our helmsman was a well-informed university student. No, the three days spent at Huckleberry Ranch were more interesting than restful.

Our next campground was in the Navajo School grounds in Brigham City. This was reached after a long run through Salt Creek and beside Bear Lake. A sharp climb away from the lake overheated some of the outfits. Entertainment here included a 25-mile run through a wonderful bird reserve (more time could have been enjoyably employed here), a performance by the Mothers' Choir -- 16 mothers boasting a total of 92 children -- the Lord's Prayer given in Indian sign language and Indian dances. The final round dance was led by a lovely Indian squaw and Francis Cam in splendid fettle.

At Salt Lake City, our second stop in Utah, the arrival was a wonderful example of absolute chaos. Instructions, for once, were not very explicit and outfits were seen charging about in every direction. They all eventually came to rest at the National Trailer Court where, for $3, each had a three-way hook up to water, electricity and sewage.

Couldn't swim

An early start had had to be made to be at Salt Lake City in time to enjoy the midday organ recital in the Mormon Temple. The remainder of the day was employed with an attempted swim in the Great Salt Lake (no use, the legs come straight out of the dense salt water) and dinner at the Utah Pioneer Museum Village by invitation of the "Sons of Utah Pioneers". A violent thunderstorm rather spoilt the latter part of the proceedings.

Then came the canyon country. Nearly 300 miles towing, with a climb on to an 8,000ft. plateau, brought us through the well-named Red Canyon to Sunset Point on Bryce Canyon. A beautiful area, and we were fortunate in being sited at one of the most picturesque spots. Another 130 miles and "Caravan America" arrived at Jacobs Lake, Arizona, ready to visit Glen Canyon, 79 miles away and Grand Canyon North Rim, 44 miles distant. Both are on the Colorado River.

To see the Glen Canyon we had the pleasure of the company of Jack and Martha Dawson, who attended a Caravan Club National Rally a few years ago and had been with the tour all the way from Washington. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon we thought to be rather commercialised but doubtless had we ventured down some of the trails it would have appeared more exciting.

The last of the canyon sites was back in Utah, in the Zion National Park, where we were parked in the Watchman Campground, a new area for 280 units. Approach is by a mile-long unlighted tunnel through the Bridge Mountain. Temperature soared over the 100 deg. F mark.

A comparatively short haul brought us to an oasis on the shores of Lake Mead. Nevada. The Boulder Beach Campground is within easy walking distance of the lake for swimming and we were invited by Mrs. Belnap and her son to go for a trip in their jet motor yacht to see the Boulder Dam. Very enjoyable and quite exciting.

"Bandit" morons

For the evening we had all been invited to join the Corbets and their friends for dinner in Las Vegas. This was a very pleasant al fresco affair in the Corbets' garden, which boasted a nice swimming pool.

Later that night we all left to visit the famed Las Vegas gaming houses. Never before had any of us seen so many morons putting an endless number of dimes into hundreds of one-armed bandits. One woman was seen to win the jackpot and then proceed to put her winnings back into the same machine -- not moving even to the one next door.

And so to Los Angeles, with its famous smog, which was much in evidence. That evening passed pleasantly with a dinner at the Saddle Inn, by invitation of Airstream Inc., the makers of our vans. By 8 a.m. the next morning we were at their factory seeing how they were made -- the Americans get cracking early.

This was just as well because at 11 a.m. we were due at the central library for an official reception and afterwards for a stroll in Mr. and Mrs. Sieman's gardens next door. A quick lunch and off to Long Beach for a swim in the Pacific Ocean.

The rest of the day until midnight was spent enjoying the pleasures of Disneyland. This was our second stop at a commercial site; the three-way hook-up here cost $2.50.

We were now in California and had to remember the excellent local law requiring drivers of slow vehicles, with four or more others behind them, to pull into the first available lay-by to let them by. Kearney Park at Fresno was, without doubt, the most pleasant town site visited. Approach was by a 7-mile boulevard of palms and flowers.

Yosemite Park was the last national park to be visited before reaching the final assembly at Santa Rosa. It entailed a gradual climb up to 7,000ft., where it was cooler in the shade. Some idea of the extent of these American national parks can be had from the instructions given each driver on entry at Park Gate. "Go 17 miles on the Glacier Point road and then turn right for another 11 miles."

Yosemite Park is remarkable for its mountain vistas and beautiful trees. Some of the famous redwoods (Sequoia gigantea) are reputed to be 3,000 years old. We could not resist the tourist attraction of driving our Pontiac Bonneville through the "Tree Tunnel" cut in one of the finest and oldest of them.

And then the final lap. To make a tidy entrance to the rally we foregathered at the roadside a few miles outside Santa Rosa and arrived in brave array at the 10th International Rally of the Wally Byam Caravan Club.

There were over 2,000 vans and yet each had a two-way hook-up of water and electricity and, believe it or not, everyone of the 2,000 also had a sewage gopher hole dug with a post-hole auger at the rear. I wonder what our Public Health Consultant, John Stokes, would think of that?

The end came almost abruptly -- cars went away for servicing, trailers were handed over to the French families who were bringing them back to Washington, a few tearful farewells of the Americans who had journeyed with us, and then a coach to the airport where a jet aircraft was waiting to cover in as many hours the journey that had taken us nearly five weeks.

Constant speed

Now a brief word about the cars and trailers. All the cars were new Pontiac Bonnevilles, the Vee 8 engines of which developed 325 h.p. Petrol consumption was in the region of 9½ m.p.g. (U.S.). They had every refinement including automatic gear change, powered steering, powered brakes and air-conditioning. A constant-speed control would hold the car at any pre-determined speed and one press button set all four flashers working together in case of necessity.

The hitch was very similar to Carlight's Easy-Drive system and the necessary lower gear ratio of the back axle, local strengthening of bodywork and heavy duty equipment is all part of a package deal offered to caravanners by Pontiac.

There were two types of Airstream Trailer used, the 19ft. Caravel and the 22ft. Safari. Here is a brief description of the latter. Empty weight, 3,420Ib.; overall length, 22ft. 11 in.; width, 8ft.; height, 9ft. Kelsey Hayes 12 volt electric brakes are fitted and 7:00 x 15 8-ply nylon tubeless tyres. Nose weight of the Safari as it leaves the factory is 400Ib., to which must be added 250lb. of water in the main tank and two 30lb. gas containers carried on the tow bar.

Inside, from front to rear, there are a folding table, 30 gallon (U.S.) water tank with electric pump, refrigerator, central heating plant, double stainless steel sink and household cooker with settee-double bed opposite, two wardrobes, shower, bath, flushing toilet and holding tank, hand basin and medicine chest. All the gear for a three-way hook-up of water, electricity and sewage is at the rear. Lit from the exterior is a hot-water system which keeps 10 gallons at a pre-determined heat.

There are three rooflights, each operated by two small handles requiring 36 turns to fully open or close. All rooflights, windows and door are protected by insect screens. The bed lockers have hinge-down fronts revealing large plastic trays, which can be easily pulled out. There is no parking brake, neither are there any grab handles. These facts make one very careful to chock wheels before unhitching. There is no final positioning after unhitching and, when hitching-on, car positioning must be exact.

On the road the outfit's behaviour was perfect. In many States there is a local speed limit of 50-55 m.p.h. but 70-75 m.p.h. appeared to be a safe and comfortable speed over the straight and perfectly surfaced American highways. On a completely deserted stretch of good road the outfit was wound up to 87 m.p.h., with perhaps a mile or two per hour to come. There was a complete absence of pitching and it was all so smooth that over tong hauls it was difficult to keep awake.

Chairman's marathon

What of the personalities of the trip? Mention has already been made of Pete Peterson. Jack Dawson and Bill Mellor. Mrs. Carolyn Bennett Patterson, Chairman of the Wally Byam Foundation, was responsible for the major task of overall organization and right well it was done. The Brooks Institute took care of the photographic side of the venture, a preview of which was seen before leaving San Francisco. Tom Slurry and his wife lent us their cheerful company all the way across and Mr. and Mrs. Ways started from Washington, left us for a while, and were back with us at the end. Barney Wilkins, who had much to do with the Pontiacs becoming available, also travelled much of the way with the caravan.

One person we mustn't forget is our own Chairman, Frank Collins. We all found the going strenuous enough, but he had to keep an overall eye on things and deliver an endless number of speeches of thanks. The last was just as fresh as the first. I can offer no greater compliment.

Final note for Mrs. Barbara Castle -- speed limit for caravans in Kansas State is 80 m.p.h.

Did you hear? -- Bertram Mycock reports

[published in the September 1967 edition of "En Route", the Member's magazine of the Caravan Club]

Famous BBC commentator Bertram Mycock, who also made the Caravan America journey as a Club member, broadcast on his experiences soon after his return. Here is an extract from his talk in the Home Service:

The American caravan I was handling was 22 feet long, more than twice the size of my British van, and it had among many things my own van does not possess: a huge refrigerator, a bathroom, constant hot water, thermostat controlled central heating, two extractor fans and ten electric lights and all this could be used high in the mountains or in the desert hundreds of miles from a power line.

If anyone had told me that at my age I would be driving an outfit weighing upwards of 4 tons and nearly 40 feet in length at 60 miles an hour in the rush-hour of Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, I should have said he was mad. Perhaps I was the mad one, but I found it exciting and stimulating.

Americans, I conclude, must be among the best drivers in the world. Take Chicago for instance: there was I with my car and caravan, pounding along in the city rush, traffic eight lanes abreast in places, taxis fighting it out with trucks, drivers who knew the road making huge swooping switches from lane to lane, ready to peel off along the side roads to down-town Chicago.

Yet everyone judged his swoops immaculately and to a fraction of an inch. But clearly, if there is a tittle collision, it can escalate into a pile-up in a fraction of a second.

What amazes the British visitor is the sheer size of the territory. In Utah we travelled for 300 miles down a green valley and the same barren mountain chain ran beside us all the way. Across the Grand Canyon you're seeing mountains 80 miles away.


a) One tourist attraction is to drive through the "tunnel tree" in Yosemlte Park.

b) Passing through the Red Canyon. Note how the rock forms an arch where the road has been cut through.

c) Final stop before journey's end: roadside tidy-up before arriving at Santa Rosa International rally.

Presentation compiled by
Duncan S. Campbell