Approaching the Alliant Energy Center on John Nolen Drive, the glare off hundreds of silver Twinkies is blinding. It's a growing village of vintage Airstream trailers and motor homes in town for the 2009 Wally Byam Caravan Club International Rally.
Started in the 1950s, the Wally Byam Caravan Club International is the oldest RV association in the world, bringing together Airstream owners from 48 states and Canada. Beginning Sunday, June 28, the weeklong gathering boasts over 1,000 vintage and modern Airstreams for public display, as well as music, dancing, seminars and games.
This is the 52nd annual rally for the group, and although its location changes from year to year, the unwavering pride of the Airstream owners is constant. Not only have they put immense time and effort into polishing and primping the vehicles many of them call home for a great part of the year, they also rave about the group dynamic produced when they get together.
"Through all these years, we have been committed to one theme: fun, fellowship and adventure," says Janie Lichtfuss, current President of Region 11, an area encompassing Colorado, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Texas. She says one of her favorite aspects of the club is seeing the friends she has made over the years from all across the U.S., Canada and even Switzerland.
Harold Kearns, former Region 3 President, echoes this sentiment. "The people keep me in it," he says. "I have friends in 48 states and Canada. It's like a big, happy family."
Some members, like Lichtfuss, have been with the organization for years, upgrading to larger and greater trailers throughout. But there are others who are just starting out with their 19-foot "Bambi" Airstreams.
"In our meetings, we discuss the fact that many of us are getting older," explains Lichtfuss. "We [the older members] have to figure out how to let go a little bit, get younger people to join and give them a voice."
And younger people are joining the club, but they are also choosing smaller, less expensive trailers and opting for weekend trips, rather than multi-month treks. Aware of these changes, the club seems willing to adapt to ensure their organization continues.
This year's rally begins at the Alliant Energy Center with a public flag ceremony on Sunday, June 28, and ends with a parade and closing ceremony on Saturday, July 4. More information about the rally is available here for more information, including a complete listing of events and tips for first time attendees.
Clare Milliken and Jessica Slicer contributed to this story.