Dale “Pee-Wee” Schwamborn was a 20-year-old college student when he led the way as an advance scout during the 1959 Airstream caravan from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt, a trip that took about six months to complete.
Fifty years later, Schwamborn, a California native, was again at the front of the pack as a caravan of Airstreams made their way across the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge on Friday (Sept. 11) on their way in a tribute to the original trip, according to the Southeast Missourian, Cape Girardeau, Mo.
This time they were going from Cape Girardeau to Cairo, Ill., a 68-mile trek that falls considerably short of the more than 4,000 miles of the original journey, and there were only 17 recreational vehicles in the caravan compared to the 41 that made the Africa trip.
Still, the trip was special, Schwamborn said.
“I can’t think it went anything but great,” said Steve Burrows, an Airstream trailer owner and aficionado who planned and led the caravan.
Burrows got the idea to recreate the trip as a celebration of the 50th anniversary when he met Schwamborn at an Airstream event in Texas.
“I thought it was a really fun idea,” Schwamborn said.
Schwamborn’s mother, Helen Byam Schwamborn, founded the international Airstream club WBCCI. Her first cousin, Wally Byam, who died in 1962, founded Airstream.
Though Burrows said Friday’s caravan was “smooth sailing,” and credited Cape Girardeau and Cairo police with their assistance in making sure there were no problems, the Africa trip was not without obstacles.
Schwamborn recalls helping to dig caravans out of deep sand as they crossed the desert of the Sudan, and everyone lending a hand as they crossed quagmires in Ethiopia.
During Friday’s trip to and from Illinois, the caravan did earn some curious looks from passers-by, Burrows said.
Tina and Mike Nelson of St. Louis, new Airstream owners, made it to Cape Girardeau RV Park for Saturday’s two-hour open house,” an opportunity to meet other Airstream owners and talk.
The Nelsons purchased their first Airstream two months ago. Since then, they’ve been surprised by how helpful and close-knit the Airstream community is, Mike Nelson said.
“They’re just willing to share what they know,” Tina Nelson said.