Experienced Airstream Caravanners Virgil and Grace Golden loved to travel, starting with local trips in a pop-up tent camper in the 1930s and eventually joining several Wally Byam Airstream Caravans throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, this adventurous couple was one of only seven couples to participate in both the 1959-1960 Africa Caravan and the 1963-1964 Around the World Caravan.
Virgil often said, “You only die once, and I’m not going to sit home and wait for it.” With that in mind, Virgil and Grace participated in a total of eight historic Caravans:
- 9 – Western Canada Summer 1956
- 13 – Eastern Canada Summer 1957
- 18 – Western Canada Summer 1958
- 20 – Africa 1959-60
- 24 – Europe Summer 1960
- 29 – Mexico Winter 1962
- Highroaders Caravan to Panama 1963
- 35 – Around the World 1963-64
The couple’s adventurous legacy was passed down to the Golden children as their son Lee Golden accompanied them on the Africa Caravan, and their other son Tom and his wife Ethelwyne have been Airstream owners since 1995.
Already seasoned Caravanners by the time they decided to join the 1963-1964 Around the World Caravan, Virgil and Grace custom-ordered a 24-foot 1963 Tradewind Airstream specifically for the trip. It was equipped with optional tandem axles and auxiliary lighting on all four sides to help traverse a variety of challenging terrains. The couple carefully applied their “Big Red Numbers” #692 on the front and rear of the Airstream, indicating their membership in the Wally Byam Caravan Club. In addition, a list of countries they had visited was hand-painted on the front panel of the travel trailer.
Virgil and Grace Golden first used their new Airstream on a “shakedown” trip to Panama. Although not an official Caravan sponsored by Airstream or the Wally Byam Caravan Club, this group of 56 Airstreamers, nicknamed the “Highroaders” because they would reach an altitude of 11,000 feet while driving through Central America, was the first caravan of Airstreams to reach Panama by road.
Ready to set off on their next adventure, Virgil and Grace Golden arrived in Singapore in October 1963 for the Around the World Caravan, towing their 1963 Tradewind with a 4×4 International Travelall. This iconic Caravan of 105 people ranging in age from 1 to 72 set out to travel from Singapore to Cabo Da Roca, Portugal. Staff members included a mechanic, two advance scouts to survey road conditions and food, fuel, and parking locations, and photographer Fran Hall. They traveled over 30,000 miles in 403 days, crossing through 30+ countries. Caravanners entertained locals in their Airstreams and met with the King of Nepal and a Maharaja. They toured the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat and swam in the Dead Sea. They rode elephants and camels and visited the Taj Mahal. Taking advantage of an incredibly rare opportunity, they even parked their travel trailers in front of the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral.
This Airstream ferried the couple through deep mud, across rivers, and over bamboo bridges. After traveling with the Caravan for approximately eleven months, the Goldens returned to the United States from Holland in September of 1964. After the Around the World trip, the couple used this Airstream for the remainder of the Caravanning days. Eventually, it was sold and lost to time.
Several years ago, their son Tom Golden and his wife Ethelwyne set out to find their family’s Airstream and buy it back. After searching for a few years, they were able to locate this historic Airstream in northern California (where it had been sitting under a juniper tree for years) and convince the owner to sell it back to them. Tom enlisted the help of fellow Airstreamer Brad Taylor to bring the Tradewind back to Oregon. From there, avid vintage Airstreamer Scott Goranson began a meticulous restoration of this travel trailer to its original appearance during the course of the1963-1964 Around the World trip. Many of the original features were still intact, including some of the travel gear from the Caravan: a toolbox, bucket, and rope used to tow the rig through the mud.
In 2021, Tom and Ethelwyne Golden generously donated this Airstream to the Airstream Foundation and an extensive collection of cultural artifacts that Virgil and Grace had acquired during their Caravan trips. Through these incredible photographs, journals, and vintage home movies, visitors can begin to understand what the Goldens experienced throughout these once-in-a-lifetime trips. Over the years, Grace carefully cataloged each souvenir the couple acquired, assigning a number to each item and noting its country of origin. Visitors to the Heritage Center will not only see the beautifully preserved #692 on display but also rare fabrics, pottery, and artwork from around the globe.