Travels With Steinbeck

A Bambi Named Winnie

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

Personal Essay: Before his trip with Charley, in a letter to Elizabeth Otis, his friend and agent, Steinbeck wrote, “I want the thing in context against its own background—one place in relation to another.” That is the beauty of slow travel and camping as you go.

As I follow the Steinbeck route, I will drive my Toyota 4Runner and live in my Bambi, at sixteen feet, the smallest trailer made by the venerable Airstream Company. As a fellow nomad, I’m interested in the beginnings of modern American mobility. The car trailer business, begun in the 1920s, prospered during the Great Depression. According to Airstream: The History of the Land Yacht, Wally Byam the father of the modern travel trailer, “saw early on that the legions of wheat harvesters, cotton pickers, journeymen mechanics, and factory workers migrating from job to job like the Joad family of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, were seeking a simpler low cost alternative to the skyrocketing rents of the city.”

Byam recognized that disenfranchised folks were not his only market, for over the years he positioned his rolling silver bullets as the very highly sought after and pricy “land yachts” of the industry. I bought mine secondhand in 2006 with money inherited from my mother Winifred, who loved to camp. I named it for her. I like to think it takes a self-assured man to travel around the country in a Bambi named Winnie.

My 2004 Airstream Bambi named Winnie with Max the Maltese added for scale.

My 2004 Airstream Bambi named Winnie with Max the Maltese added for scale.

Airstream never produced many Bambis. They are so compact that only one person at a time can work inside. But the Bambi has all I need to live comfortably on the road. The starboard exterior door opens onto the cozy dining nook on the right offering seating for four. To the left is the shower and head. Straight ahead is an efficient galley, including stove, fridge and sink, and to the rear past a closet, the “master bedroom.” Every detail is carefully designed, every surface rounded to avoid painful collisions. At 6’2”, I’m grateful there is ample headroom throughout. She is well insulated, quiet, and tracks beautifully on the road. My favorite features are the gleaming look of the interior and exterior aluminum skin and the tinted wrap around windows both fore and aft. The Winnie is a little mobile space that is easy to clean and organize. Just as many folks in 1960 asked about the then unique Wolverine slide-in camper that rode in the bed of Rocinante, because Bambis are rare, the Winnie is a great conversation starter.

Sweet Notes: So Many people are doing so many wonderful things in support of this project. Thanks to: Tom for suggesting a great vodka for the road, Robin for sharing her love for Travels with Charley (which included naming her dog Charley) at the Jackson Hole Community School board/faculty lunch, wishing me well and deciding to follow the blog and “ride along,” and Dave for insisting I get this blog thing right and soon. Thanks are due to Lib for help with blogging ( and offering to invite Salt Lake media to meet with me en route, Swift for great photography (see tomorrow’s post), and Colleen for Mac Support. Where would we be without friends?

Twelve days until departure!

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler
Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America fifty Years Later
Copyright © 2009


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