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For 11 years, a traveling club of Airstream campers has made annual visits to Galax and the Old Fiddlers’ Convention, dining at local restaurants and donating funds to a local charity organization.
However, this past week was the last trip to Galax for the group, at least for a while.
The first Airstream Rally was held at Minks Motor Company parking lot 11 years ago. It became a special and annual event for all Wally Byam Caravan Club International members. Each year, Airstream Club members roll into the Fairview Ruritan Club parking lot south of Galax and three other sites, where as many as 50 caravans and 100 people, representing 14 states, set up camp.
This year, members traveled from as far as California, Michigan and Florida to come to Galax.
WBCCI members travel to all parts of the world together, and it is a community service club. Charities and projects are supported everywhere members travel. For example, families are helped with medical bills, the Ronald McDonald House is funded and food is given to the homeless.
In Galax, the club contributes parking fees to the Ruritan Club to help the organization serve the community; members buy weeklong passes to the fiddlers’ convention; and the Red Cross, local food pantries, Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program, Galax Fire Department cadets and the Blue Ridge Music Center all receive donations from the Airstream Club.
Betty Patton, who is past president of the club’s Region 3 Virginia Unit, said the first round of members — open to Virginia residents only — were introduced to the music of the mountains in 2001. Soon after, the Galax rally was open to all.
Patton creates the schedule of events for the members while they stay in Galax.
When they visit, they enjoy activities such as clogging demonstrations, trips to the music center and some fun in Wayne Henderson’s luthier shop.
“The first year, we took them to see Wayne Henderson, and we camped at Grayson Highlands,” said Patton. “They fell in love with the area and wanted to come back.”
The following year, the Ruritan Club opened its parking lot to the Airstream Club members, and they started coming the week of the fiddlers’ convention.
Many members — including the president, from Long Island, N.Y. — had never heard of old-time music before.
“They had never heard the crazy homemade music,” said Patton. “And that was the start of it.”
For some members, they have returned to Galax each time the trip has been offered.
“Galax is a state of mind,” said Cynthia McGee Chew, who lives in Florida. “There are people who dream of coming to Galax.”
Chew decided to make the trip to Galax years ago after she found her grandfather’s fiddle and wanted to find out more about the music.
“The music never left this place,” she said. “It’s such a big part of this culture that remains.”
For 91-year-old Dorthea Thoman, who lives in Floyd, this year was her first time in Galax.
“The Airstream is our ticket to adventure,” said Thoman. “And I’m really glad to adventure to this part of the country.”
WBCCI’s international president, John Boutman, traveled from California to attend last week’s rally.
“I’ve enjoyed it very much,” he said. “As I walked through Main Street in downtown Galax, you can see it’s still a thriving area, even through the hardships. And the fiddlers’ convention is phenomenal, with the sharing of mountain music.”
Patton said this will be the group’s last visit to Galax for a while. Although they’ve made many great memories in Galax, they plan to go on new adventures for a couple of years.
They plan to return soon.