Archive for April, 2010

Wally’s Books Republished

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Thanks to the efforts of the Airstream Life Magazine team, a project I started some four years ago has come to fruition. Rich Luhr tells me he’s, “very psyched,” about it and that’s no surprise. I am amazed at the speed and intensity he works at. My work on the project, in contrast, was more spread-out over time, but once I handed it off to him, he was off to the races. The project I’m writing about originally started as two projects – the republication of Wally Byam’s books, “Fifth Avenue On Wheels” and “Trailer Travel Here and Abroad.”

To keep costs down, the decision was made to combine both books into one volume. It is now available from the AirstreamLife.com on-line store. Click Shop, then Books. The combined edition is a mere $19 plus shipping. If you’ve priced these books at eBay or other places you know that either one can sell for well over one hundred dollars. For instance, I just searched Abebooks.com and found one seller asking $355 for a copy of Fifth Avenue On Wheels, 1953 edition, in “very good” condition.

This is why I have been interested getting these wonderful books republished. As time goes by the originals become fragile, the pages yellow, start to disintegrate, and those that remain are often prohibitively expensive.

If you didn’t know, this is a problem shared with millions of books published with acidic paper. The Library of Congress has an on-going project where these kinds of books are destroyed to save them. The spines are cut off and the pages fed into a self-feeding scanner so that they can be saved in digital form. This is necessary because hand scanning is too slow. Despite this effort, it’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of books will not be saved. They will eventually turn to dust.

Of course, I did not destroy any of Wally’s books to save them! Instead, I scanned the books by hand, carefully positioning each page on the platen. With the pages digitized, optical character recognition software translated the printing into editable text.

Next, I proofread the results – OCR often interprets diacritical marks in foreign words incorrectly. For instance the diacritical mark, such as the acute ( ´ ) over the letter a (á) is mistaken by the software as the number 6.

Then there are also inaccuracies in the books themselves, with soiled pages, and deterioration producing flakes of paper and dust. The original printing itself sometimes produced partial letters and the typesetting process creates hyphenated words. Scans at 300 dpi pick up any and all these characteristics and defects and the software tries to translate them into text.

The lion’s share of my work was to correct and eliminate an average of one error for every hundred words. That is still the present state of even top of the line OCR software, about 99% accuracy.

Some of you might reasonably think that I must have Wally’s books nearly memorized. While that’s partly true, the reality I found is that proofing requires one to concentrate on errors, not content. Consider that when we read normally our brains skim over some words and combine others. There are examples passed along the Internet in Emails demonstrating our mind’s ability to read and comprehend entire paragraphs of purposefully misspelled words, or our mind’s inability to accurately count the number of times the word of appears in a paragraph – supposedly, because that word is a complete abstraction and by itself has no meaning. Hint – the next time someone forwards that test to you read the paragraph backwards, from the last word to the first, and you’ll then be able to count accurately.

Wally’s books could have been republished much sooner, but I was not able to determine if the copyrights were still active. That is where Rich, with his contacts in the publishing world and with Airstream Inc., determined that the works have become public domain.
Cover“This special edition includes a Foreword by Dale “Peewee” Schwamborn, as well as a copy of the Wally Byam Creed, and introductions to each book by Rich Luhr, Editor of Airstream Life magazine.”

“The Byam Books,” 279 pages, available now in paperback for $19, $5 for Priority Mail shipping to anywhere in the US! Get yours now!

About the Author

Hi, my name is Forrest McClure. I've been writing for the magazine since its inception. My wife and I travel with our 1966 20' Globe Trotter or our 1986 32' Excella. So, my primary interest is vintage travel trailers.