Renovating a 1975 Boler travel trailer Part 1 – where it all began
In 2017 my mom casually mentioned to me that my aunt who lives in British Columbia had a Boler which she wanted to sell for $1000 and that she and my dad were considering buying it. I believe my reaction at the time was “What the heck is a Boler? Do you mean like the hat?”. Then, of course, I googled it. Turns out that Bolers are cute little camping trailers made in Winnipeg from 1968 to 1988. They’re made by joining two moulded fibreglass halves (top and bottom) together to create a watertight seal and then bolted to an A-frame. They’re usually 13 feet x 6 feet and are so light they can be pulled by almost any vehicle. Inside, Bolers have a table on one end which turns into a double bed and a sofa on the other which are also bunk beds. There’s a little kitchen with a stove, sink, fridge and furnace and one closet. Here are a couple of photos from a vintage advertisement for Bolers:
My dad is over 6 feet so there was no way the Boler would work for him and my mom. But it left me thinking about whether or not the Boler would be a good fit for my family. My husband is just under 6 feet so that wouldn’t be an issue. We have a minivan with a towing package added on which would give us more than enough power to tow the Boler’s weight. Our two sons were 7 and 8 at the time so absolutely small enough to sleep on the bunks. We had been camping with our tent quite a bit that summer and having to pack so many totes of stuff wasn’t one of our favourite things to do. With the Boler, we could have a lot of our camping stuff left in it all summer! Set-up time would be so much faster and easier.
The downside would be that my aunt’s Boler was old. It was made in 1975 so who knew what could be wrong with it. My aunt and uncle hadn’t used it in a while either which meant there could be problems that they weren’t aware of. Here’s a picture my aunt send me of the Boler on her land:
Pretty cute right?
I didn’t have any experience with renovating trailers or with fibreglass so it was a daunting prospect. But I kept researching and it seemed that because Bolers were made so much less complicated than other trailers they weren’t unreasonably difficult to repair. Fibreglass is amazing, you can patch it up as good as new when it’s been damaged, and Bolers are almost completely made of the stuff.
So, we took a chance and the next time my parents drove out to B.C. to visit my aunt (which was in October that year) they brought back our Boler with them! Here it is getting a cleaning before the trip:
and in front of our house on its first night home!
The moment my parents pulled up with it we ran outside to check it out… and I might have panicked a little bit. Honestly, my first thought was “I just wasted $1000”. It was in rougher shape than I was expecting and I knew it would take a lot of work for us to be able to use it. I was worried the frame would be cracked or the axel would be bent, I could also see large cracks in the fibreglass that I knew were beyond my skill (which at the time was no skill at all) and would require a professional.
There was a small leak in the ceiling vent and back window and every time it rained (which is quite a bit where my aunt lives) water ran into the interior which caused some rotting where there was wood. The original floor had been covered with linoleum and water had gotten underneath and caused rotting there as well.
The walls of Bolers are lined with insulation called ensolite which is amazing stuff! They don’t make it anymore so if you can save it you should. The ensolite in our Boler had been painted which in itself isn’t a bad thing. Unfortunately, it was painted with an oil-based paint that didn’t allow moisture to pass through it and even though ensolite is mould resistant, it caused mould to grow between the paint and the ensolite. You can see here all the dark areas in this picture are mould.
I know I’m painting a pretty grim picture for you. I definitely had my doubts that I could make this thing useable and safe. It seemed impossible, and it might have been if I didn’t have help from friends and the Boler community. Even that first night, I couldn’t get the safety chain off my parent’s truck due to rust but luckily I called my friend James who showed up to help and he managed to get it off.
James and various vintage trailer forums like Fibreglass RV were such a big help to me for the first few months I had the Boler. Anytime I had a question I knew I could find an answer, and anytime there was a job that required more than one person I knew I could get it done. I am eternally grateful!
Don’t worry, things get better I promise! There’s a happy ending to this story, it won’t always be gross mould and scary fibreglass cracks. Later on, I’ll tell you all about fun pretty things like curtains and ceiling fans but first, we will be tearing out the bad to make room for the good!
Stay tuned for Part 2 – Who needs a furnace anyway?