Making a shelf for the Boler – A story about failure

By Erin Wainwright on February 25, 2020 in Making

That’s right! I’m going to tell you about a time that I failed at something. Could you imagine if we only ever succeeded at everything we ever did? Boooooring! Some of my greatest successes were born from failures and I always learn something. Like I did in this story :).

Last year I wanted to add some storage to the Boler for frequently used items such as keys, phones, sunglasses and especially my books. The best place to put the shelf was on the side of the closet closest to the table (which is also the bed which my husband and I share) so I could have a place to put away the book I’m reading after everyone else had gone to sleep without disturbing anyone.

I saw some box type shelves made from plastic that attached to a board with magnets and I wanted to make something similar but with plywood and wood glue.

I measured everything, bought some plywood and then started designing! Here’s the back of the shelf fresh off the laser cutter.

Here it is with the top shelf for holding phones and sunglasses and the larger bottom shelf for the books. The shelves are made using finger joints and wood glue. I was going to attach some hooks under the larger shelf for keys. The entire shelf would be attached it to the closet with rivets in each of the four corners.

Here’s Jon holding up the shelf to test whether the wood glue would hold with items in the shelves. It did great! Wood glue is tough stuff.

The shelf looks pretty good right? Well, here’s where the story gets sad. It was almost perfect but unfortunately it stuck out a little too much making it awkward to sit down at the table. Even though I had measured and I thought it would be a good distance the reality wasn’t going to cut it. I kept thinking of the boys banging into it and hurting themselves. It would have worked better if it wasn’t so long, the higher up it was the more out of the way it got, but I needed space between the two shelves for the books to fit and I had positioned it as high as it could go. I decided to try again in a bit with just a shelf for the books and some hooks. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted but I didn’t see what else I could do.

Luckily, the next week I was dropping off some equipment from work for repairs and the shop wasn’t open yet. To kill time I wandered into Winners and in the back of the store on clearance was a two basket wire shelf with hooks. It was a lot shorter than the shelf I had made and I was pretty sure no books would fit in it but it was a really great price so I took a chance and bought it. I figured I could always attach it in a different location for a different purpose.

Spoiler alert! It worked out.

Here it is and I know what you’re thinking, sure it looks super cute but there’s no way books can fit in between those baskets!

They do! It’s hard to see but I’ve got three book in there!

That’s where I went wrong with my design. I thought I needed space for the books under the top shelf but I didn’t. Look at the profile of the wire shelf.

The walls of the baskets are at an angle which allows the books to fit with a much smaller footprint and that’s definitely knowledge I can use for future builds! Especially builds for the Boler where space is really limited.

The wire baskets hold quite a bit of stuff, but not as much as the shelf I built ;). If you’re wondering what I did with that shelf, I ended up selling it so it wasn’t a total loss.

So there you go! You can almost always get something useful from a failure. I would love to hear any good failure stories you have to share!

Renovating a 1975 Boler travel trailer Part 4 – What I did while the Boler was away

By Erin Wainwright on February 4, 2020 in Boler, Camping

Hello and welcome back to my tale of Boler rebirth! If you have missed the earlier parts of this story feel free to catch up by reading Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

We left off with the Boler coming back after getting some fibreglass work done in late June 2018. We’re going to pause our story here and and fill in some blanks from the previous winter. I mean, just because I didn’t have the Boler with me didn’t mean I couldn’t keep working on it! Believe me, there were still many things to keep me busy.

For instance, do you remember me telling you about the cushions? The rotten worm-filled cushions? The ones with the covers that disintegrated when I tried to vacuum them? Here they are with the covers removed.

Pretty gross right? I needed to keep them to use as templates for some new foam. I soon found out that foam is really pricey! But luckily my parents had a foam mattress from Ikea that they weren’t using and they let us have it. I traced out the old ones and cut out the new pieces with my bread knife.

I did end up keeping the two cushions that are used on the bunkbeds. They were still in really great shape since their old covers weren’t made of vinyl. Any water that leaked on them ran right through instead of pooling in the cover and creating the perfect place for rot. I washed them in my bathtub and let them air dry in my basement.

Once I had cushions I needed new covers. I looked up as much reupholstery information as I could find, dusted off my old sewing machine, bought some fabric, zippers and upholstery thread and got to work. Here’s the first cushion I completed:

There are nine cushions in a Boler. It was pretty time consuming but I worked my way through it over about a month. Halfway there!

All nine done! The most difficult ones were the two that fit along the Boler walls because of their unusual shape.

The boys wanted to try them out. Quality check? I think they approved.

While I was working on the cushions / covers I was also thinking about curtains. There are six windows in the Boler which is great for light but not so great for changing your clothes without the entire campground seeing you. I was looking at buying fabric but I hadn’t seen any that caught my eye yet. Then one day while getting groceries at Superstore I happened to see some over-sized tea towels on sale!

They were perfect! They were nice and dark (not see-through!) and they were big enough for the largest window. I bought everything they had and then went to a different Superstore and bought a bunch there as well. Then I went to Ikea and bought some curtain rings with clips and that was that! I was also pretty happy to not have to add more sewing to my list.

I needed some new pulls for the cabinet draws and doors for the kitchen area and the closet. I bought these from Amazon which I love.

There were also a few more unnecessary but fun items I picked up as well. For instance I found some great pillows at a thrift store:

And some dragonfly LED string lights at Michaels (I might have had a dragonfly theme going on):

And I machine embroidered some dishtowels:

It was a little difficult for me during that winter and spring to have to wait to be able to work on the Boler. Having these projects to do really helped. If fact, there’s an arm chair in our master bedroom and I piled a bunch of the items for the Boler on it once they were completed so I could look at them everyday and feel excited about camping in the Boler that summer. Like a Boler mood board!

Tune in next week for Part 5 – Five days of crazy.

Renovating a 1975 Boler travel trailer Part 3 – Time to call in the professionals

By Erin Wainwright on January 28, 2020 in Boler, Camping

Hello again! I’m very happy to you’re here and ready to learn more about the amazing, some call magical, transformation of my Boler. If you have missed the earlier parts of this story feel free to catch up by reading Part 1 and Part 2.

When we last left off, I had stripped the Boler of everything that was rotten, grimy, or broken. The problem was that there were parts of it I couldn’t see and they were pretty important parts. Like the frame.

Bolers have a simple A-frame with the fibreglass body bolted to it. If the frame cracks or is rusted right through it could break and that would mean some very serious damage to the Boler as well as the tow vehicle. Not to mention the driver and passengers. So we decided it would be a good idea to get it inspected.

I asked for opinions on the vintage trailer forums for a good place to bring the Boler and many people recommended Rock Alta Trailers. It’s owned by a wonderful couple who have been repairing trailers for years. In fact, Kevin’s dad ran the business before he took it over. It is on the absolute other side of Calgary from where we live, but after speaking to Kevin on the phone I was convinced that this was where we should take the Boler. This was in December, it wasn’t too snowy yet and we wanted to get the Boler in before the roads got icy.

We called James in for some help; remember, we hadn’t yet pulled the Boler with our vehicle. We were pretty nervous. We weren’t even sure how to hook it up! James came and showed us the ropes and off we went for our very first time!

It was terrifying.

We didn’t know if something was going to break off at any second. The worst part was as we were stopped at a light a guy in a truck pulled up beside us and yelled out “If you take that on the highway you’re gonna have problems!”. Not very helpful. We asked him what he meant by “problems” and he answered back “your wheels are going to fall off!” and then he drove away. Yep. Terrifying.

Despite all that we drove slowly and carefully and made it to Kevin’s place with all our wheels intact (take that super unhelpful dude!) and left it there to get the axel, wheel bearings, and frame inspected and replaced or fixed if need be.

It turned out the frame was in great shape! There were a few Bolers made with a weak point in the frame but not ours! Ours was solid (knock on wood). The wheel bearings needed to be replaced but everything else was pretty good.

During the time the Boler was at Kevin’s I was looking into where we could take it to get the fibreglass repaired. The large cracks in the back (and a few more small ones on the rest of the body) needed to be fixed up before we could use it and to be honest, I didn’t want to mess them up by trying to fix them myself. The biggest crack had started folding in on itself and was changing the shape of the body. That was going to require tools and equipment I didn’t have.

It wasn’t easy finding someone who was willing to work on it. But luckily there was a company called FIB-R-F/X in Airdrie (a small town north of Calgary) who had worked on Bolers previously and was more than happy to do it. In fact, Dieter, the very nice man who we met there, told us he already has another Boler that was missing its door and if we let him use our door as a mold he would repair all the small cracks for free and only charge us for the two large ones. Sounded good to us! We made plans to pick up the Boler from Kevin’s and drop it off at Dieter’s to avoid putting it back in the garage.

When we went out to pick up the Boler it started to blizzard. No joke, it was snowing like crazy. We got to Kevin’s and hooked up the Boler but as we were driving down his very long driveway Jonathan remembered that we hadn’t done a light check (rookie mistake). James and I had made sure the electrical was working properly before we had dropped it off but something must have been knocked loose (the wiring was very old, I was planning on replacing it myself when we got it back from Dieter) and the lights weren’t working. At this point it was snowing very heavily and visibility wasn’t great. Pulling the Boler without lights would be dangerous (not to mention illegal) under normal circumstances but in this snow no one would see us until it was too late. There was no room on the driveway so we pulled out onto the road and as soon as we could we turned around and went straight back to Kevin’s. He tried to get the lights working but there was a connection broken that he just couldn’t figure out at the time, so we asked him if he could replace all of the electrical, he said sure and we called Dieter and let him know what happened. Off we went home a little disappointed but mostly relieved.

Fast forward to the end of March. Kevin finished the electrical system and boy am I glad we let him do it! He replaced all the old wiring, put in new LEDs and set it up for us to hook up a 12 volt battery to power the lights and the fan I had installed.

Jon and I had a lovely drive to Dieter’s. No one yelling at us that our wheels were going to fall off, no blizzards, the lights were working… really, what more can you ask for?

Dieter unfortunately was down a man and he didn’t think he would be finished until July. We were ok with that and figured the long wait would be worth it.

It was! Here’s the Boler when we got it back at the end of June (a little early!):

It doesn’t look like much but all the parts that are yellow are where he did fibreglass work. It was amazing! We also purchased a new tongue jack with a wheel from Dieter.

Because of this wheel, Jonathan and I could now easily push the Boler! We have done this so many times to get it into campsites. Bolers really are a wonder.

This seems like a good place to stop for today. Come by next week for Part 4: What I did while the Boler was away.

Renovating a 1975 Boler travel trailer Part 2 – Who needs a furnace anyway?

By Erin Wainwright on January 21, 2020 in Boler, Camping

Welcome back to the epic saga that is the renovation of my Boler. Have you been waiting at the edge of your seat to hear more? Of course you have. I’ll stop teasing you and get to it. If you have missed the earlier part of this story feel free to catch up by reading Part 1.

Where were we? Oh yes! My parents had just brought home the Boler from my Aunt’s house and I was feeling some doubt. In fact I’m pretty sure when I swallowed you could hear a loud “gulp” like a cartoon character. But like I said earlier I had some friends to help me out (virtual and in real life) and they gave me the confidence I needed to get started.

A fun fact about Bolers is they will fit through a standard sized garage doorway if you let air out of the tires, so moving it into the garage was the first thing we needed to do. Having it in the garage would make it much easier for me to work on the Boler over winter. Unfortunately, our driveway is very steep and neither my husband nor I can navigate a trailer up a steep driveway, into a garage door while backing up. A not-so-fun fact about Bolers is they are notoriously hard to back up. They end up at 90 degrees with the tow vehicle very easily due to the short yoke. Luckily our friend James is extremely skilled at backing up trailers because otherwise I have no idea how we would have gotten it in there. In fact, James still comes by once (or twice) a year at the end of the camping season to help us put the trailer back in the garage because we are still pretty bad at backing it up. I swear the man is some kind of wizard. We pay him for his help with beer and sometimes fresh bread. James is a good guy.

Once the Boler was in the garage stuff started coming out. I had decided that I did not want any propane. I would of had to check all the lines to make sure there were no leaks, and if there were I would have had to replace them, but I would have always worried about it. The fridge and furnace were broken and expensive to replace. It just didn’t seem worth the effort or the expense. We have a camp stove to use outside and the Boler is so small that the four of us create more than enough body heat to warm up the space, so to save money and for my own peace of mind, out came the stove, fridge and furnace. Then out came the cushions which were very very rotten. The leak I mentioned in Part 1 had gotten to the cushions and they were beyond saving. I tried to vacuum them and they disintegrated. I got rid of the covers but I kept the foam to use as templates for new foam and new covers. I pulled out the old linoleum and I took out any rotten wood I could find and replaced it. One of the biggest problems I had was with rusted screws. Once the heads broke off they were very difficult to remove. I spent hours on the floor of the Boler that winter swearing at many a broken screw.

The most time consuming and difficult task was removing the paint from the ensolite. Like I mentioned in Part 1, the ensolite was painted with an oil based paint which didn’t allow moisture to pass through it. This caused mould to grow between the paint and the ensolite. I worked on scraping that paint off from October to February. I made sure to wear a mask for safety and once I had cleared an area off I would spray it with a mould killing cleaner. You can see my progress in the next few pictures. The paint is white and the ensolite is green.

Almost gone!

Gone!

Since Bolers are made almost entirely from fibreglass, there is a risk of the roof sagging if it doesn’t have the right support. The support is provided by the closet, a bar attached to the wall beside the door, and a metal rail that holds up the cabinets and is attached to the countertop. My Boler was missing that rail so that was the first purchase I made for it. You can see it through the doorway in this picture. Oh right. I also took the door off because there was a crack which was leaking in the door frame.

I also temporarily removed some rusty vent covers as well as the bar beside the door to clean them up, remove the rust and paint them.

The 9 x 9 inch roof vent was the cause of most of the water leaking into the Boler. I removed it and ordered a new 14 x 14 inch fan which runs on a 12 volt system (which I didn’t have set up yet). With James’s help we cut a larger hole in the roof and installed the new fan. I used many layers of butyl tape to make sure there would be no leaking!

The worst and best removal of all was the removal of dirt and grime. I cleaned every nook and cranny of that Boler and it was both satisfying and horrifying. Everywhere there were spider egg sacks, old wasp nests and other skin-crawling surprises. Some of them crawling more than others:

B.C. has much bigger spiders than I’m used to here in Alberta!

With that I’m going to leave you. Please head back over next Monday evening for Part 3 – Time to call in the professionals.

Renovating a 1975 Boler travel trailer Part 1 – where it all began

By Erin Wainwright on January 14, 2020 in Boler, Camping

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?