It was a foggy, grey morning in British Columbia’s Slocan Valley. We were taking down our tent after a wet night, casting envious glances at the appealing vintage trailer in the campsite next to us. It looked kind of like a lozenge, with smallish windows, a period awning, vent at the top, and according to the logo on the back, was apparently called a boler. Compared with some of the glass and steel monster RV’s we’d seen on the road, the owners of this unassuming trailer clearly were “small footprint” types.
Then its occupants emerged carrying their mugs of hot coffee and gave us a wave. Immediately we were jealous because they looked so dry and happy. Interest piqued, eventually we walked over, asked the usual questions and got a look inside. There we saw a dinette, sofa, sink, stove, fridge and closet, all trimmed in ‘70s fake wood panelling with period avocado accents (Harvest Gold was an option, we learned later).
Groovy! But where did they sleep?
“Oh, the dinette converts into a double bed!” said one of the owners. “Plenty of room for two people who like each other!”
Well, we like each other, we thought! And after that, we saw bolers everywhere (weird how that happens…). Later we learned that bolers were as Canadian as hockey pucks. Originally built in Winnipeg beginning in the late 1960s, they were the brainchild of one Ray Olecko who saw an opportunity for an inexpensive, simple fiberglass trailer that could be easily towed by a compact car. Reportedly, he designed the prototype around the needs of his own family: two adults, two small kids.
Ray found an immediate market. While his 13-foot trailers were more expensive than comparable aluminum trailers, they were much lighter (initially advertised as weighing only 800 pounds) and before you knew it, bolers were also being built under licence in Earlton, Ontario and Peace River, Alberta. Riding a bit of a wave, Mr. Olecko awarded franchises in the US (Boler American) and won a Manitoba Design Award for his trailer, along with business partner and talented fibreglass mold maker Sandor Dusa. Boler was quite the going concern!
But after building two or three thousand, Okecko tired of his project and in 1973 he sold the company to an outfit called Neonex. Production in Canada ultimately ended in Midland, Ontario in 1988 (Neonex having rebranded as Advanced Fiberglass) with overall production estimated by me, very roughly, at between 7,000-10,000 units. The success of the boler was the impetus for a similar trailer, also Canadian, called a Trillium.
The name “boler,” by the way has long been attributed to Mr. Olecko’s observation that the trailer looked kind of like a bowler hat. Cleverly dropping the “w” in bowler, and using a lower case “b,” he trademarked the name. Or so the story goes! Turns out that Mr. Olecko, an inveterate inventor/entrepreneur, sold other Boler-named products at least as early as 1964 (a Boler Slingshot, for example). He was also the inventor of a fiberglass sceptic tank of similar dimensions that predated the trailer. Furthermore, he registered the “Boler Manufacturing Company” in 1963. So what’s the real origin of the Boler name? Enquiring minds are working on it!
Bolers actually live on as Scamps, built in Minnesota following a long-ago name change from American Boler. Apparently Scamp, having molds, simply kept on building them after boler wound up operations (Scamps also begat Cassitas, and a range of other suspiciously boler-like trailers of various names are occasionally spotted). Today, there is not a huge difference between a modern 13-foot Scamp and a vintage boler. Interestingly, while the boler name was trademarked, apparently the actual design was not.
In 2015, converted, my partner and I moved the tent in the basement and bought a boler. And guess what? We were not alone. It was then, and still appears to be a seller’s market for bolers, with even rough examples listed for $3,000 or more. Not bad for a trailer that retailed for $1,500-$1,800 new, although that increased to $2,860 for a base “Scout” model by 1977. Other trim levels variously included the Voyageur and Deluxe, each with features that changed over time.
We were lucky; we got a great one. Ours is a “late” boler, built in Midland, Ontario in 1986. We found it advertised online, located in a small town outside of Stratford, Ontario (it was originally purchased at Camp-Out Trailers in Stratford, according to the company’s logo still affixed to it). Viewing this boler required an eight-hour drive from our home in Ottawa, but we were motivated, and really liked the look of this trailer.
It was a cash deal, non negotiable. As I say, a “seller’s market.”
A fully equipped boler will arrive with a built-in propane heater, a two-burner propane stove, a three-way (12-volt, 120-volt and propane powered) Dometic refrigerator, a sink with faucet, a fresh water tank, storage cupboards above the sink and in front and rear bulkheads, a closet, a four-person dinette that converts to a 46-inch wide bed, a couch that converts to a bunk bed and connections for AC electric and water. There is no grey water tank and nor are there trailer brakes (unless you buy the uncommon 17-foot model). Oh, and there’s no loo, either.
Ours — the Voyageur model — was fitted with everything but the heater and the supplementary 12V battery (which we subsequently installed). The frame was original, straight and rust-free; the body was shiny and looked new (we later found out that it had been reconditioned with Poliglow, a fine product that I would recommend for reconditioning any boler); the interior was neat and original.
For people who’ve never owned a trailer and never towed anything, the boler opened up a whole new world of travel and technology for us. First thing we needed was a hitch on our vehicle (actually, the first thing you need is a vehicle that can tow!). Fortunately, our Volkswagen Tiguan is rated to tow 2,000 pounds (who knew?), and a hitch with four-pin connector was installed for a bit over $300.
Our first trip, obviously, was home from Stratford where we purchased “Lola.” En route, at night, the trailer lights died. I found the emergency flashers worked, however, so we drove about 500 km on a two-lane highway in the dark with these things flashing all the way. No choice!
Our second trip, after fixing the lights and getting a service at the local RV shop, was to the Gaspe Peninsula; 14 days, about 4,000 km total. Go for broke, right? The boler was great. Warm, dry and fun. Easy to tow, too. We loved it. Subseqently we towed to New Brunswick and Quebec’s Saguenay region, and in 2017, a 15,000 km return trip to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory.
We still see ourselves as campers, only it’s with a boler, not a tent. We tend to frequent National or Provincial parks and Conservation Areas. We rarely go to private campgrounds because we’re not looking for a family-style holiday experience with all the amenities. That said, some private sites are quiet and very well run.
But backing into a campsite? Let’s put it this way: after two seasons and hundreds of attempts, I can report some improvement. After three seasons, I’m pretty good!
Obituary: Ray Olecko
Obituary: Sandor Dusa
Facebook group: I own a boler