Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Roughing it in style

Owners of restored Boler camper-trailers spend more time showing off their beauties than living in them

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The fifth annual Manitoba Fibreglass and Vintage Camper Rally is slated to run Aug. 15-17 in the campground at St. Malo Provincial Park.

The get-together, which ordinarily draws participants from Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the United States, is open to all makes of lightweight, fibreglass trailers. But the undisputed stars of the show are Bolers, a line of unique-shaped caravans that were invented by a Winnipegger -- more on him later -- in 1968.

Although it's been 26 years since the last Boler rolled off an assembly line, the so-called "eggs-on-wheels" have never been more in vogue. Not only are there dozens of websites devoted to those who lovingly transform their models into rolling works of art, Bolers have become the subject of film documentaries, television programs -- even the odd folk tune.

 

Three years ago, Winnipeg singer-songwriter Keri Latimer penned a ditty called Chop Shop, after her family's treasured blue-and-white Boler was pilfered from their backyard. Thankfully the trailer, referred to in the song as "a home that you can bring where you wish her," turned up in a nearby alley a few days later, no worse for wear.

Tom McMahon and Kelly Klick are looking forward to the St. Malo event mainly because the Riverview couple has been so busy showing off their 1975 Boler they've barely had time to use it for its intended purpose.

In June, 24 months after Kelly and her father, Jack, began restoring every square inch of the 39-year-old trailer, Tom, Kelly and Jack staged an open house in the parking lot at Fort Rouge Leisure Centre. There, invited guests and curious passers-by were encouraged to poke around the family's newest "baby." (Because Tom is anything but a handyman, he was more than content to let his wife and father-in-law tackle the two-year reno, he says with a laugh.)

Three weeks later, Rova -- yes, Tom and Kelly have given their Boler a name -- was on display again, this time at a classic car show held at South Beach Casino and Resort near Grand Beach.

"We were the only trailer among 500 or so cars," Tom says, noting the unit was repainted ruby-red to match his father-in-law's 1953 Mercury pickup, the vehicle that usually tows it from place to place. "There were tons of people (at South Beach) who'd never heard of a Boler. But even the people who knew what it was said they'd never seen one done to the nines before."

Indeed, McMahon has lost track of how many times he's driven back and forth to Backus, Minn. -- the home of a trailer dealership with a parts department specializing in items tailor-made for four-metre-long campers like Bolers. That's where Tom and Kelly picked out their backsplash, their fridge, their cabinets -- and their bed.

"When these things were built they came with a bed and a front dinette that converted into a second bed at night," Tom says. "But I was like, nah, I want everything in mine to be permanent. I didn't want to be in there, setting tables up and down all the time."

But what about the rest of the family, a scribe asks? Now that Tom and Kelly have dispensed with bed No. 2, where are their children supposed to sleep?

"Our kids are 18 and up and aren't particularly interested in camping with us, anymore," Tom says. "And quite frankly, we're not that interested in camping with them, either."

z z z

Ray Olecko was selling cars in Winnipeg in the 1960s when he became fascinated with the strength and durability of fibreglass. Twelve months after he filed a patent for a fibreglass septic tank, Olecko hit upon the notion of an ultralight camper-trailer that could comfortably house a family of four -- the precise size of his household at the time.

Legend has it Olecko sketched his design on a piece of paper, which he handed off to an engineer buddy of his named Sandor Dusa along with a note reading, "Make it like this."

The first Boler - thus tagged because it resembled a Bowler hat -- emerged from a plant on Higgins Avenue in 1968. A year later, Olecko and Dusa were presented with a Design Award by the Manitoba government's department of industry and commerce.

By 1972, Boler franchises began springing up across North America. And although the company called it quits in 1988, direct descendants of the Boler brand are still produced, in the form of like-size trailers such as Trilliums and Casitas.

Rick Mooyman is one of the organizers of the rally in St. Malo. Four years ago, Mooyman was driving home from Grand Forks when he spotted a For Sale sign on a Boler parked on the side of the road in St. Norbert. Over dinner that night, Mooyman's son mentioned a Boler he'd recently seen in the campground at Dauphin's Countryfest, adding, "That's what I want when I go back, next year."

His dad's response: "I know where we can get one."

Mooyman and his Bolers -- he now owns two -- have travelled to get-togethers in Bemidji, Minn., Taylor Falls, Minn., and Macklin, Sask. The Winnipeg resident has seen his share of creative designs including a Boler outfitted with a stripper pole and another painted blue and green and dubbed the Banjo Boler, in honour of the owner's favourite CFL teams, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders.

"There are rallies that host (design) competitions but the one in St. Malo has never been geared that way," Mooyman says, adding some of the activities he and his co-horts have planned are a pancake breakfast, a scavenger hunt and a Saturday afternoon open house. "Ours is just an opportunity for a bunch of people with a common interest to hook up, share stories and a few laughs."

Mooyman says the value of vintage Bolers keeps going up every year. It has become fairly commonplace, he explains, for second-hand ones that appear for sale on Internet websites to get snapped up in a matter of hours, sometimes minutes.

"If they're priced right -- between $1,500 and $3,000 -- they're gone immediately," he says. "But I have seen some go for as much as $12,000 or $13,000; it all boils down to what condition they're in and how much somebody is willing to spend."

And while the overwhelming majority of comments Mooyman hears start with, "Isn't that cute?" he admits there are some RV enthusiasts who look down on Bolers because of their perceived lack of space and amenities.

Not to mention commodes.

"Every once in a while I'll get the owner of some big, monstrous motor home wandering over and saying, 'How can you live in that thing? Except after I invite him inside to take a look around, he's usually surprised how much room there actually is."

For more information on the meet-up in St. Malo go to www.fiberglassrv.com/forums/calendar.php.

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2014 D11

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