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Small Travel Trailers Style: History, Renovation And Inspiration

small travel trailers

Small travel trailers, camper trailers or caravans are towed behind road vehicles allowing their owner to stop and use the trailer to sleep or relax in comfort. It is a convenient mobile shelter that provides a means for a vacation or home from home whilst continuing with a journey.

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These small fibreglass travel trailers can sometimes be forgotten and unloved in the back of someone’s garage or garden and once found by a new owner can take on a re-birth after some painstaking renovation work. A good vintage caravan, vintage trailer or small travel trailer is now in high demand, thanks to recent publications such as ‘my cool caravan’ book, and shows like ‘Tiny House’ and ‘George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces’.

Small Travel Trailers

A Brief History of Vintage Small Travel Trailers

The history of small travel trailers is closely intertwined with the evolution of recreational vehicles (RVs) and the desire for convenient, mobile accommodations for travel and leisure. Here’s a brief overview:

1. Early 20th Century: The concept of towable trailers for travel emerged in the early 20th century. At this time, trailers were typically small and simple, often homemade or custom-built. They were primarily used by adventurers and travellers who wanted a portable shelter on wheels for camping and exploring.

2. 1920s-1930s: With the rise of automobile ownership and improvements in road infrastructure, the popularity of travel trailers grew. Companies like Airstream and Bowlus began manufacturing sleek, aerodynamic trailers that offered more comfort and amenities. These trailers were still relatively small and lightweight compared to modern RVs but featured innovations such as electric lighting, kitchenettes, and fold-out beds.

3. World War II Era: During World War II, travel trailer production largely ceased as resources were diverted to the war effort. However, after the war, there was a surge in demand for affordable housing and recreational vehicles. Small travel trailers became popular among families seeking affordable vacation options, as they were cheaper than hotels and provided a sense of independence and adventure.

4. Post-War Boom: In the post-war period, companies like Shasta, Scotty, and Teardrop pioneered the production of compact, affordable travel trailers. These trailers often featured distinctive designs, bright colors, and lightweight construction. Teardrop trailers, in particular, gained popularity for their compact size and aerodynamic shape, making them easy to tow with smaller vehicles.

5. 1960s-1970s: The 1960s and 1970s saw further innovation in the design and features of small travel trailers. Companies like Boler, Casita, and Burro introduced fibreglass trailers that were lightweight, durable, and easy to maintain. These trailers offered modern amenities such as refrigerators, stoves, and toilets, making them suitable for extended trips.

6. 1980s-Present: In the following decades, small travel trailers continued to evolve, with manufacturers incorporating advances in materials, technology, and design. Today, small trailers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and configurations to suit different preferences and travel needs. They range from retro-inspired models with minimalist interiors to high-end trailers with luxury amenities.

Types of Small Travel Trailer

Overall, the history of small travel trailers reflects the enduring appeal of portable, comfortable accommodations for travel and outdoor recreation. Despite changes in technology and consumer preferences, the basic concept of a compact, towable trailer remains popular among adventurers, road trippers, and outdoor enthusiasts around the world.

There are many types of small travel trailers: Boler, Airstream, Teardrop, hybrid trailer or trailer tents, hi-lo trailer, mini travel trailer Playpac, Hunter or Amerigo, off-road trailers and ‘Fifth-Wheel’ trailers. In Europe, they particularly have their origins with travelling Gypsy or Romani people horse-drawn caravans, while in America the first leisure trailers were built as a gentleman’s caravan for travelling preachers in the Wild West.

The owners of these travel trailers have enjoyed being called ‘Showmen’, ‘Gentlemen Gypsies’ and ‘Tin Can Tourists’, to name but a few, but they all have one thing in common. They love to be mobile and they take great pride in their trailer campers, particularly if they are a vintage model, going to great lengths to keep them well-maintained and pure.

Smaller travel trailers and pop-ups are generally less than 5.5 meters, lightweight, easy to tow and have simple amenities onboard. Some exceptionally light travel trailers can even be pulled by a motorcycle.

Vintage Small Travel Trailer Renovation Project

Whenever we hear inspiring stories about small lightweight travel trailers we instantly want to find out more. This is exactly what happened when we found out about Mary Lou and Rob’s Boler travel trailer project.

The Boler travel trailer was produced shortly after the Playpac, Hunter and Amerigo travel trailers and took advantage of the lightweight fibreglass materials it was made from. We took some time to talk to Mary Lou and Rob about their project and particularly if they had tips on how to source small travel trailers for sale, in their opinion what the best small travel trailers were, the budget to allocate to a vintage caravan project and their renovation tips for a travel trailer and camper trailer.

Vintage Boler travel trailer with owners

Do you know about the history of the Boler Camper… Can you give us a quick overview?

The famous “egg on wheels” – was invented and manufactured in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. From 1968 to 1988, only 10,000 units were manufactured and sold. It was made by joining two moulded fibreglass halves (top and bottom) to create a watertight and extremely durable shell.

About 150 units were produced in the second year -1969, and another 400-500 in 1970. In 1971, franchises were sold to companies in Peace River, Alberta and in Earlton, Ontario (where ours was manufactured) which later moved to Midhurst, Ontario, where the last Boler was produced in 1988).

It has lovely curved edges… Do you know anything about the origins of its design?

While Olecko was camping with his family, he got the idea of a lightweight camper trailer made from fibreglass and perspex sheet. He asked Sandor Dusa to help him create the trailer and simply drew out the basic lines on a large piece of cardboard mounted on the wall and said, “Make it like this!”

The bed-and-two bunks configuration was specifically designed for Olecko’s family. Inside is cosy yet comfortable, it includes a stove, fridge or ice box and sink with hand pump. Sleeping for 4 is available by lowering the rear dinette table between the seats to create a double bed and the front gaucho converts into bunk beds

The designer, Ray Olecko, was looking for an unusual name for the trailer and thinking the final design looked a little like a bowler hat, he decided on “Boler”!

Olecko and Dusa were presented with a Design Award for the Boler in 1969 by the Manitoba Government Department of Industry and Commerce.

How did you go about sourcing this vintage caravan?

We first saw a Boler and looked inside one while attending a ‘Bluegrass Music Festival’ in Tottenham, Ontario. We thought it would be nice to own one for travelling to music festivals. We started searching for Bolers in the buy and sell sites on the Internet. We soon realized they were very rare and finding one for sale was going to be difficult. It took a lot of time and perseverance.

What tips would you give someone who wants to source their own vintage caravan?

We only really know a bit about Vintage Bolers but I would say that every Vintage caravan should have its tyres, wheels, axles, and frame fully examined. As long as it is roadworthy, anything else is just usually a cosmetic repair. Always look at the caravan’s upholstery for water stains, especially under windows for signs of water leaks.

You did a lot of the work yourselves… Can you give me a brief overview of what you did?

We stripped everything out of the inside of the Boler until it was just a fibreglass shell. We then removed every part of the Boler that would come off and we cleaned it, made repairs where necessary, generally trying to freshen up all the parts. Then we looked for a colour pallet design to use for decorating inspiration. We looked at a bulk of Boler renovation ideas on the Internet. Finally, we used a decorative recipe box that was in our kitchen for the colour choices we would use. Then we started painting the various parts of the Boler inside and out and we had a local seamstress find the right fabric for new upholstery and curtains.

What budget did you have for the work and have you managed to stick to it?

We didn’t have a budget in mind, but we didn’t want to make it more valuable than what we could sell it for later. Some renovated Bolers in Canada have an asking price of $10,000.00 CDN. In poor condition, they often sell for $3,500.00 CDN – $4,500.00 CDN in the buy and sell adverts. We bought ours for $4,500.00 CDN in poor condition and we spent approx. $4,000.00 more on a combination of repairs and decor. I would estimate that we put an additional $10,000 to $20,000 of ‘in kind’ volunteer labour hours into the work that unfortunately you can’t work into the final sale price.

small travel trailer restoration

What were your biggest challenges in this renovation project?

Sealing up tiny holes everywhere to make the outside shell watertight. Nothing ruins a fine upholstery investment like water stains! The other big challenge was painting the outside shell ourselves and making it look professionally done.

How has this trailer changed your life?

Having a Vintage Boler Trailer is like towing a caravan of smiles behind your car. Most everyone who sees it smiles immediately. When it is parked, people nearby will approach us and ask if they can look inside. It’s a magical travelling conversation piece that everyone seems to enjoy. There are several Boler Groups across Canada that meet at various spots in the country for rallies and Boler camping events called Boleramas. It’s a great way to meet other Boler camper owners and see what they have done with their renovations.

Would you do it all again if you were given the chance?

I think this will be the final Boler we will own to be renovated like this. We’ve invested about a year in doing all the work we wanted to do. We love what we have designed for ourselves and we’re looking forward to enjoying our little trailer and our retirement.

If you would like to speak to Rob or Mary Lou about their project you can contact them through their Facebook page.

Fancy a major spot of camping this summer? 

Make sure you check out our article helping you plan your camping summer ahead. We can’t wait!

Happy Glamping!

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