We bought a Boler
This is the story of how simply buying a 1974 Boler trailer has turned into an obsession, and like many renovation projects has grown far beyond the initial plan. Let me start with some background. We live in Calgary Alberta, our back yard is the Canadian Rocky Mountains which has some of the best scenery and camping in the world. As a family we have enjoyed camping trips throughout the summer months, sitting around the campfire, hiking the many trails and sleeping in a tent. As my wife and I get older the idea of packing and unpacking the car, setting up the tent, crawling around on the ground and the hardest part, getting up off the ground in the morning it was time to get something a little more comfortable. Like many I have always noticed the unique look of the Boler trailer and in January of 2011 I found a 1974 Boler 1300 in reasonable shape. The outside looked to be in fairly good for its age, there was a small area of damage near the left rear corner where it hit something while being backed in, just in front of that damage was a section that contoured in slightly and the gel coat was cracked but in my mind these were minor and easily fixed. The inside had dark burgundy curtains, plaid upholstery, a 110V dorm fridge in place of the ice box (this looked brand new), the original sink, faucet and stove, fiberglass table and new maple plywood doors. The floor was covered with brown outdoor carpet which was very worn and dirty
Not sure how the Boler was maintained over the years I gave it a once over before our first trip. I replacing & repacking the wheel bearings, installed new tires on aluminum rims, replaced all the propane hoses, regulator and tank. I also added a 12 volt battery to power a water pump and several LED interior lights. While I was busy with this my wife was busy cleaning the inside, scrubbing the walls and ceiling, and brightening it up by adding new curtains with a wine motif.
The next challenge was the lack of counter space. Since our children are older we only needed the Boler to sleep two people, I decided to remove the back of the front couch (just held in with screws into the hinges), and then install a simple counter with larger sink across the front. The lower couch cushions were removed and that area was used for storage. Since this was a simple test to see if it would work and if we liked the kitchen across the front I quickly built a simple plywood counter with an Ikea stainless steel sink for the trial, for the rest of the summer it worked great although it was almost too much counter space … and that 48” bed was almost too small. With summer ending I brought the Boler in to prepare it for the long winter.
Video of the Original Boler
Camping Season #1 Ends
At the end of the season we pulled the Boler into the garage, the first thing that HAD to go was that brown outdoor carpeting. As I started to remove it I realized this was going to be more of a challenge than I thought, it was glued in with PL400 construction adhesive. With the help of a heat gun and lots of pulling, tugging and tearing the carpet finally came out, but the PL400 remained stuck to the fiberglass floor. I tried several methods to remove the glue and found the best was to use lacquer thinner which softened it, then a putty knife and scraper to work it off. Working with lacquer thinner is dangerous, it is highly flammable and toxic which meant all electrical items, sources of spark and flame were turned off or removed, the garage door was wide open to provide good ventilation and I wore a full NIOSH respirator, rubber gloves and eye protection. In the end the green fiberglass floor looked brand new. As I scrubbed and scraped the floor I continually looked around the inside of the Boler, noticing how the cabinets were connected, getting wild and crazy ideas on what our Boler could become. “What the hell” I decided to try removing the fiberglass base of the front couch to see what is looks like without it there, I could always put it back if I wanted. I drilled out a few rivets, undid a few screws, a little tugging and voilà it was out. That was simple, what about the kitchen, well it came out just as fast, why stop there, next out were the dinette side benches, then the kitchen upper cabinets. Then my eyes focused on the last remaining item, the closet. Understanding structure, load and support I know this closet, as well as the metal support between the upper and lower kitchen cabinets, were critical structural components, they held the side walls in the correct shape and prevented the roof from collapsing. The closet took a little more work to remove, one side was fastened with rivets just in front of the side window, the front edge was actually fiberglassed to the body shell. Before removing the closet I took a series of measurements to document the side profile and curve of the trailer, then I supported the roof with a pole jack to prevent any sagging. Next the long sleeve shirt was put on, goggles, dust mask and armed with a side grinder the fiberglass between the closet and shell was cut, the inside of our Boler was empty, a blank canvas to design and create the perfect trailer for us.
The Interior Design
Our First Surprise … the Frame
With the plan made to fix up the entire trailer and build a completely new interior I wanted to make sure the foundation (or frame) was solid and straight. Since I had already torn just about everything apart I decided it was worth the extra effort to remove the body from the frame and take a real close look. The body was held on with about 6 bolts and a series of wood screws drilled right into the frame … and every single bolt and screw was either loose or had already fallen out. With the body shell off the frame it was immediately noticed that there were major problems with the frame. The original frame was not in good shape, from the Boler factory most of the cross members were only welded on the sides not the top or bottoms, the remaining welds were very poor quality. The metal used on the frame was very thin comprising of 1.5”x3” box channel 1/16” thick. Sometime in the past the frame had broken where the tongue joins the left side rails, this had been reinforced and repaired. The main left frame rail had a cracked right near the axle mount and there was a noticeable bend down from the axle to the back bumper. I think the cause of this was because the body was actually rocking on the frame due to the fact that all the bolts were loose. If you remember when we first bought the trailer there was a bulge and cracked gel coat on the left side, the bent frame was actually twisting the entire body shell and distorting it.
Frame Design and Fabrication
A new frame had to be built, looking at the original frame it was obvious there were several key areas that could be improved that would greatly increase the strength and reliability of the frame.
- The first area is the gauge or thickness of the steel, the original frame used 1.5”x3” 0.0625” or 16 ga rectangular tube, the entire frame with axle and wheels weighed 300 lbs.
- The floor of the Boler is stepped, you enter through the door with the kitchen area at one level then step up 6” to the dinette, this step requires the frame rail on the passenger’s side (right side) to be notched, this notched section compromises the strength of that frame rail
- The final area of concern is the angle of the tongue which concentrates a lot of load and stress right at the point where the right frame rail is notched. There is insufficient area to brace and/or gusset that area to handle the load.
First upgrade was the metal used for the new frame. Since the floor on the Boler steps 6” why not use 6” deep frame members, this would provide incredible strength. Another advantage is it provides a flat bottom all along the frame rail that would allow the axle to be installed as a trailing arm (the way the axle was designed to work) rather than the original where the axle is mount backwards with the suspension arms leading or being pushed down the road. A 6” rectangular box member would definitely be overkill so custom bent “C” channel was used, 1/8” (0.125”) thick. Cross members and the tongue were built using 2”x3” 0.125” rectangular tube.
The following video summarizes the frame build.
Joining the Egg Shell to the Frame
Installing the fiberglass shell back on the frame was a relatively straight forward task. By installing small 4.80×8” wheels on the axle it lowers the trailer enough to where it clears the garage door, making it easy to maneuver, just DON’T use these wheels for towing, they are not designed for the trailer weight or road speeds. As mentioned earlier the redesigned frame was the same length as the original but the angle of the tongue was changed which allowed the side rails to be longer. This required some minor trimming of the fiberglass at the front so it would slip down onto the frame rails. With the shell lowered onto the frame it is securely bolted down using 3/8” grade 5 bolts (5 bolts on each side) with deformed thread lock nuts, large fender washers are used on the inside to distribute the load over a larger area of the fiberglass.
With the Boler looking like a Boler again work could begin on the inside. The first item to address was to support the structure of the body shell. When all the interior cabinets were removed there was nothing left to support the shell. With no support the walls will sag and in extreme cases the roof will collapse. Prior to removing the cabinets I made detailed drawings, templates and measurements of the wall profiles. These profiles were transferred onto four (4) curved support posts which would be epoxied directly to the fiberglass shell. The locations for these supports would be one in the middle of each side wall just ahead of the side window frame, and two additional supports are added one on each side of the door. To install these supports I used West System 105 epoxy with Colloidal Silica filler to thicken it, this epoxy is designed for use on acidic woods like cedar which is what I made the structural members from. I was able to use a multitude of clamps to secure and hold the supports on each side of the door. The only way I could secure and clamp the supports in the middle of the shell was to drill and screw through the shell into the wooden support, the screws were removed after the epoxy cured and the holes filled.
Painting the Inside
After a lot of research on the interior Elephant skin lining and trying to get the surface clean and white I came to the conclusion painting was the only alternative. Researching paint I found some very interesting information. First was surface preparation, I have always used trisodium phosphate (TSP) as a cleaner but discovered that many paint manufacturers will void their warrantee if it is used. The reason appears to be related to insufficient rinsing which leaves a residue that the paint will not adhere to. The recommended cleaning agent is ammonia and water in a 1:1 ratio. The ammonia water cleaner works very well on oil, grease and stubborn stains, it also does not require rinsing and dries leaving no residue. After cleaning, and with the seam tape removed, all the seams are filled with a paintable latex caulking. I used DAP Dynaflex 230, which is and indoor outdoor caulking that is incredibly easy to work with and offers a 50-year satisfaction guarantee. The entire interior is primed using a high adhesive primer, I used Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3, this is a Rustoleum product that can be used to prime ceramic tile for painting so it should work. Over the primer use a high quality latex paint, I used Rustoleum Painter’s Touch in gloss white. The paint has currently been on for 2 years and I am extremely pleased with the look and durability at this time.
Cabinet making is one of my interests and hobbies; I have a very well equipped shop and have tackled a number of large and complex projects including building a complete custom kitchen in our house from cherry. I can honestly say building the cabinets in the Boler was the most complex and difficult project I have ever done. The outside walls of the Boler curve both vertically and horizontally, there is nothing straight for a reference. Each cabinet required numerous templates, test fits, and adjustments to fit correctly. The cabinets are all made from Baltic birch plywood, this is an extremely strong and stable wood but the cost often limits its use. I used thicknesses varying from ¼” to 5/8” depending on the function and load but always keeping overall weight in mind, the majority are made from 3/8” and ½” thickness. The sides and the tops of all the cabinets are covered with satin white plastic laminate (Arborite) since it is very durable, easy to clean and heat resistant. The main kitchen area consists of five interconnected cabinets: the oven cabinet which goes over the wheel well and has a small cupboard underneath; the fridge cabinet; a 4 drawer front cabinet; a larger counter height cabinet with adjustable shelves; and finally the front closet with shelves.
The Dining Nook
The design of the dining nook / bed area started with the plan to create a proper double bed 54” wide. This extra width over the original Boler’s 46” wide bed allowed enough space to have a “U” shaped dinette seating area. The benches allowed for much needed additional storage space, providing the perfect spot for the battery and electrical on the right side. The table legs were an interesting evolution. I wanted a simple system that was easy to use since the table/bed would be converted back and forth quite often. I initially used a single pedestal used by many RVs but found it to be very unstable, so if one pedestal is not enough add a second, which is common in RV’s. This second attempt to use two pedestals made the table stable enough, but I found it very difficult to remove and lower the 34”x34” table by myself. Thinking a folding leg system would be the best solution I designed a bi-fold prototype that are hinged at the top, middle and bottom. To fold the table you simply fold the back legs in half then the front leg, and voilà it should be that simple. This design worked very good, easy to set-up and put down and also very stable. To lock the legs in the upright position spring latches opposite the hinges are used which essentially lock the legs in the center. Another unique feature with the table is that it is mounted on flat drawer slides that allow the top to easily move back to allow easier access to the side benches, a screw knob under the table locks the slide to prevent movement when needed. This table system worked very well and we used it without any problems for the next summer of camping, but I found the ideal solution in one of the RVs at our local RV Show. A folding leg system something like the one I had designed but it offered several advantages including a spring counterbalance that allows one-hand operation and it is free standing which means the table can be moved, or even taken outside.
Camping Season #2 Begins
I worked on the renovation right up to early June at which time my son and I took the Boler on a 7100km (4400 mile) trip through the Yukon and Alaska, a truly amazing adventure. The Boler was not finished, some cabinet doors were missing or not painted, an entire cabinet was not built, the floor was unfinished green fiberglass, but everything we needed was in place and the trailer performed flawlessly all summer, we continued camping almost every weekend that summer enjoying our Boler.
Finishing the Interior
With our second summer of camping coming to an end it gave me the opportunity to finish the interior
With the larger double bed the dinette seats now overhang the original step; the first thing I had to do was to build a small extension on the floor to even out the benches with the step. With the floor flat and level the sheet vinyl flooring with wood grain pattern could be installed. The flooring is cut to size and lightly glued into place. One caution on gluing floors in a Boler, the original floor in mine is textured fiberglass with a gel coat, since the sheet vinyl flooring is waterproof and so is the fiberglass, make sure you do two things. First keep the glue very thin, second choose glue that will adhere in these conditions. The final step is to add metal stair edging to the step in the dinette step and the doorway entrance to protect the edge of the vinyl.
Bathroom for the Boler
The final cabinet just inside the door was designed for two purposes, first as a night table and secondly as storage for the portable toilet. We always use the campground facilities, the only reason we carry a portable toilet is for emergencies or if the facilities are disgusting. When I researched portable toilets I read about the usual units which have a water reservoir and a holding tank, each promotes how easy they are to use and empty, yet on every forum there are horror stories of leaks, spills and overflows. I was also concerned about the space these units require. Then I discovered the PETT portable toilet by CleanWaste. This is the coolest product, a 7 lb folding toilet that looks like a large briefcase, it unfolds to the height of a regular toilet and is designed to hold 600 lbs. It does not use any water or liquid, instead, single use disposable bags with a dry chemical inside that gels liquid and deodorizing any unpleasant smell, these are called Wag Bags. The lower section of the cabinet tilts forward and the PETT toilet slips into it’s custom designed holder.
The Final Touches
As I mentioned earlier those small details are what defins a project, small details like black contoured baseboard with chrome detail (pick-up truck side molding), stainless steel tile backsplash, and our signature item the wine rack. The stainless steel backsplash is a self-adhesive 12″x12″ tile that comes on a flexible backing (I purchased them at Rona but I am sure they would be available at most home hardware stores). It does bend around the compound curves but is a bit tricky to get straight. You want to make sure you position each small row of tiles so they are aligned both horizontally and vertically, the curved walls make this a real. The backing is black so there is really no need to caulk between the tiles and the adhesive sticks real good to the wall covering.
The wine rack was needed because it follows our passion of enjoying fine wine. The space under the sink was the perfect spot not only for storage but also as a display location. Each bottle is held in place by the neck with tool handle clips. The wine rack itself is mounted on horizontal drawer slides so it can be moved to the side to access the storage area behind it.
For plumbing I moved away from the conventional RV systems which use an onboard water reservoir and “cheaper” sink and fixtures. I used a full size sink from Ikea, the round shape fits perfectly into the corner where it is mounted. The tap is a bar tap that uses higher quality ceramic cartridges rather than the leak prone rubber compression type usually found in RVs. The water system is pressurized using an electric ShurFlo model 2088 water pump. It is rated for 2.8 gal/min @ 2.5 amps (max current draw is 7.0 amp @ 40 psi) We only turn the pump on when we are at the sink so the amount of power it consumes is negligible. All water lines that are inside the Boler are either annealed copper or braided steel. One unique design in the water system is that it uses an external 5 gallon insulated cooler as the reservoir. I installed a quick connect fitting in place of the spigot at the bottom which is connected directly to the braided steel inlet line to the electric water pump. The benefits of this design are it is easy to refill from any water source, easy to clean and sanitizing, and in really hot weather we add a block of ice to the jug. A bonus to the water system is that the water does not get that “plastic” taste common with RV water holding tanks, it stays very fresh and clean. This year I will be adding an “instant hot water” tank to the Boler. This is a one gallon electric water heating system, we will only be able to use it when we have shore power, but it is an easy, light and provides that luxury of hot water in many campgrounds.
Bodywork & Paint
With the second camping season now over it is time to start the transformation of the outside of my Boler. There was a hole where every rivet was used during the original construction, the furnace vent, water inlet and drains were all patched, as well as a damaged area in the rear corner where it was backed into something by a previous owner. The Boler looked pretty rough from the outside. With the Boler in the garage disassembly of the outside began. It only took 2.5 hours to remove the front and rear windows, both side dinette Jalousie windows, the small kitchen window, the fridge vents and the Boler emblems. With the Boler emblems removed I had officially eliminated every rivet through the fiberglass shell.light housings, I love the look and really looking forward to the results. After priming repairing any missed areas and imperfections by board sanding the guide coat the final paint was applied. The paint we chose is an industrial designed for the marine and aviation industries. It is an extremely tough yet flexible two component highly cross-linked, high performance polyurethane coating. We chose colors mirrored the original theme yet had a modern feel, using pure polar white for the top and matching the buttercup yellow from the interior (CLR28419 Tier 1 YELLOW (TM PPG 88283)). It is now just before Christmas, the weather is very cold and the streets are snow covered, how do I get the Boler home and protect the still fragile paint …. You wrap it like a Christmas present in pallet or plastic wrap. A good friend offered to let me store the Boler in his warehouse for the winter, this provided a warm place for the paint to fully cure. When I arrived at the warehouse I was able to unwrap the trailer and get a close look at the new paint job. I am very pleased, the colors are perfect, the shine is incredible, the Frenched in tail lights look awesome. As soon as the warmer weather comes I can start the reassembly.
In the meantime …. making thing shiny
The winters here in Calgary are long and cold, this is a great time to clean-up and prepare all the parts I removed from the Boler so they will be ready for installation when spring arrives. The side Jalousie windows, although in good shape, were a bit stiff in opening and needed new seals and weather-stripping. While looking at the work involved in replacing the seals I noticed at many of the parts taken off the Boler they are made from aluminum, the side windows are made from extruded aluminum and have that dull grey finish, the bellyband is the same, the door hinges are cast aluminum with a dull rough finish, and the new radius door window is all black powder coat on aluminum. In the past I had “played” around with polishing a few scraps of aluminum and was blown away at how great you could make them look is a very short time. With a small polishing setup using an old furnace motor, arbour, and 6” buffing wheel I dove in to see how the grey windows would react to polishing. No surprise the small test area on one of the window frames gleamed … there was no turning back, I had started on a black, messy journey to make the dull bits shiny. Knowing my little polishing set-up was not going to be efficient I purchased a ¾ HP 8” grinder, removed the side guards and attached 2 8” buffing wheels, one a sewn wheel and the other a loose wheel. Using white buffing compound which is basically a bar of wax impregnated with diamond dust I started polishing, and polishing, and polishing. I have documented the basic process in a YouTube video, but I do have to warn you it is a messy job, black aluminum oxide now coats every surface of my shop. The following video shows how I polished the cast aluminum hinges.
The Story is not over … I am still building the site!!!
Small Update, Pictures of the finished exterior, I will update this page in more detail but first I want to go camping.