Photo: Earlton Manufacturing Co. Ltd. - Ontario's Boler Plant 1971 - 1982

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Author and Boler Historian Robert Sheele


This Official Historical Preservation Website of Planet Bolerama RV Trailer Group is intended to offer the reader/researcher with helpful and known facts about Boler history without all the folklore that exists on several historical sites on the web today. The site does however dedicate a page (in the menu section) which examines popular Boler history folklore and exposes some of the many misconceptions and questionable accounts of past history research on this subject.


In February 2018 the author was the first ever to launch a campaign as part of Boler's 50th Anniversary 1968-1988 to uncover the true origin of the Boler trailer's unique name. It was during this period of research that the author first discovered that the Ray Olecko Slingshot (which pre-dates the trailer) was actually named the 'Boler Slingshot'. This posed some historical doubt regarding claims that the trailer was specifically named after a bowler hat by dropping the 'w'.


Following months of campaigning, the answer to the origin of the Boler's unique name was finally revealed in the summer of 2018 by the Olecko family in the story below.


Please enjoy looking over these history pages, you will acquire an accurate account of Boler Manufacturing history from 1963-1988 including the Winnipeg Boler Factory, the Ontario Boler Factory in Earlton, and the Midhurst Fibreglass Ltd. Factory in Midhurst, Ontario where the last Boler was built in 1988.


Ray Olecko's Boler Slingshot 1963 - 1967

Boler Manufacturing Co. begins operations 1963 - 1967

In 1963 Winnipeg inventor Raymond Olecko, an avid hunter and sportsman, created a unique fibreglass resin slingshot which he manufactured and sold world-wide through mail order magazines and newspaper ads. It began as a small home-based business in the basement of his Winnipeg home. He called it the Boler Manufacturing Co.


 The Boler Slingshot was Olecko's very first design and marketable invention. Slingshots were still very popular in the 1960s with companies like Wammo selling them and distributing them worldwide. But Olecko’s slingshot design was a brand new introduction to the market. Rather than making it from a standard wood material, Olecko decided to make his slingshot out of a fibreglass resin epoxy material instead.  He would also give it an ergonomic design and shape to comfortably fit the hands of the user. One could order a left -hand model, or a right-hand model. This was quite exciting and revolutionary to the sportsman marketplace and it made Olecko’s slingshot wildly popular. The very earliest known advertisement that Olecko publically placed for his Boler Slingshot appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper on July 20th, 1963 on page 49. The ad hailed, “Most fantastic slingshot ever designed, powerful rubber bands shoot half ounce slug through quarter inch plywood.” It sold for $3.95. Following a year of filling orders worldwide, Olecko then filed a patent for his Boler slingshot in July of 1964 to protect his winning design.  

The Real Story Of How Boler Got Its Name

In choosing a name to call his Slingshot, Olecko was reminded of a similar hunting sling he had heard of called a 'Bolas'. A marketing adviser at the time suggested to Olecko that the name needed to be a more marketable sounding two-syllable name in order to make it more appealing. So, the 'a' and the 's' were replaced with 'e' and 'r' to create the brand name 'Boler'. - Source: Olecko family  in 2018 interview.


Olecko then registered his slingshot manufacturing business in 1963 as Boler Manufacturing Co. and continued to make and sell fibreglass slingshots up until 1967.


In 1968 he turned his attention to another venture, building and selling lightweight fibreglass camping trailers. Olecko liked the Boler brand name due to the success it had achieved with his slingshot so he decided to continue using Boler as the brand name for his trailer and for his trailer company.  Once built, Olecko thought his trailer resembled a bowler hat so he was pleased with the sounding of the name. - Source: Olecko family in 2018 interview.

Boler Trailer Manufacturing Starts In Winnipeg, Manitoba

 

In 1966 Olecko found himself working for a company called Structural Glass Ltd., a Winnipeg company which started operations in 1961 and manufactured septic tanks. While employed there, Olecko came up with the idea for a unique fibreglass septic tank design which he patented in 1966 and it was assigned exclusively to Structural Glass Ltd. It was there at Structural Glass in early 1968 while making septic tanks that Olecko first got the idea for a travel trailer. While working there he met a fibreglass mould maker named Sandor Dusa.  Olecko asked Dusa to help him build a four-berth travel trailer for his own family to use. "I wanted a small trailer that had some of the comforts of home; a fridge, stove and sink, plus some cupboard space he said. So with Dusa’s help and with precise calculations and measurements, they first built a wooden mock- up of the trailer and later a fibreglass prototype.  "When we had completed it after three months”, said Olecko, "I saw that we had a unique unit which would appeal to the small family and small car owner. At this point we decided to go into production."  Seeing what they believed to be a good investment, the two Winnipeggers then mortgaged their homes and made bank loans to raise 

$5, 000 in order to start their new and unique travel trailer manufacturing business. 


In June of 1968 Olecko and Dusa set up a small 4,000 sq. ft. plant on Higgins Avenue in Winnipeg and went into production. Olecko headed the company as its President with Dusa as Vice President, both were working partners. With a total of eight employees they eventually began to turn out about three units per week in the first year. Olecko explained that part of the process of making the Boler trailer involved layers of fibreglass material being molded together with plastic resin in a large bathtub- shaped mould. During this process the trailer's exterior paint job is built into the fibreglass. Fibreglass, said Olecko, has four times the strength of steel of the same weight. It also makes the unit light 800 pounds or about half the weight of a comparably-sized trailer. It’s practically unbreakable, leak- proof, and, because it's fabricated as a single unit, will not loosen up, he explained.  He added that after about four hours the fibreglass is lifted from the mould to form the top half of the trailer. A similarly- shaped mould, with the addition of wheel wells, is made for the bottom half. The two halves are bonded together and the door and window areas cut out. With the cabin of the trailer completed it is placed on a steel chassis and the interior is fitted out. Olecko believed the trailer would not only appeal to the small average-income family or small car owner, but will become popular as well with, hunters and fishermen, he an avid hunter. Most trailers he said are punched full of holes from tree branches when taken into the woodlands.

  

The demand for the trailers caused the company to quickly outgrow its premises on Higgins Avenue, so it took on another partner; a man named Erwin Krieg, and in November, 1969 moved its operations to larger premises of 8,000 square-feet (source: Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper archive) at 770 Dufferin Avenue (popular history stories on-line suggest the square footage was 30,000 square-feet which is debatable). From the new plant, with now 25 employees, Boler tripled production and produced approximately 1000+ bolers  until 1973, plus fibreglass truck camper roofs which were used by local companies building truck campers. "We're the only company in North America producing fibreglass trailers said Olecko.”There's been such a demand for the trailer that we can't hope to manufacture many more than those needed in our immediate market area. "We're now setting up several franchise manufacturers who will produce the trailers in both the United States and other parts of Canada”, he said. 

(Source: Planet Bolerama RV Trailer Group compiled from various Canadian archived newspaper articles, publications and documents.)


History of The Boler Trailer Movie

Glass-Fab Industries Ltd. - Boler's 1st Franchise 1970

The local Winnipeg market becomes saturated by 1970 and the need for expanded markets begins.

In just the first year and a half of boler production at the Winnipeg plant, and only producing several hundred units, Olecko and partners soon realized the local market was becoming saturated. In Olecko's own words to the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper in February 1969 - ”There's been such a demand for the trailer that we can't hope to manufacture many more than those needed in our immediate market area. We're now setting up several franchise manufacturers who will produce the trailers in both the United States and other parts of Canada”, he said.


Realizing that there may be opportunities to expand the business outside of Winnipeg and surrounding areas, Olecko and partners looked west and quickly negotiated their first boler franchise in Peace River, a southern district of Grand Prairie Alberta.


Glass-Fab Industries Ltd. was started by a group of Peace River residents in 1970. The company’s very first product was the boler trailer. The general manager at the time was a fellow named  Len Kruschell. In an interview with the Record Gazette February 26th, 1975 Mr. Kruschell stated that in the first year (1970) the company produced 70 bolers and as the demand and popularity grew so did the production. In 1974 a total of 655 trailers were produced and by 1975 2,000 bolers in total were built at Glass-Fab Industries. Mr. Kruschell noted in the news article that Glass-Fab also produced “decoy models” of the boler which came equipped with such things as a stereo unit, electric clock and radio. After 1975, and no longer in the boler building business, the company went on to produce truck campers, canoes, air freight containers and became a representative of Fibre Glass Modular Homes. Glass-Fab Industries closed its doors in March 1976.



Photo right February 26, 1975 - The Record Gazette, Peace River, Alberta

Boler American franchises in the United States

A challenging and short lived history 1971-1972

In mid-year 1971 Ray Olecko and partners signed a deal with a U.S. real estate development company called Eleanor International Inc. of Wichita, Kansas. Eleanor was involved in several large scale development concerns including convention center development as well as purchasing commercial buildings and then leasing them back to the vendors. The president of the company was a man called John Sowers who was also the company’s attorney. Eleanor created a marketing subsidiary called Boler American Corporation and sought to market the Boler travel trailer by purchasing a steel fabrication company called Iowa Portable Mill Mfg. Co. in Oelwein, Iowa. Eleanor acquired Iowa Portable in November 1971 keeping the company’s original president Claire Harrington on to run the business. Boler American Corp. then contacted Iowa Portable to build 5,000 trailer frames and axels. The plan was to ship frames and axels to production plants in Tripoli Iowa, Aurora Nebraska, and Backus Minnesota.


In September 1971 a company called TRI-FAB Incorporated in Tripoli received a contract from Boler American Corp. to build 1,000 boler trailers. TRI-FAB was a new fibreglass manufacturer company that started up in May 1971 initially employing 5 people and grew to 36 by the end of 1971. The General Manager of the company was Richard Tonne.


In October 1971 a second manufacturer called the Duane Eveland Corp. was also contracted to build the Boler American trailer. Manufacturing began in a temporary facility in Backus, Minnesota awaiting construction of a larger steel building.


Unfortunately however, in a matter of just several months later, Eleanor International and its acquired company Iowa Portable Mill would become embroiled in financial difficulty. The Corporation owed over $89,000 dollars to the Olewein State Bank.  In the latter part of 1972 Boler American Corp. declared bankruptcy. In the process, all of Iowa Portable Mill Mfg.’s assets were sold off at a Sheriff’s Sale. Among the list of equipment and inventory were two Boler American trailers.


This unfortunate event saw the demise of the Boler American trailers. It is widely speculated that only about 800 to possibly 1,000 Bolers American trailers were built in the United States from September 1971 to late 1972.

The Boler was initially designed to target the hunting and fishing outdoor enthusiast.

Ray Olecko was an avid hunter and fisherman. In addition to inventing the Boler Slingshot, he also had several other patented hunting related designs. In early interviews with the press and featured in a few newspaper ads of the day, one can clearly see that Olecko's Boler Trailer was a further extension of his desire to build revolutionary new products for the hunting and fishing crowd.


In the photos below we can see that the name "Boler" carried a strong connection to Olecko's passion for hunting, fishing and the great outdoors.

Boler barely survives the 1970s decade long energy crisis

A tough decade for leisure travel trailer industry sales in North America as recession hits hard.

By the early 1970s, American oil consumption–in the form of gasoline and other products–was rising even as domestic oil production was declining, leading to an increasing dependence on oil imported from abroad. 


 By 1973, an oil embargo imposed by members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) led to fuel shortages and sky-high prices throughout much of the decade. 


"There were 150 recreational vehicle manufacturers in Canada in 1973, but only 80 in 1976" -  Quote: Laurent Belanger, Earlton Manufacturing Ltd.


Interesting enough, and perhaps coincidental, Olecko and partners sold the Boler Company at the height of the energy crisis in 1973 to  Jim Pattison (Neonex)  likely citing a dramatic decrease in company sales as most RV manufacturers and dealers were experiencing slumping sales across North America. A Boler U.S. franchise, Elenor International Inc. and its subsidiary Boler American, were out of business in just the first year 1971 - 1972. It's reported that the company initially ordered 5,000 trailer frames. However the energy crisis which began in 1970 would have had a devastating effect on Boler American's production numbers.


In 1979 the energy crisis hit the country once more causing widespread panic. This could have been the final negative impact that led to the final closure of Boler production in the west.


Statistics by the Wall St. Journal during this period cite that some RV manufacturers experienced a two-third drop in production due to the energy crisis. The actual production numbers of Boler American are unknown, however it is possible that only approximately 1,000 Bolers were ever built in the United States.


The Ontario numbers reported by Earlton Manufacturing Co. Ltd. from 1972 to 1982 (the end of the energy crisis and the recession) is 2,300 units produced. Just over 1,000 units were produced from 1972 - 1974. An additional 1,050 units by 1977 and a further 250 units by 1982. Given that eastern Canada and eastern United States are a much larger market than the west in terms of population, it's not likely that western Canada produced more than 4,000 Boler units from 1968 to 1978 and in the midst of the great energy crisis decade of the 1970's. However, it's possible there were more.


All combined this would put the total approximate Boler numbers made in Canada and the U.S. to be in the range of 7,000 - 8,500 units and not 10,000. 


(Note: Boler production numbers, by enlarge, are speculative by all history buffs due to the lack of actual records and data. A fair estimate of the numbers can be gleaned from archived newspaper clippings and publications, however the true totals remain unknown).

Neonex tries its hand in the recreational vehicle market

Neonex buys up several RV manufacturers in the '60s and '70s including Boler.

In 1967, Jim Pattison a Vancouver-based entrepreneur, and head of the Jim Pattison Group, was acquiring a number of companies in rapid order. One of the many companies he acquired in 1967 was Neonex Products, a very successful neon sign company. Pattison used Neonex shares as currency to acquire all sorts of assets. Neonex had discussions with hundreds of companies about possible buyouts in the late sixties and early seventies. Similar to Eleanor International, Neonex was not a trailer manufacturer, but a company that acquired a number of Canadian RV trailer manufacturers such as Triple E in Winkler, Manitoba and others. In 1969 Neonex (which became Neonex Leisure Products) acquired a controlling interest in Triple E who welcomed Pattison's business expertise and marketing skills. Also in 1969 Neonex purchased Travelaire, an RV manufacturer in Red Deer, Alberta.


Pattison also had various interests in the United States RV manufacturing market operating under the name Neonex of America. It owned seven RV factories that manufactured Dreamer, Security, Vanguard, Timberline and Holidaire trailers, including 5th wheels and motor homes.


In 1973, Neonex  purchased Boler Manufacturing Ltd. from Ray Olecko and partners who perhaps were eager to sell the company at the height of the recession.


The year 1973 saw tough times for the RV industry, with an oil embargo that drove fuel prices through the roof along with various economic ups and downs. As a result of this, in 1974, the original owners of Triple E bought back the company from Jim Pattison, and Triple E Canada was restored to family ownership. Neonex also sold Travelaire back to its owners in 1974. It appears clear that Neonex was beginning to mitigate its financial risk in the recreational vehicle market from 1974 onward.


At some point around 1974 Jim Pattison asked the management group at Neonex Housing (a division of Neonex that built mobile homes) to examine the Boler operation and to build a business plan to move the Boler factory to Calgary.  A building was constructed north of the Neonex Housing plant on the Trans-Canada Highway. It was in November 1975 that Neonex purchased the boler franchise in Peace River, resulting in the closing of Glass-Fab Industries and later moved boler operations to Calgary. 


By 1976 nearly half of all Canadian RV manufacturers were out of business due to high interest rates and slumping economy. Neonex also owned Vanguard Trailers which built a small number of bolers in Winfield, British Columbia in 1978, however by 1980 Neonex was no longer involved in the business of building the boler trailer.



The Boler franchise In Earlton, Ontario 1971 - 1982

Over 2,300 Bolers were built in Ontario, Canada


In 1961 a group of Earlton, Ontario famers and businessmen gathered in a local hotel to discuss ways and means to develop and improve the Town's economy.  The construction of a highway bypass had left the town on the economic sidelines, and families watched as young people left the community. A total of 27 men, mostly farmers, pledged to contribute $20 a month each to a total of $3,000 and the Earlton Development Corporation was formed. They built homes, often crediting the purchaser with the price of his  labor if he was a carpenter or handyman. In the next few years they built a bowling alley, a dance hall, supermarket, and a branch building for the Bank of Nova Scotia. It even extended the water service to 100 homes in Earlton. It formed and invested in the Northern Milk Transportation Company, which became the largest in North America at the time.


In 1971, the manager of the Earlton Development Corporation, Laurent  Bélanger, formed the Earlton Manufacturing Company with Earlton Development Corp. as its major shareholder. They then acquired the Boler franchise for Eastern Canada. It was Bélanger who approached Ray Olecko and partners in 1971 to secure the franchise deal for Eastern Canada and the Eastern United States.


In addition to building Bolers the company also built a line of recreational vehicles that people wanted to buy. The company also made truck camper tops, swimming pools and truck caps. It grew to employ 50 people. In total Earlton Manufacturing built over 2,300 Bolers from 1972 - 1982  which they sold through 51 dealers in Canada and in most states east of the Mississippi. 


Boler frames for the Earlton plant were contracted out to a small steel fabrication company in Earlton at the time called NOR-ARC which eventually grew to be a large company still operating today in Earlton, Ontario.


As the 1980's approached, the North American market for recreational vehicle sales was hurting everywhere due to the great energy crisis of the '70s decade. The shortages and high prices for gasoline caused RV sales to slump and caused many RV dealerships in Canada and the U.S. to close.


In May 1982 high interest rates combined with a general decline in recreational vehicle sales across the country and U.S. , finally forced Earlton Manufacturing Co. Ltd. to close its doors.


Contributors of Earlton  Boler history documents, information & research courtesy of:


Bob Thornton

Mary Thornton

Fred Taylor

Paul Neumeister


Photo: Employees of Earlton Manufacturing Co. Ltd.

Photo: Employees of Earlton Manufacturing Co. Ltd.

A rare video clip of Earlton Boler factory workers.

Laurent Belanger, with son Pierre, and Earlton Manufacturing Ltd. employees reminisce about the Earlton Boler factory at a gathering of bolers in Earlton, Ontario during the 1st gathering Ontario Bolerama in 2001.

Photo above is a Midhurst Fiberglass Ltd. Ontario built Boler Voyageur. It's a June 1987 build, all original in outstanding condition. It's a fine example of the quality workmanship maintained throughout the years as the final Bolers came off the Ontario line at Midhurst Fiberglass Ltd. in 1988. 

Original Midhurst factory sign presently owned by collector Paul Neumeister of Ontario.

By all accounts the 1988 Boler was built in Midhurst, Ontario by Midhurst Fibreglass Ltd.

Note: Claims by other history websites that the last bolers were built by Advanced Fibreglass Ltd. are made without supporting facts.  To date there is no record of this company having ever existed. Here are the facts:


Author's interview with Tom Strachan, son of Hugh Strachan who purchased the Boler inventory from Earlton, Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in 1982 -  interview conducted on July 18th, 2018 by telephone.


Tom recalls that his father Hugh had heard of Earlton's closing in 1982. He had seen Boler trailers before and thought it might be an interesting business to get into. So, Hugh made arrangements to purchase all of the Earlton inventory, including the moulds.


Tom recalls going with his father to the Earlton plant with, "a few transport trailer trucks", to load everything up and haul back to the Midhurst, Ontario area. At the time, Tom's father Hugh was the owner of a company called Midhurst Fibreglass Ltd. in Midhurst, Ontario that built among other things, fibreglass boats. Over the course of years 1982-1988, Midhurst Fibreglass Ltd. built Bolers in other locations than just Midhurst including Midland, Ontario and Barrie, Ontario. Tom recalls that at one time, his father leased the back portion of a warehouse facility at 151 Tiffin Street in Barrie and employed a foreman and crew who had previous experience in moulded fibreglass construction from Grew Boats in the Midland area. It was there that he remembers that the cream colored Bolers they built were changed to a light gray in 1988.

 

( see photo below courtesy fibreglass rv forum of a  gray 1988 Boler described as built in Midhurst, Ontario)


He recalls that his father employed a local pin striping artist to apply the decorative touches to the exterior of the bodies. He said that several parts and components such as upholstery, cabinets, axles, undercarriage frames, etc. were outsourced to a number of suppliers in the area. When asked if he recalled a company called Advanced Fibreglass Ltd. having done any Boler business in the Midhurst area, he couldn't recall, but said it was possible that they may have been one of the many suppliers to Midhurst Fibreglass Ltd.


When asked if any other company ever built Bolers in Midhurst, other than Midhurst Fibreglass Ltd., Tom said Midhurst Fibreglass Ltd. was the only company that built Bolers in the Midhurst, Midland and Barrie areas. Only they had the inventory of parts including the moulds.


A few years ago Tom Strachan, growing tired of storing the final boler inventory for years, sold all remaining inventory to Paul Neumeister of Sebringville, Ontario. The original moulds being long gone at the time. Paul also purchased the original Midhurst Fibreglass Ltd. sign which hung on the original buildings, which he proudly displays at Boler events that he attends. Today, Paul still sells some of this last remaining Boler inventory through his website fibreglass-rv.ca. 


Contributors: Tom Strachan, Bob Purvis, Doug Roberts, Paul Neumeister


Could anyone have built any Bolers after 1988??


Tom recalled a story that when Midhurst Fibreglass Ltd. was finally done building the Boler, he had heard that the original moulds found their way to New Lowell, Ontario about 34 kilometers west of Midhurst. He had heard that they were possibly cut apart and thrown out, however he wasn't sure of their fate.


So, the true final end of the Boler still remains a curious Boler Trailer History Mystery which we'll update here on our website should we learn more.

Documentary: Earlton Ontario's Boler Plant

The story of Earlton Manufacturing Co. Ltd. building Boler trailers in Ontario, Canada from 1972 - 1982