Classic RV design proves timeless

Trillium trailer from 1970s reborn as the Outback with new colours, upgraded interior design

Edmonton Journal articlePublished in the Edmonton Journal and written by Dave Halliday, Friday, March 12, 2007

In the 1970s, a small fibreglass travel trailer with Ontario's floral emblem embossed on both sides won the hearts of many campers.

A revamped version of the Trillium trailer is making a successful comeback, although the factory now is located in Calgary.

Joe Thoen of Team Trillium Manufacturing calls his new version the Outback. Externally the trailer is little changed - except for updated colours - since Team Trillium is using the moulds used to build the 1970s trailers. However, the interior has been revamped to accommodate modern appliances and to add a feature the originals never had - a bathroom.

Many of the original trailers are still in use and buyers who remember Trillium of the 1970s have provided a ready market for the new units.

When new trailers are trucked to dealers, Team Trillium puts signs in the windows letting people know what it is, where it's going and including phone numbers for both the dealer and manufacturer.

"Everywhere the truck stops, the driver has 10-15 people coming to look at the trailer," Thoen said.

Trailer buyers have produced a surprise for Thoen.

"When we originally started to build them, I thought they would appeal to 30- to 40-year-olds," Thoen said. Instead, 90 per cent of buyers are over 50.

Dave Hill, sales manager for Arrkann Trailer and RV Centre in Edmonton, one of the top OUtback dealers, agreed that many buyers are over 50. Arrkann sold 15 Outbacks in 2003 and expects to sell a similar number this year. Prices start at $13,995 for the base trailer.

These buyers typically value the compact size and efficiency of the Outback, Hill said, and they're adventurous campers.

These people are RVers who bypass commercial campgrounds because "they want to camp in the middle of nowhere," he said. They like to go into the mountains where they can experience nature and they're not worried if there are no plug-ins.

The self-contained design of the Outback makes that possible since the high efficiency 12-volt fridge will operate for days before the battery needs to be recharged and the stove and furnace are fired by propane. The fridge uses less power than an RV light fixture.

Hill also finds that automotive hobbyists are attracted to the trailers because they can be towed behind a collector car or street rod and can be painted to match the vehicle.

The moulds to make the recreational vehicles were in Calgary because another man had made an unsuccessful attempt to revive Trillium trailers.

Thoen decided to take on the venture as a way of keeping the staff at his recreational vehicle service business busy over the winter.

Team Trillium now is entering its third year with more than 170 trailers built and has proven so successful that Thoen has doubled his staff to 12 from six. The shop in northeast Calgary builds four trailers a week and planning is underway to expand the building and increase production.

The company now is setting up a dealer network in the northwestern United States to complement those already selling the trailers in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

Since Team Trillium is using the same moulds used for the original trailer, many of the parts for the new versions such as the specially made door hinges fit the originals.

Thoen said he receives 150 e-mails a week from Trillium owners looking for parts for their vintage rigs. The requests come from across North America - Thoen recently shipped a refrigerator to North Carolina.

The parts' interchangeability extends beyond items such as fridges and door hinges.

When a Trillium owner from Eastern Canada arrived at the shop with his 1970s Trillium disabled by a cracked frame, Team Trillium had a ready-made solution.

Team Trillium workers unbolted the trailer frame, jacked up the body and moved it to a frame built for a new trailer. The body slipped right into place on the new frame.

Although the bulk of the Outback trailers are sold to campers, some have been ordered for use as mobile sales centres. These trailers could be used at outdoor events such as the Calgary Stampede or Edmonton's Klondike Days.

During a recent visit to the Team Trillium shop, two sales trailers were being prepared. The interiors have a different configuration than the camping trailers and are built without the appliances that would be part of an RV.

In addition, the trailers are equipped with larger, swing-up windows to make it easier to serve customers.

Trailers also built as sales centres

Since the trailers are fibreglass, they could easily be produced in a company's colours - the trailer shell can be manufactured in a wide range of hues.

The Outback is moulded in two halves - a top and a bottom - that are joined together to make a one-piece trailer body. The beltline seam is fibreglassed so that the body becomes a single piece.

The seam is riveted with large washers anchoring the rivets on the inside before the seam is covered with fibreglass. A rubber moulding covers the seam on the outside of the body.

This style of construction produces a very durable trailer - stronger and more leak-resistant than contemporary trailers built with wood framing and covered with aluminum siding. There are no seams in the roof, eliminating a potential source of leaks.

"We've seen Trilliums from 1973 with no water damage," Thoen said.

Thoen personally inspects each trailer before it is shipped to keep quality at a high level. That means fewer repairs and less money spent on warranty claims - helping keep the price low.

Hill said there have been few problems with the trailers and any warranty claims have been handled quickly.

Standard equipment in the trailers includes the fridge, stove and furnace, 25-amp converter with battery charger, roof vent, fire extinguisher and leveling jacks. Options include an awning, screen room, bike carriers, bathroom with flush toilet, hot water heater, stereo system and solar panels.

Looking to the future, Thoen plans to build a prototype of a larger trailer later this year.

For more information on Outback trailers, contact Team Trillium at 1-403-398-8732 or visit the Web site at www.trilliumtrailers.com. In Edmonton, phone Arrkann at 1-780-440-4811.

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