Oliver Factory Tour Photos

OCD Overland

Explorer
My wife and I were made aware of Oliver trailers a couple of months ago through this thread - http://www.expeditionportal.com/forum/threads/149367-Not-your-typical-travel-trailer-Oliver-Elite. We both liked what we saw, and since they're not too far away, we decided on a whim to call them up and arrange a tour to see their trailers and how they're built. A few days later, we were on the road to Hohenwald, TN.

For those who aren't familiar with the company or their trailers, the thread above is a good place to start, and there's a lengthy video linked in the first post that gives a rather thorough tour of a finished trailer. You can also check out their web site, of course - http://olivertraveltrailers.com. But basically, they make two models of fiberglass travel trailers, an 18'-6" single axle version, and a larger 23'-6" tandem axle, called the Elite and Elite II respectively. Both are kitted out with typical travel trailer amenities - kitchenette, full bath with shower and flush toilet, etc. What makes them different to standard travel trailers (and relevant to this site) is their construction method and design, both of which make the trailers far more durable for going off the beaten path. You aren't taking either of these puppies up the rubicon trail, but if you're looking for the above amenities, in something that can handle miles of washboard without rattling itself apart, then an Oliver should be on your short list.

Just a bit about the company that you might not be able to pick up from their web site. This is their main business - http://www.safesteptub.com - making accessible bathtubs and shower enclosures. The trailer business started with one of the family members building a trailer for himself and then it went from there. I get the impression that the trailer business is still very much a work in progress. If you look at photos on their site, you can see that they're constantly refining the design in subtle ways, swapping out components, etc. This was obvious also on the tour - we hit them at a down time, when they were cleaning up the factory and prepping for some production line changes, etc. to make things more efficient. Their current goal is to produce two trailers a week, which is small beans compared to their competitors. Though a decent size company, it still has a very small-town and family feel and everyone we met were extremely friendly and incredibly tolerant of all my questions. I think we spent roughly four hours there, which is much longer than I thought we'd spend. I could have stayed longer and looking back at the photos there are a lot of questions and details that I wish I'd asked or paid more attention to.

Anyway, on to the tour...
 

OCD Overland

Explorer
First stop is the frame. It's all welded aluminum, with a galvanized steel suspension cradle...

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The frame is tack welded on the jig to the right, then moved to the lower rack to finish the welds. They're building a new jig on a hydraulic lift that will streamline the process and make it a bit easier for the welders. You can see they add gussets to the joints in the front to strengthen the frame. Torsional stiffness is provided by the fiberglass tub, which is set into the frame. Here's a shot of the tongue member, which is pretty beefy, and the rear...

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The frame members are 5" deep, for scale.

Here is the cradle for the suspension, which to my eye is the trailer's weakest point...

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It's galvanized steel, but it seems a bit wimpy. I think I'd want to beef it up a bit. There's also the classic dissimilar metal problem. They do add some sacrificial zinc to the frame, but still - I'd feel better if there were a break of some sort between the two. Here's the finished suspension...

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3500lb Dexter Axles with their Nev-r-adjust electric brakes, and I believe Monroe Gas Magnum shocks. The trailers are set up with an underslung mount as you can see, which gives little in the way of suspension travel. They won't set them up in an overslung configuration from the factory for COG reasons, and of course won't recommend you do so; but there was one trailer there set up that way which may or may not have been the owner's own trailer, so... Regardless, you could add a good bit of clearance quite easily. Tires are Michelin LT's, 225/75's on 16" rims. If you were to flip the axles, then I think the limiting factor on tires would be the distance between axles rather than clearance to the tub - just eyeballing it. I do think you could go to 32's pretty easily and perhaps even larger if you were inclined to do so.

The underside of the trailer is remarkably clean - the biggest issue is this...

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It's a really well made folding step, but it's by far the lowest bit on the trailer and since it's welded in place and so friggin solid means it could cause some big damage if you whacked it on a rock. they also make a single step which doesn't hang down nearly as much, so I'd recommend that, or just ask them to leave it off entirely.

Here's the finished chassis...

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The hitch is a locking hitch from Bulldog. I asked about swapping it out for a multi-axis and our tour guide said he'd have to look at the specific hitch but it shouldn't be a problem.

More to come. It may be a bit before I find time to post again.
 
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OCD Overland

Explorer
On to the tub construction. The body is built in 4 main pieces, an inner and outer tub, both top and bottom. Here's the mould for the bottom interior. Apparently these are built by a company in Florida and are pretty expensive, so if you have any special request in mind that involves changing the mould itself, forget it.

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Here's the top exterior. They do the gelcoat first of course, then spray chopped fiberglass. Then reinforcing matts are installed in layers with chopped fiber between. The reinforcing is substantial in portions and the entire tub is incredibly rigid thanks in part to the number of curves built in to the design. Metal plates are installed for external attachments, like the spare tire and awning. Our guide told us that one of their customers flipped their trailer in an ice storm and it hit a bridge support, then skidded down the highway for a bit on its side, resulting in only cosmetic damage. He said the insurance adjuster was pissed because he had to do something other than just check 'totaled', which is the usual extent of his job. You can see some of the structural matting in the second and third photos.

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The shells come out of the mould looking like this, then they do a final polish to get them shiny before they start putting things together. This is the bottom interior - the advantages of the fiberglass construction should start to become clear at this point. First, all the interior cabinetry, seating, etc. are structurally moulded into the shell. This is a big advantage over their competitors - you can read on the Airstream forums about people getting to their destination after going over some rough roads, only to find that their cabinetry disassembled itself along the way. Second is the lack of wood or other degradable material. If you have a leak, nothing is going to rot away, plus no nails or screws to pop loose over the years. Third, you can tell how easy these trailers would be to keep clean. Everything can be wiped down (or hosed out) and no corners for dirt to collect.

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Here are all the various pieces that will make up the finished unit...

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They will do any gel coat color you want, so long as it's white. He said that it takes them too long at this point to clean everything out for a different color. Perhaps in the future, when they can do batches at a time. The next step is to add a radiant barrier to the shells. They don't foam between the shells since that space needs to be kept free for wiring, etc. and for maintenance down the road, but the air gap itself should provide substantial insulation in itself. Reading the Oliver forums, everyone seems uniformly impressed with the comfort of the trailers.

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Then the bottom tub is attached to the chassis and all the mechanical work begins...

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To be continued...
 
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OCD Overland

Explorer
On to the goodies, here is the bottom tub with the internals starting to go in. This is looking to the back - mechanical to the left, electrical to the right, holding tanks on the floor in between. Big box on the right is the battery box. The plywood is temporary...

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Passenger side...

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Grey box is the furnace - I didn't get the brand & model, but it's an LP/12v forced air unit, with 1 vent in the main compartment, and another ducted to the bath. The white tank is a 6 gallon water heater, which is standard, but they will do tankless if you want. They use a Truma tankless with a circulator. The black thing next to the water tank is one of the powered jacks - one each side behind the wheels and one at the tongue. All 3 are controllable from the front, which makes leveling a breeze (as well as changing tires). In front of the jack you can see the water pump. Driver's side...

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Exterior access for storage, and access for an exterior shower nozzle (hot and cold!). Charge controller and other solar goodies go atop the wheel well behind the battery box. They use a BlueSky charge controller - http://www.blueskyenergyinc.com/products/details/solar-boost-2512i-hv-2512ix-hv. Standard solar setup for the Elite II is 320W, and I think 200W for the smaller trailer. This charge controller can handle higher voltages, so I don't know what voltage panels they use. They use a Xantrex ProWatt SW 2000 for the inverter, and their standard battery pack is 4 Trojan 6v T-105 giving 450AH. Here's the battery box setup - no room anything more...

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The holding tank setup is interesting. All three tanks - fresh, grey and black - are located between the hulls. This eliminates the need for heater pads and helps keep them protected. 32.5gal fresh, 35.5 gal grey and 18.5 gal black. If you opt for the tank water heater over the tankless, then I guess you get 6 more gallons of fresh water if you fill everything correctly.

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The trailer does come with a pump, which aids in winterization as well as allowing you to pump in fresh water from jerry cans or any other water source if you use an external filter. The inlet for the pump is at the passenger rear corner - you can see it here, along with some of the nice components they use, all stainless. You can also see how the primary beams of the frame extend back to form the bumper. The space between is sheathed both top and bottom and the bumper is hinged to fold down - this allows you to use the space in between for storage and also is where the holding tank dumps/hoses are located...

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RagnarD

Adventurer
How are all of the mechanical and electronic components accessed for repair/replacement when the inner hull is attached?
 

OCD Overland

Explorer
Because the assembly line was more or less shut down for the day, we didn't get to see them putting the tub together. You can see in the background of this shot, though, how the process works.

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Basically, it's how you'd expect - they put the inside together, place it into bottom shell and then add the top. I wanted to walk down there to see, but we ended up heading in a different direction and I forgot to go back. The question I wanted to ask was how they deal with problems down the road, with everything sandwiched between the shells. They do a good job of providing access ports inside, but there are things like the holding tanks, which if damaged means they'd have to crack open the shell to replace them. I assume they do just that. There's also the question of water intrusion. There are weeps in the bottom but it seems like there are plenty of places for water to pool if it does get between the shells.

Speaking of water intrusion, one other design problem is the amount of venting located on the bottom half of the trailer.

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OK, so no one is likely to take these through any deep water crossings, but I think on going though even a shallow amount of water that you'd dip the tail on exit. Maybe it isn't a serious issue but it's something to be careful about. The 120v outlet in that photo is optional, as are others - you basically tell them where you want power, both 12v and 120v and if they can, they'll put it there. A few more exterior details before moving inside -

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Leveling jack.

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Front leveling jack - no wheel, but I don't think you're going to move this without a vehicle. 4600b dry weight, which isn't awful, but loaded for bear, I'm sure you could hit 6000lbs. GVWR is 7000lbs. You also see the tongue box in this photo. It's set up for two 20lb propane tanks standard, or you can option two 30lb tanks. Hidden behind the jack is a shore power connector - two are provided, one on the driver side near the battery box and another on the tongue for those who want to have a generator mounted either on the tongue or in the back of the tow vehicle. There's optional LP quick connects on the tongue and at the rear.

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The vents by the door are for the fridge - standard is a 3-way Dometic, but they'll do others provided they fit the cutout. The top vent has a thermostat controlled fan to help cool the fridge.

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This is the driver front corner - courtesy lights run the length of both sides. Shore power connect is upper right, and the hose connect is for washing out the black tank. All the hardware is top notch, marine grade stainless.

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Finished bumper and an optional rear hitch receiver for bikes, etc. Cover for the spare is standard. Unfortunately, they've upped the tire size after they made these moulds, so you get a slightly smaller spare - but according to our tour guide, a full size spare will fit if you don't use the cover. You could mount a second spare on the hitch receiver I suppose, or rig a way to mount it on the tongue.

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Here's a good shot showing how clean everything is beneath. No brake lines, wiring, etc. to get hung up. I'd have them move the LP quick connect to some place protected, if less convenient. You can see how easily those steps could get knocked, though. You can also see how the body is keyed into the frame. If you look closely, you can see two weeps along the bottom edge of the body, just in front of the steps.

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This is a prototype generator mount/additional tongue storage. He cranked this up while we were inside. Surprisingly enough, it was loud and shook the trailer. I'd pass.

One final beauty shot before moving inside. It's a tidy little package. In person it has that romantic Airstream vibe to it and definitely feels quality. I was worried that it would seem plasticky and cheap but it definitely feels substantial and the care and detail are obvious. The roof is a bit of a mess, but then they all are. I wish they'd make some sort of aerodynamic baffle for all that stuff.

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OCD Overland

Explorer
How are all of the mechanical and electronic components accessed for repair/replacement when the inner hull is attached?
It should be more obvious when I post the interior shots, but they provide a good amount of access for running wires, making repairs, etc. Like I say, though - I don't know what they can do with major repairs on some items without cracking the shell back open.
 

pennieslj

Observer
How are all of the mechanical and electronic components accessed for repair/replacement when the inner hull is attached?
There are access points throughout the interior to get to all the trailers systems. Accessing the tanks is done by removing the rear bumper and the tanks slide out the back.

Our Oliver is currently under construction and will be ready on January 12th. We are getting the single axle Elite model. Dry weight is about 3400lbs. These are obviously not off road trailers but they will hold up much better than most travel trailers on the rutted out, wash board roads that I frequently travel on.




 

RagnarD

Adventurer
Its interesting that they don't Huck bolt the frame as on the aluminum M1101/1102 military trailers. I have always thought welded aluminum trailers don't hold up as well as steel when it comes to stress etc. Would make me nervous spending 50K on a trailer then having issues with the frame. The aluminum military trailers also started out with an aluminum draw bar then ended up switching/replacing them with steel. I am guessing they did that for a reason.

Looks like a clean shop/facility and I initially liked these trailers from previous posts/videos. The prices surprised me and seeing more of how they are constructed, the less I like them.
 

OCD Overland

Explorer
And finally on to the inside...

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They offer different configurations for each size trailer, depending if you want one large bed or two twins. You can look at the layouts on their website, but essentially they're all bath and closet in the front, then entry with dinette opposite, then galley on the passenger side and seating/beds in the rear. This is the larger trailer with the twin bed setup, basically taken from the same position as the earlier photo I posted of the mechanical layout. Below, you can see how access to the mechanical stuff works...

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Underneath the seats/bed at the rear. On the left, access to furnace, hot water, water pump, etc.; on the right, access to electrical.

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Access from the dinette seats. On the left would be access to the shore power and inverter, and on the right are plumbing connections.

I don't have photos, but access to the upper shell is provided through 4" ports inside all the upper storage bins.

Switches are dispersed throughout. Some of them seemed haphazardly placed, but they actually make sense. For example, by the beds are switches for the interior courtesy lights, water pump and water heater, so that you can flip them all on easily for midnight bathroom visits. There's also a water pump switch inside the bath, just in case you forget.

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Under the sink are a large bank of drawers - too many, imo, though my wife disagrees. I'd rather have a single row of drawers and a cabinet for trash. Drawers are full extension and soft close, because we overlanders have standards. The drawers are held in place with the magnets you see at the back. I'm sure that works for highway travel but another solution would probably have to be found if you plan to bounce the trailer around. Side note, I think this is the only wood in the trailer.

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Access door is standard travel trailer fare, though it seems sturdy and the screen door is a nice amenity. Inside you can see they made a little niche for the fire extinguisher, which is a nice touch. Also the wand for the awning is mounted just inside the door. The awning is a Fiamma and seems quality. They make a lot of extras that Oliver themselves don't offer, like motor units and screened enclosures that attach to the basic awning, so all that could be added if you want. The awning itself seemed solid and easily set up by one person.

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Here are a few shots of the inside of some finished units. The one with twin beds was used the night before in their local christmas parade, and was set up for kids to play in, which is why the beds are messed up. My photos don't really do the interiors justice, and you can get a better list of amenities from their website, so I'll only post a few. But as I said, in general the insides are light and comfortable - not cramped feeling in the least. The ceiling height is fine. Getting around with 3 people inside is tight, but with 2 it's fine. Storage is more than ample. I wasn't overly impressed with the upholstery work, but I was pleasantly surprised by the 'fiber-granite' countertops, which look much better in person than the photos. Flooring is premium vinyl with some nice patterns to pick from. I mentioned the odd color contrast between the window shades and the walls, and he agreed. I suggested they go for a darker color and not try to match the white. He said they are at least looking at switching the window setup anyway, dumping the sliders and going with a top hinged unit from Dometic, which I interpret as being Seitz. AC wasn't necessarily quiet, but it was a low rumble that I could certainly sleep with. The exhaust fan, the MaxxAir, is a pretty sweet unit. Quiet as can be and creates quite a breeze. It gets full marks.

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I don't have photos of the bath, but it's a sweet setup so check it out on their website if you can.
 

OCD Overland

Explorer
Accessing the tanks is done by removing the rear bumper and the tanks slide out the back.

Our Oliver is currently under construction and will be ready on January 12th. We are getting the single axle Elite model. Dry weight is about 3400lbs. These are obviously not off road trailers but they will hold up much better than most travel trailers on the rutted out, wash board roads that I frequently travel on.
Good info - thanks!

I'm sure we saw your trailer while we were there - assuming it's under construction already - there weren't a lot of the single axle models around so I wonder if yours is the one in the photo below.
 
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OCD Overland

Explorer
Its interesting that they don't Huck bolt the frame as on the aluminum M1101/1102 military trailers. I have always thought welded aluminum trailers don't hold up as well as steel when it comes to stress etc. Would make me nervous spending 50K on a trailer then having issues with the frame. The aluminum military trailers also started out with an aluminum draw bar then ended up switching/replacing them with steel. I am guessing they did that for a reason.
One thing about the draw bar I didn't mention is that it's a custom extrusion they special order. It's quite substantial. I've heard both sides of the welded aluminum argument, and I can't say I have an opinion. Schutt, for example, does a good job of marketing their bolted construction method, and I don't have a bad word to say about them; but other companies like VMI weld theirs and I don't know of anyone complaining about problems.

Having said that, I'd be curious to ask Oliver if they've considered it.
 
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pennieslj

Observer
Good info - thanks!

I'm sure we saw your trailer while we were there - assuming it's under construction already - there weren't a lot of the single axle models around so I wonder if yours is the one in the photo below.
You probably did see ours. The pictures I posted were from a week and a half ago. They will be working on the interior this week.
 
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