Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gilles Richard's Caravans

Beautifully handcrafted Caravans emerge from Dunham

By Manfried Helmuth Starhemberg
For about one year, visitors to Sutton were surprised to see a lovingly painted caravan on the side of a shop next to the local police station. Then there were two, now four, then one disappeared and another one showed up. This I had to investigate, which led to a meeting with Gilles Richard (61), the builder of these fairy tale creations and owner of Trains-Trains Inc. of Dunham. The lovely wagon in the picture above was the first to be created and has wooden wheels and a chassis made by the craftsmen on the premises.
"We changed the framework, because the narrow wooden wheels have a tendency to sink into the mud and have to be on a firm foundation", explained Richard. "Now we farm out the lower frame to a shop in Cowansville and we use rubber tires which are much more easy to manouver and not susceptible to the vagaries of rain or snow".
The insides of the caravans, which can be sold completely outfitted, resemble a small Victorian area guest room and the one pictured is abundant with a lovely double bed, curtains and resplendent with pillows, a marvellous mattress, storage space under the bed for the winter windows and an eclectic array of furniture. The frame of each caravan is of quality welded steel construction and  fully insulated. The wagons are also wired for outside electricity and have two outlets for sound systems or an electric heater. The "house" is constructed of wood and every piece of the framing, the sides, the finely sculpted overhead arches, which allow a six and a half foot tall person to comfortably move around, are all hand sewn in the modern fully equipped shop on the premises.
All doors, windows, some with faux stained glass inserts, are also fabricated here by master builder Bruce Poirier and his assistant  √Čric Ducharme.
 The large victorian caravan is but one example of the company's offerings. there is a smaller version of it as a childrens play house, replete with bunk beds, cheerfull furniture and appropriate colors, a perfect place for a sleepover, a pajama party or to house those extra grandkids that are staying for a night, a weekend or a vacation.
Another version is an open verandah type car which resembles an early tram and is great for a garden party, as well as a smaller version of the large caravan depicted above, which could be used as a small lakeside cottage or a moveable guest room. As a guest bedrom, a caravan can provide charming ambience and privacy while not interfering with the host's life, truly an innovative idea and one I would have welcomed a few times in my 40 years of being married with children and relatives...
The caravans cannot be towed behind a conventional truck because they do not have the required lighting system, which would incorporate blinkers, brake lights etc., all cumbersome additions and not really germain to the idea of the rustic simplicity of a beautiful moveable work of art.
Trains-Trains Inc. will bring the caravan to a prospective owner's home and set it up at a location of their choice. What makes this so appealing is that if the owner wishes to move, he can take his guest house with him, move it to a lakeside location or even rent it out to a vacationing couple
The company can produce one large caravan per month but will accomodate a prospective owners timetable as there is always something being in the process of being built to accomodate an individual's needs as to interior design, color choice and decor. Since this is an artisinal enterprise, the clients "king and queen" ,can work with the builders to their hearts content.
And now to the crucial question: "How much does all this cost"? "An average of $ 20,000" answers Gilles, "It will depend of course on the level of luxury required and the individual customization of the unit". Frankly, if I had an extra $ 20,000.- lying around right now, I would love to own one of these caravans, as I could well envision myself and Nancy sitting inside on a rainy afternoon, hearing the rain drum on the roof and water the hanging plants on the porch overhang, while we listen to some good music, or to spend a cosy evening to candlelight, possibly playing Gypsy music over a good bowl of Hungarian Gulyasz and a bottle of Egry Pickawer ("Bull's Blood", the most beautiful sweet Hungarian wine and a gypsy favorite).
I am dreaming of course, but Gilles Richard has made his own dream come alive through  his magical creations in lovely Dunham.
 The above are my pictures, the two below of different inside vIews of the caravans are courtesy Trains-Trains Inc.

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