The Self-Packaging Portable Housing Structure
For over 30 years and throughout Alberta, ATCOs self-packaging portable
housing structure has become a familiar, yet transient object well known
to all Albertans as the ATCO trailer.
ATCO, an Alberta-based corporation engaged provincially and globally in
power generation, utilities, logistics and energy services, and related
technology, presented a challenge to a team of employees at the ATCO
Research and Development Centre in Calgary in the early 1970s. The
drafting, engineering and testing departments were all involved. Jack
Hempson, who is listed on the Canadian patent as the inventor, supervised
The team was given the task of inventing a portable structure that could
house workers in extreme and remote environments, but which could be
easily put up, taken down and reused. Portable housing structures were an
advantage as, if employees could stay at a worksite for the duration of a
job, less money was spent on transportation costs.
Portable structures had previously been used by the Canadian military, as
well as in mining, drilling and exploration camps. They were, however,
difficult to erect and dismantle, and the materials used were often
vulnerable to harsh climatic conditions when not assembled. Another
disadvantage was that they could not be stacked when disassembled and
ATCO had plenty of experience dealing with temporary housing in harsh
conditions. They had already invented portable classrooms (known simply as
"portables" to many schoolchildren across Alberta), and had created
accommodation for railway workers when what had previously been available
had proven to be inadequate for the cold Canadian climate.
The self-packaging portable housing structure included a floor, a roof and
several wall panels. The key to keeping the weather at bay in transport
was keyslots and keystrips in the roof and floor. With these, the roof and
the floor components could be strapped and sealed together, with the
removed wall panels laying flat inside the two. This also solved the
stacking problem, as the roof and floor formed a tight, square "package."
Other packages could easily be stacked one on top of the other.
The keystrips and slots also played an important role once the structure
was erected. The wall panels were made with these strips and slots, and so
fit snugly with the roof and floor, keeping out the weather.
The structure worked well, but only a few were ever made. Inexpensive
labour in large foreign markets, which made it less costly to simply build
lodgings and then leave or destroy them following a project, may have
undermined the advantages of the invention. In later years, however, two
or three similar concepts were marketed by ATCO.
Copyright © 2003
Heritage Community Foundation All Rights Reserved