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The Self-Packaging Portable Housing Structure

patent record for this inventionATCO Homes Division For over 30 years and throughout Alberta, ATCO’s 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 process.

In 1947, Alberta Trailer Hire (now known as ATCO Structures) began renting trailers.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 being transported.

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.

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