- Written by webmin
Since the last time we’ve discussed the TriVan – way back in January 2007 – we’ve been in touch with Bill Fidler of Reading, Pennsylvania, who may be the world’s biggest fan of the diminutive three-wheeler from Frackville, Pennsylvania. Bill now has three of them in his possession, including the one that initiated our interest in them, the one that was on display at the Museum of Bus Transportation in Hershey, and he has also started the Trivan Registry in an attempt to form a community dedicated to preserving the TriVan.
Of interest is the collection of circa 1975 photos he shared with us depicting quite a few rare TriVans in the collection of Jim Bazley, the president of the Roustabout Company, which built the TriVan.
So how exactly did the TriVan come about? According to the entry for it on 3wheelers.com, we see that it was designed by Harry Payne, known among Jeep historians as one of the men credited for designing Bantam’s Jeep prototype. When exactly he designed the TriVan is a matter of conjecture. Most references give 1963 as the TriVan’s manufacture date (Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton made headlines on March 14, 1963, when he drove the first TriVan off the assembly line), but the Roustabout Company was actually incorporated in 1961, and there’s evidence that TriVan construction began much earlier.
The key lies with the Lofstrand Company of Rockville, Maryland, which in August 1960 announced that it would soon begin production of the France Jet, a design licensed from Egon Brütsch and shown at the New York Auto Show earlier that year. While digging into the history of the France Jet, Hugo90, one of our most prolific Hemmings Nation Flickr pool members, discovered that the Lofstrand’s press release also mentioned that Lofstrand was already building a three-wheeled compact truck for the Roustabout Truck Manufacturing Company. He notes that this helps to explain the shared drivetrains between the TriVan and the France Jet (a 32hp air-cooled Kohler two-cylinder engine), but remains at a loss to explain the apparent anachronism. However, the entry on 3wheelers.com does mention that the TriVan benefited from seven years of testing, so perhaps the Lofstrand press release simply inadvertently mentioned a TriVan prototype.
Either way, Roustabout managed to secure $342,000 in government loans (part of $994,000 in total financing) to build its assembly plant in an area hit hard by unemployment, promising to put as many as 150 men (mostly laid off coal miners) back to work. They managed to get the Pennsylvania State legislature to legalize three-wheeled vehicles for the roads of the state, and in January 1963, they set about building TriVans. As noted earlier, they were built to meet a government contract for postal vehicles that never materialized, so many of the TriVans found their way into the garages of East Coast Trailways affiliates, jump starting buses and carrying maintenance supplies.
Roustabout perhaps banked too heavily on that postal contract. Production of the TriVan ceased in June 1963, after 112 137 of them made it out the factory doors, and the company filed for bankruptcy in November 1963.
UPDATE: Bill notes that production totaled 137 rather than 112, so we’re going with that number.