In 1978 Campwagon starts converting vans into small buses and later develops a half-height-top for these mini-buses. This product becomes very popular. More than 800 units were made and sold across Canada and the US.
Contract for 375 buses. During the summer of 1984, Lucien and Johan head to Hamilton Ontario to meet m. John Charlebois from Capital Bus Sale, a division of Laidlaw. Both associates already deal regularly and with trust with m. Charlebois who possesses vast experience in that market. A contract is presented to them in a hard to assess English legal terms. The partners who each have a pure entrepreneur profile briefly look at each other and then jump – they sign on location without having the contract terms reviewed by lawyers. The contract requires that 35 days after its signature high volume delivery of buses starts. The main plaint is already at full capacity, they know a new plant needs to be built immediately.
From Hamilton, Lucien calls his contact at Ville de Bernières (today a division of Levis), m. Roger Noel and informs him of the situation. This extraordinary man replies to Lucien: “Sign and come back home, we have a city planning council meeting tonight”. Back in Bernieres, construction of the new production plant begins immediately. Production operations start 30 days later!
Lucien Barbeau emphasizes that in those days the top management at Ville de Bernières was very dynamic. M. Roger Noel and the municipal team would offer a support to enterprises that was dedicated, efficient, sincere and unrivaled. Campwagon’s blazing growth in the 70s-780s was possible thanks to the partnership attitude of this municipal team. The high number of new buildings and add-ons that were needed and that required to be performed in extremely short timeframes in order to meet customer demand, would never have happened without this flexibility and pure collaboration.
Safety belts added or not? California is known to be a reference in the product safety regulatory standards for transport, public and residential products. Today, still many products bear the indication “CALxxxx”, a reference to the applicable standard from the State of California.
Lucien mentions that during the 80s, there were many debates trying to determine if it would be best to impose the installation of safety belts in school buses. He mentions that representatives from the California regulatory agency had consulted them because they sold buses in California. In the end, he had found out that a decision had been taken to not require the installation and the use of safety belts because uncontrollable children would use them and their steel buckles to attack one another during transport. Quite another safety issue type!
Regulatory Affairs. (Pictures below) Around 1985-86 when more than 450 school bus from Campwagon were in operation, Transport Canada requires that tests be performed to demonstrate that the half-height fiberglass top can resist should a bus rollover. This type of test imposes an experiment that completely destroys the vehicle. Lucien thus heads to a specialized center for such tests in Mirabel.
He mentions that he we nervous during this process – his facial expression on one of the pictures tells a lot. He knew that if the test failed, he would have to proceed to a gigantic recall. Fortunately, the test result proved greatly satisfying and it made the demonstration that the fiberglass tips could be used in the public transport domain.
Lucien adds that this type of test has a “heart breaking” aspect to it when one sees a brand new unit being destroyed in such a way. He mentions that in addition to having to meet regulatory requirements at a national level, that each province also has its own transport requirements. This is also the case in the United States.