He’s booked three weeks in advance. He doesn’t accept “drop-ins” and doesn’t make house calls. No, he isn’t an orthopaedic surgeon. He’s the trailer-hitch guru of Canada. Each summer, RV owners head to London, Ont., in a steady stream to get their wobbly travel trailers tamed by the master: Andy Thomson, Jr.
Sitting on 17 acres off Highway 4, his Can-Am RV Centre attracts clients from as far away as Alberta, Texas, Australia, even Japan. “Mr. Tanaka and his interpreter came from Tokyo to learn how to custom-build hitches for Subarus,” recalled Thomson, 51, who runs the business with his younger brother Kirk. “In May, we shipped an Airstream to France for a client who moved there from P.E.I.”
Airline pilot Rodney Pippin drove up from Ridgeley, W.Va., to get his luxury Chrysler 300C rigged to pull a 27-foot trailer. “The most difficult thing was explaining to customs officials at the border why I drove eight hours to Canada to have a hitch installed,” said Pippin in an email to Thomson. “They said to me, ‘You mean no one in West Virginia installs trailer hitches?’ I replied, ‘Well sir, they do, but not like this one.’ He kneeled and looked under the car and said, ‘You got that right.’ ”
Albert Flootman, a municipal planner, was a client at the Can-Am RV Centre before moving from Cambridge, Ont., to Lethbridge, Alta. “When it comes time to change my Volvo S60, I plan on making an appointment with Andy and driving the 3,000 km to get a hitch installed.”
“RV people aren’t afraid to travel to get full service,” explained Larry Boyd, the executive vice-president of the Ontario RV Dealers Association, which claims there are approximately one million RVs on the road in Canada. “Andy positively impacts road safety across the country.” Since 1987, Thomson has written a column called “Hitch Hints” for RV Lifestyle magazine. “We get dozens of letters every month for Andy. He lives the life, always taking family trips in his Airstream,” said Norm Rosen, the magazine’s editorial director.
In 1970, Andy Sr. started the business with two investors he met at a campground. This fall, Can-Am RV Centre celebrates its 40th anniversary, while the RV itself turns 100. Don Jenkins, one of the first clients, plans on driving down from Oshawa for the party. Jenkins has bought five Airstream trailers from Can-Am RV and wouldn’t take advice from anywhere else. “Andy is held in high regard all over North America,” he said.
But Thomson is a controversial figure. “Oh, the Americans think he’s crazy,” said Bob Aris, 81, who drives a 36-foot Airstream Classic motorhome. Over the years, Thomson created 11 hitches for Aris’s 40 tow vehicles. “Most dealers will tell you you need a big truck to tow a trailer, but Andy will tow a 34-foot trailer with a Jaguar XJ or a Jetta Diesel.” Malcolm Dyke took Thomson’s advice and bucks convention by pulling his 28-foot trailer with a Dodge Magnum. “People at gas stations and trailer parks come over and tell us we can’t pull with our Magnum,” said Dyke, a banker from Burlington, Ont. “Andy definitely pushes the envelope, but I trust him.”
Ron Feinberg is a believer. Feinberg bought his first trailer, a 27-footer, in Quebec City. The 2½-hour drive home to Montreal in his Mercedes ML320 was a white-knuckle nightmare. “I was ready to plunk down $50,000 for a new pickup truck or park the trailer somewhere for the summer,” said Feinberg, who owns a computer service company. “Instead, I read about Andy on an Airstream forum. He chucked my hitch in the garbage and put on a customized one.
What a difference! There are people who think Andy is a menace for getting clients to tow with a Dodge Charger, a Nissan Altima, a minivan or a convertible, but those people haven’t actually driven one of his combinations.”
Thomson takes his rebel role in stride. “Factory-made hitches are up to the standards set out in the 1960s by the Society of Automotive Engineers, but those standards were never accurate in the first place,” he said with a chuckle over a cellphone from a trailer park in New York. “About three or four trailers out of 100 are hooked up properly. I have to walk around the park with blinders on!”