Slow progress

Hurry up and wait.

That phrase has become my RV motto. The closer my family gets to enjoy our 1974 Dodge Travco 270, the finish line moves further from us.

The mechanical certification went surprisingly well. It needed a new drag link and a couple minor fixes – no big deal. When I called the garage to enquire how the project was coming along, the receptionist said “The mechanic didn’t see the crack in the driver’s windshield until he backed it out of the shop.”

Cracked windshield? I drove that Travco almost 3,000 kilometres (1,900 miles) a few days before. There was no crack. My husband and I decided to go see the damage immediately.

As I slid into the driver’s seat, a jagged crack at least eight inches long was clearly visible just above my direct line of sight. I would have definitely noticed the crack before the vehicle was purchased, or if it happened on the rough drive home around the south end of Lake Michigan. The crack happened during the Travco’s safety inspection.

The garage seemed to accept that the crack happened on their watch. The problem was where to find a replacement? Luckily the Travco we had to junk several months ago was at a local wrecking yard, with the new windshield intact.

We had to wait a few days for an installer to have time to do the job, so we took Lucky Seven to our local RV dealer for the propane system test needed for insurance purposes. The job was to be done Thursday morning.

Late Thursday, we went to pick up the Travco so we could use it for the long weekend. The job hadn’t been started. We were told to phone when the shop re-opened Saturday to book another appointment. Another summer weekend with no camping.

Saturday morning we were assured the job would be done Monday morning. That Monday we got the bad news. The inspection revealed the propane tank’s regulator had been installed incorrectly (facing up and down instead of sideways), the original stove/oven was not functional and the $1,000 furnace was missing entirely. Also, the propane tube which fed the furnace was capped unsafely.

We were looking at a potentially costly solution. To replace the stove, furnace and do the other repairs would cost over $2,400. We dismissed the furnace. It can be replaced at a future date, if at all. The RV dealer is looking into an independent propane appliance specialist who may be able to fix the stove. If not, we will have to get a new gas stovetop, or forego propane altogether and get an electric one. Not a bad idea, since the Onan generator can power everything short term if we’re boon docking.

For now, we wait. Again. We’ve been invited to three car shows in the next week and it looks like we won’t be attending any of them. Maybe in a week. Or two.

 

Road Trip

Time to head for home.

On Thursday, June 17 we said our goodbyes to Kay and Mike. As I pulled out on the highway through Baraboo to begin our 1,800 mile (2,980 km) trip to Picton, Ontario, Martin looked at me.

“This one better not catch fire,” he said.

As we travelled southward through the Wisconsin dairy land, I watched the gas gauge closely. I knew mileage wouldn’t be good in a five to six ton vintage RV, but I wasn’t sure how big the tank was. Even so, the needle showed Empty pretty quickly.

We pulled into a service station for a fill up. The nozzle kicked out at 23 US gallons (87 litres). The gauge needle indicated ¾ full. We found something on the Travco that didn’t work! Our previous C class RV’s gas gauge was inaccurate, so it didn’t bother me. Once I determine the capacity of the tank (I’m guessing 45 US gallons), all I have to do is approximate the gallons to the mile to calculate distance on a fill up.

Closer to the Illinois state line, my gas pedal leg began to tire. I find the gas and brake pedals to be quite stiff on this Travco. I tried setting the cruise control. Mike Cummins mentioned before we left there was a new cruise control system included with the Travco but it hadn’t yet been installed. I need to get it installed. The original cruise control was non-functional. Another minor fix.

I must note I will never complain about the condition of Canadian highways again. We could have churned butter on the interstate through Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. I don’t know how these avenues could be considered passable roads. At a fuel stop in Indiana, I said something about the potholed, cracked cement highway to an attendant.

“We had a car come through here two days ago and the rough road cracked his gas tank,” he replied.

Maybe the jouncing around that addled my brain, but we pulled out without replacing the gas cap. A mile down the road, on the exit ramp to the interstate, I pulled over.

“Martin, get out and check for the gas cap.”

He rolled his eyes in a ‘not again’ look. Last time we went on an extended RV trip, I left a gas cap in Georgia.

Sure enough, it wasn’t there. There was nowhere to turn around, so we left the RV alongside the road and walked the mile back to the gas station where the gas cap sat beside the pump right where I left it. It was dark by the time we got back to the Travco. I secured the cap and we continued our trip.

The rest of our travels were relatively uneventful, including a very smooth and brief importation experience at the US – Canada border. After two days on the road we were getting weary and we had no water on board for showering so we splurged the last night on a comfortable hotel room.

Our last leg of the journey took us through one more major city – Toronto. Cruising east on the 401 highway surrounded by heavy traffic, I noticed a small black car with bright green trim pull up beside us. The driver was smiling and waving madly. In a city of 3.5 million with hundreds of thousands of cars on the move, Martin’s cousin Graham was driving beside us! He was the first one in the family to see the Travco.

We pulled into our driveway mid-afternoon Saturday, June 18. After a cursory examination we discovered a cracked cupboard door and a loose panel near the floor, courtesy of our rough ride across the tri-state area.

We’ve spent the past couple days getting to know our Travco. We have the manuals and service records but we still have a lot of questions to be answered. I will be posting lots of photos and asking questions of the more experienced Travco owners on the Travco forum. Especially regarding the dash controls. There are more buttons and switches than on the Space Shuttle.

Now I understand why we Travco owners are so proud and protective of our RVs. They are a true diamond in the vintage RV world. We can’t wait to go on family adventures with this rig. Lucky Seven is already turning heads. I’m learning to allow for extra travel time because whenever we stop for gas, people ask questions, take photos and request a peek inside. We’re going to make lots of friends and have good times in this RV.

We took Lucky Seven to her first car show June 21. Had around 80 people take photos and tour the interior. Nobody believed it was a 1974 or that most of it was original!

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Too many buttons!!

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View facing the rear of the Travco. That bathroom is almost as big as the one in my house!

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View from back to front of the Travco. The fridge is new, but everything else in view is vintage.

 

The One

Locking up the house at 2 a.m. we again wondered – Is this the one?

Our search for a Dodge Travco RV has taken us from Ontario’s cottage country to sunny South Carolina. We’ve tire-kicked and walked away. And, we’ve made plenty of (expensive) mistakes.

At 7 a.m. our plane lifted off, soaring to our last chance for a Travco. Landing in Madison, Wisconsin, we were met by a smiling lady holding a hand-printed “Travco Or Bust!” sign. The woman was Kay Cummins, our vintage RV angel.

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Mike and Kay Cummins

 

She led us to a waiting vehicle, where we met her husband Mike. He and my husband Martin hit it off right away. Both shared many interests including hot rods, custom cars and drag racing. Kay’s sunny personality and her love of her late father showed immediately. On the drive to Baraboo she told us about Jerome Thiessen and his lifelong passion for flying, vintage trailers and hot rods. He even constructed his home as an add-on to an auto shop that would make professionals drool. His property boasted a private airplane hangar and runway as well.

But we were here for a Travco. While we stood outside admiring the surrounding Wisconsin dairy land, Mike opened a tall double garage door. Rising slowly like a curtain on a stage, it revealed the Travco. Our Travco.

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Jerome Thiessen’s 1974 Travco 270 – now our Lucky Seven!

 

The 1974 270’s pristine white paint glowed in the sunlight. The chrome trim sparkled, from the rims to the bumpers and everything in between. Mike climbed into the original driver’s seat and started it up. The engine purred. He backed it out of the garage so we could take in the beauty – the perfection – of this impeccably restored Travco.

Inside, the Travco continued to impress. Clean. Properly installed upgrades. Everything worked. I thought I was going to cry. Actually, I did a bit.

After we settled in and met Kay and Mike’s corgi dogs Rocket and Daisy, it was time for a test drive. I’ll admit I was scared. Not about the Travco dying on the road this time. I didn’t want to put a mark on it or get it dirty.

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Martin with Daisy and Rocket

 

Driving a Travco for the first time was an experience, to say the least. I’ve never driven anything so big, but it handled well. I learned to anticipate hills and start braking long before I thought I needed to. I had fun.

That evening, Martin and I spent our first night in the Travco. Night sounds of chirping frogs wafted in on the cool breeze from the open windows. Before going to sleep on the comfortable couch beds, we gave the interior a cursory search. It became a challenge to us to find something wrong with this Travco. We couldn’t.

I wish we could have met Jerome, however this was an estate sale. He passed six months ago from complications following an accident when he crashed a vintage half ton towing a vintage trailer after attending a hot rod show.

Next story – the journey home.

One little, two little, three little Travcos

Time’s getting short.

Wednesday morning at 2 a.m. we start the final leg of our quest to find a Travco. Flying to Wisconsin we meet Kay Cummins and her husband, who handpicked us to re-home her late father’s 1974 Travco 270.

It’s been quite a journey. It all started a year and a half ago when I graduated from a year’s study in post graduate Public Relations. My husband and I agreed to sell our C class RV the year before to fund my education. Now, we wanted to get back into camping. I had used my journalism background to write for KOA Kampgrounds two years prior and found I enjoyed this type of work. The idea of vintage campers particularly intrigued me.

The first Travco I met was in the long grass of a farmer’s field. Someone had brush-painted it black and added cheap flame stickers to the sides, which had long since peeled away. It was a project vehicle, far beyond what I was willing to tackle.

The second one turned out to be our biggest mistake. This 1975 270 ran, but after spending significant money on upgrades, it was still uncertifiable to drive on Canadian roads. My husband encouraged me to give up at this point. I, however, saw this as a mission.

Then out of the blue I was contacted by two Travco owners interested in selling! Both of these Travco 270s were in the Muskokas near Gravenhurst, Ontario. We took a weekend and met one of the owners at the site the two Travcos were stored at. The idea was we would purchase the 1969 270, allowing him to purchase the other 270.

After expressing our interest, the 1969’s owner wanted to think about the deal for a couple days. By the end of the week he had changed his mind, and the other one was unsuitable for our needs. Strike out number three and four.

Number five was a diesel conversion in Sudbury. Now cautious, I arranged to have this one towed to a garage and have a professional look it over. It had a lot of issues. The examination cost $600, but in the end it saved me a ton of heartache and wasted travel time.

Number six’s owner assured me this Travco 320 was in excellent, drivable condition and would make the long trip from Charleston, South Carolina to the Canadian border without a shudder. He had so much confidence in “Old Blue” he assured us he would pick us up at the airport in her and escort us around the city.

He didn’t meet us at the airport. We spent several days in Charleston waiting for good news. Finally Old Blue’s 440 engine came to life. As we eased her out onto the main road Old Blue coughed, trembled and died in the middle of the street. The smell of burnt wires emanated from the engine compartment.

Not wanting to be trapped on the wrong side of the lone exit door, we grabbed our bags and leaped from Old Blue. As far as I know, the 320 never moved under her own power again. That mistake cost another few thousand dollars in travel and a week in time.

My husband was done with Travcos. Convinced they were jinxed, he had me agreeing with him. For one day.

The day after we arrived at home, I received a message from Kay Cummins in Wisconsin. Kay had been following my published reports of woe, and had an offer for us. Her father, an accomplished vintage hot rod enthusiast and mechanic, had passed away earlier this year, leaving several vehicles in his estate including a completely renovated 1974 Travco 270. Were we interested?

It took some convincing, but finally my husband and I agreed to give a Travco one more try. We arrive in Wisconsin on Wednesday noon, and Kay and her husband will drive us to our latest Travco.

Of course we regret the wasted expenditure on our Travco quest, but we don’t regret for a minute the people we have met along the way. Whether in person or on the phone everyone we’ve met has been passionate in their respect for and love of the Dodge Travco brand.

The first things Kay wanted to know was what we’d name this Travco. When – not if – we get it across the border and home, we’re christening her “Lucky 7”.

 

Crazy Travco days

My latest quest for a Travco again ended in futility.

We thought we had a great deal with this one – the seventh we’ve looked at in just over a year. “Old Blue” was a 1977 320 in Summerville, South Carolina. Her owner Wayne was honest. She needed some work, but she ran well and was mechanically sound.

After a confusing week of import regulations with Canada and US Customs, our family booked a flight to Charleston. At 6 AM we caught a taxi to the bus station, where I discovered I’d misplaced the bus tickets. I offered to re-pay, but the driver must have felt sorry for us and took us at our word. The three hour ride to the airport was blissfully uneventful, but the five hour wait before takeoff was tedious to say the least. On arriving in South Carolina we realized we had no directions to the pre-booked hotel. The rental car clerk pointed us in the right direction and luckily we found the place in the dark.

The first day, we did touristy things – visited the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, boarded a submarine, walked through a living museum representing US military action in Vietnam – and crossed something off our bucket list. We saw the first submarine to make a successful combat attack – the Confederate Navy’s HL Hunley.

The next morning we drove to Summerville to meet Old Blue. She sat steadfastly under a mulberry tree, two little Chihuahuas lounging under the chassis. We introduced ourselves to Wayne, who took us on a tour of Old Blue.

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As I stepped inside, I saw Old Blue’s engine parts strewn across the floor. And the steering column was loose. Wayne said there had been an ignition issue, but assured me it was taken care of and Old Blue would take us the 1,000-plus miles to Canada without a hitch.

My son and I spent the next day at Folly Beach searching for fossil shark teeth. We hunted for three hours, only to have an older gent bend over behind us and pick two perfect specimens from the spot we had just searched. It was warm and sunny, though, and we did get some decent shells to bring home.

That evening we walked along Charleston’s Battery Park seawall, marveling at the beautiful antebellum mansions on the waterfront. The weather was hot and humid with a gentle sea breeze blowing in from the ocean. Birdsong filled the air. A brown and white pointer stalked a grey squirrel. After a couple hours we returned to our hotel to pack for the trip home the next day with Old Blue.

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The next morning Wayne helped me complete the Department of Motor Vehicles paperwork for a 30-day license tag. After lunch we inspected Old Blue one more time. The engine still had serious issues. After several hours of fiddling, Old Blue started. I eased her out to the main highway. The brakes shuddered. My left hand moved to flick the right signal switch. The handle came loose in my hand. Nervous, I steered Old Blue onto the street. The engine burbled one last time, overheated and died. I smelled burning wires.

We grabbed our bags and bailed out the door, leaving the stinking, smoky engine behind.

Old Blue wasn’t going anywhere. Wayne kindly refunded our payment. We scrambled to find a rental car to get us back to Canada at a very high cost due to the border crossing. As we pulled out of the Enterprise rental lot, I caught a glimpse of Old Blue being towed in the other direction.

Two and a half days later we made it home. We don’t regret the trip. Charleston gave me a taste of the Old South I never thought I’d get to try. And I really mean taste. Our last meal in the city was at a specialty burger joint and one of the dishes was alligator. It really does taste like chicken!

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The quest for a running Travco had exhausted both our confidence and our resources. All we wanted was a special RV to travel and create family adventures in. Was that too much to ask?

Not 24 hours later, I was surfing Facebook when a message popped up. A sympathetic lady in Wisconsin was following my posts of woe online. She was selling her late father’s restored 1974 270 as part of his estate. She sent lots of photos, and we talked on the phone. Was I interested?

Finding a functional Travco had now become a mission. My husband and I thought about it for an hour. We went for it!

We will be in the air again, off to Wisconsin mid-June to pick up this Travco. I’d go this week, but I lost a week’s work going after Old Blue. Surely number seven is the one. I will hold my breath all the way there and all the way back until I get this one home safe and sound.

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Another try

Here I go again, questing for my ideal Travco.

At this point “ideal” is a very loose term. Able to drive from Point A to Point B without collapsing in a heap of rust or the engine dying 500 miles from home is the new “ideal”..

It’s been quite a journey. We started in the spring of 2015 very naively purchasing a Travco 270 that sat in the bush for years. We started restoration without getting a mechanical safety first. Big mistake. After sinking several thousand dollars into parts, we found out the frame was a Swiss cheese of rust punctures, and unable to certify for road travel. The 270 was tow to a wrecking yard and we took a huge loss.

Since then we’ve been very gun shy. We’ve investigated many Travcos on Kijiji, through word of mouth and on Craigslist. We’ve had at least four deals fall through. The first two were unable to pass certification. One had been beautifully restored, but unsuitable for our needs. The last one proved to be a major disappointment. We made a deal for a 1969 270 and a few days before we were to pick it up, the seller pulled out.

We’d about had it with Travco shopping at that point. My husband wanted “any used RV, as long as we can camp in it.” I begged him to let me persevere a little longer.

A few months ago I answered a Craigslist ad from South Carolina. A two-line message for a yard sale, “and my Dad’s Travco”. No photos. No other information. I had phoned the owner and discussed a deal, but with the low US exchange on the Canadian dollar and the cost of travelling to Charleston to pick it up, I felt it wasn’t a good deal.

After striking out so many times I emailed the owner of this southern belle again. He said he still had the Travco and still wanted to sell. He assured me Old Blue was in good, drivable condition and could make the trip from Charleston to the Ontario border without a hiccup. And after comparing his sale price with what we’d been looking at in Canada lately, this Travco was affordable after all.

We worked out a deal and I purchased one-way tickets for myself, my husband and our 12 year old son for Charleston. Then the owner sent me a cryptic e-mail. We had settled on a fee of $6,000 US for the 1977 Travco. Now he was very interested in what prices I’d been quoted on other Travcos I’d been looking at.

Concerned he was going to hike his asking price, nevertheless I told him the truth. An hour later I received his answer:

“Me and Old Blue had a long conversation, and I’ve decided to let her go for $3,000. You have to promise to look after her. She’s a southern lady.”

Stunned, I re-read the message a few times. He included his phone number so I called.

“Are you sure about this? It’s half what we agreed on.”

“Old Blue’s going to a good home. That’s the important part,” he said. “By the way, did I tell you Old Blue is a 320?”

This week we are getting everything in order for our latest Travco adventure. It’s our last chance at a Travco, as funds are stretching pretty thin. We hired an importer to handle the paperwork at the border. And we’re very excited to visit a part of the US we’ve never been to before.

I’ll keep you posted on our latest Travco adventure. We fly from Toronto to Charleston, SC on May 7.

I just realized. I still don’t have a photo of Old Blue to post!

Wish us luck.

No more Travco… for now

We are Travco-less.

After spending a year in time and several thousand dollars in upgrades, the Ministry of Transportation deemed the RV’s frame too rusted out to pass a safety. We had to give her away to a junkyard last Friday.

It’s disappointing to say the least. We were so excited to find this vehicle then begin the long, slow process of customizing it to our taste and needs. We’d imagined all kinds of fun excursions we would take the Travco on – group meets, glamping, boondocking – we were going to do it all.

Now, we start over. We’ve learned a painful lesson about purchasing used RVs, and the dishonesty and/or lack of knowledge of some “professional” service persons. In short, we got screwed by our naiveté. We assumed we were dealing with trustworthy businesses.

We’re not giving up. Older, wiser and with almost empty pockets, we are again perusing Craigslist, eBay, Kijiji and the local classifieds for another Travco. We will get one. We may not be able to afford to put a tank of fuel in it for awhile, but we will find one, even if we camp in our yard with it.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the standards a vehicle has to pass to be deemed roadworthy in Ontario, Canada, click here for the link. Very extensive list.