Sunday, May 15, 2016

So you want to buy a Travco...

2015 - Camping in Banff, Alberta

I adore Myrtle but she has her difficulties. I see many people very eager to get a Travco without considering the work involved. I understand this, I fell in love with a 1963 model and became obsessed with buying one. We had never owned an RV before and we had no idea about the costs, work, and time needed. None of this discouraged us from eventually purchasing Myrtle, for $5000.00, and driving her home to Alberta from Montana, in 2008. Her interior was very complete, she was in working condition, and made the 800+ KMS drive home. However, as we found out later she still needed a lot more in immediate repairs plus the regular ongoing maintenance. I don't want to discourage anyone else from buying one of these lovely old motorhomes, but I want to share some things to consider before making the commitment. To be successful with a Travco you need the following; time, money, patience, and either mechanical and renovation skills, or more money. And even with more money, it is advisable to have at least some mechanical skills to source parts and take care of more minor on the road issues. In addition, I recommend good RV roadside assistance coverage, we opted for RV coverage via AMA.

When you buy a vintage motorhome you are buying both an antique car and an old house. With a vintage trailer you can tow it with a newer vehicle and take your time working on the 'house'. With an old motorhome you do not have that luxury; both the living quarters and mechanical need to be working or you will soon find yourself stranded. While we've never owned a vintage motorhome before Myrtle, we did rebuild a vintage car (1970 Dodge Dart) and we do many of our own house renovations. We also have the support, labour, and extra tools, of my husband's very talented parents.

Time: The old Travcos take more time for everything. From sourcing parts, to slower speed on the highway, to repairs and getting ready for the camping season, you must budget the time needed. And sometimes they may break down on the road which means extra time getting there or getting home. If you have good mechanical and home renovation skills then you will save money but spend more time working on your unit.

Money: There will be costs for parts and repairs. For example we have invested over $1000.00 just in new wood and stainless steel screws. The windshields are also very expensive to replace, so really check out the glass before purchase. Replacing Myrtle's windshield, and re-sealing the rear window cost over $3200.00 (and a bit of work to find a shop willing to do it locally!) Once in Canada she also needed to pass a safety inspection to be registered, and completing the necessary repairs for just this aspect was $8,800.00, beyond the many repairs we had already done ourselves. This included work on all brakes, steering, driveline, suspension, tires ($2600.00 here alone!), speedometer etc. We also later needed a new muffler and exhaust at a cost $700.00 (parts only), new exhaust manifold which we thankfully found used for $20.00, but it took many hours of our own labour to install both. You will also need the required tools for any repairs you want to do yourself, and place to do the repairs. Most storage facilities do not allow you to do mechanical work onsite, but thankfully we store ours on a family acreage.

Mechanical and Renovation Skills: We spent 2.5 years of regular work on Myrtle to get her to point that we could safely and comfortably camp in her, and we had the help of my husband's very skilled parents. We continue to do repairs and refinements yearly. To start, I definitely recommend looking into an electronic ignition to replace the ballast resistors which always seem to break (or travel with extra ones!) Sometimes the repairs are minor, like replacing the battery. However, as with all things Travco, that is not always as easy at it seems. Last year Myrtle broke down at the gas station on the way to our first camping trip of the season. Her batteries are inconveniently located under the floor behind the drivers seat, and have to be lifted up and over the holder while underneath the vehicle. The batteries are very heavy and this is a difficult maneuver. After removal, my husband had to take a cab with the batteries to a local store and purchase new ones, while I waited at the gas station with Myrtle blocking the pump. Our lesson from this is to trickle charge the batteries at the end of the summer season and to take a dry run around the block well in advance of the first trip of the next season. We also always travel with an extra battery.

You also can't easily get a part number from the current installed parts, so it is helpful to have working knowledge of mechanics to determine what will work. Record everything you do find that works including; the part number, where you purchased it, receipts, and I suggest a photo as well, because you may need another one in the future!  For example windshield wiper motors and arms took quite a bit of hunting; the motors were found at a marine store and the arms found at Traction Heavy Duty Parts a division of NAPA. NAPA has actually been a terrific resource, especially the more experienced staff, who can help source needed items. If you do not have the mechanical skills and/or home renovation skills you will spend more time and may be challenged to find people willing to work on your Travco. We found a local garage, Dale Adams, that understands vintage vehicles and has a lift capable of lifting a Travco, for the aspects we can not repair/maintain ourselves, like suspension and wheels.

These costs and labour noted above do not take into account many other mechanical items and most of the interior which included the following and more; re-wired the entire unit, new plumbing including water tank, new subfloor, new floor tiles, new kitchen cabinets, rebuilt closet, new front seats (from a wrecked modern motorhome, which were then reupholstered), new seat belts, new benches, new mattress,  replacing portions of the water damaged wood panelling, new ceiling, new insulation, new welded panels under driver/passenger seats, sanding the entire original wood and new wood walls and varnish, pulling and re-sealing every window (look into butyl tape!), 2 new roof vents, re-building 2 exterior access panels, reinstalling the exterior roof strip (which is a major source of water leakage and is something we recommend addressing ASAP), chroming the bumpers and badges etc. Myrtle's lovely original, gelcoat fibreglass also takes labour each year to get it looking in tip top shape (washing, cutting compound, polishing compound, wax). I am personally very wary of repainting these units, in addition to the cost, I am concerned about the long term durability of paint vs original gelcoat.  You get the point; you need to have carpentry, flooring, electrical, mechanical, painting and related skills, or the budget to pay someone to do the work.

Other general tips;  Consider the repairs, maintenance, completeness and condition of a unit before buying. Check out the rims, some units have split rims, which some people like to avoid, as it can be harder to find shops to work on them. (Myrtle had non-split rims but no spare rim, which was another adventure to locate, and took us to meet a lovely fellow Travconian in NYC!) Do not balk at an asking price until you understand the underlying costs and time. The bargain Travco maybe no bargain if you end up spending more time and money repairing it.

Another tip, find reference materials (shop manuals) for your specific engine and chassis; I suggest eBay or one of the automotive literature re-print companies.  In the older models it will not likely be called a motorhome reference guide, but I have seen a few 1970's Dodge Motorhome chassis guides on eBay. The following book we have found to be invaluable in our restoration:


After all this, we love Myrtle. We love her comfort, vintage style, and thoughtful layout. We love taking her camping, to car shows and all the curious admirers. As far as vintage motorhomes go, we think the Travco is one of the best options with a steel frame, study chassis and fibreglass shell. Many other old motorhomes have a wood frame covered by siding. However, she still requires patience and care to ensure it is an enjoyable time. (To be fair, modern motorhomes require maintenance too). We view Myrtle as a hobby which makes the maintenance a bit more enjoyable. If you are still interested in this adventurous journey, check out the following resources to help you along the way:  Dodge Travco Motorhome Lovers Facebook page,  http://www.dodgetravcos.com, and if you have a 318 poly engine the Yahoo Poly Group and Polyspherical AKA Poly 318 Facebook group. If you are searching for a unit, craigslist is often a good place to start and compare prices and condition.

We wish you safe, comfortable and happy travels! 






Friday, August 8, 2014

Spare tire reborn

Myrtle came with 6 wheels and tires in need of replacement. We had previously purchased seven 17.5 inch Yokohama Y785R tires. For other tire options check out Buttercup's blog: http://www.carsgozoom.com/buttercup/suppliers/ 

We searched for a spare rim, and were lucky enough to buy one from Buttercup's owner. We've just had it sandblasted, powder coated and the tire mounted. Here are the before and after photos below. The next step is getting a sweet custom cover made.




Monday, August 4, 2014

Wax on, Wax off - the secrets to shiny fibreglass

In previous years we've done a very time consuming process of waxing Myrtle with traditional car wax that requires muscles and time to buff off. After hearing about another method on http://www.fiberglassrv.com/forums/, we tried it out (link to the the post http://www.fiberglassrv.com/forums/f54/using-zep-to-restore-oxidized-fiberglass-56598.htmlWarning: try this on a small, inconspicuous part first - while it worked well for us I cannot guarantee the process.

Essentially we first washed Myrtle really, really, really well and used the Bar Keepers friend powdered cleanser to remove stains, and rinsed it really well. Then we used 6 coats of Zep High Traffic Floor Finish, which goes on much easier than car wax!. Going forward we anticipate just using one coat each year. A week later the results are still terrific! (Note it does not repair crazing, fill in cracks etc but it did bring out the colour of the fibreglass gelcoat and make it nice and shiny).

Before:


After:






Saturday, February 15, 2014

Myrtle on Tiny House Swoon!

Myrtle has recently been featured on the wonderful Tiny House Swoon blog. The blog is full of unique tiny home, both stationary and mobile.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Dodge Commercial Traveler Part Two

The Dodge Commercial Traveler is cleverly described as the the Dodge Motorhome in a business suit! This brochure brings us five stories of American business. And how Dodge Commercial Travelers help keep them on the move. The brochure describes the salesroom on wheels used by International Minerals & Chemical Corporation,  the showroom on wheels for GE's Voltage Regulator Business Section, a display room on wheels for Robertshaw Controls Company, a studio on wheels for the Boston Radio station WHDH, and the office/home on wheels for Gordon Morrison's ow film of manufacturers' representatives. Take a peek at the brochure for photos of each of these diverse applications.






The Dodge Commercial Traveler Part One

Quoted from the brochure, Business & Professional Users Report on: The Dodge Commercial Traveler; "The Dodge Commercial Traveler - more economical than a branch office and covering far more territory - can extend the scope of your business far beyond its present territorial limitations. Right now Dodge Commercial Traveler sales offices, field offices, etc., are doing for hundreds of businesses what yours could be doing for you: reaching more of your market as the mobile right arm of your business" (Page 2).

The brochure goes on to describe the many ways the Dodge Commercial Traveler is utilized; field research vehicle, mobile lab, sounds systems demonstrator, testing centre for students, annunciator exhibit, motorized bank branch. Other users include; Attorneys, beauty salons, candidates for public office, delicatessens, photographers, doctors, field offices, dog kennels, blood banks, various governmental agonies, and the United States Air Force. The units are custom crafted to the exact requirements of the purchaser. The brochure outlines standard specifications, standard equipment, and optional equipment available.

I have not been fortunate enough to ever see a Dodge Commercial Traveler unit in real life, but the brochure offers some photo of the many unique configurations.







Ray Frank and the original Dodge Motorhome

"The Travco/Dodge Motor Home design and fiberglass body were refinements by Ray Frank to the original Frank Motor Home, a conventional box-type design based on the Dodge chassis and built in Brown City, Michigan from 1958-1962. Ray Frank, founder of Frank Industries, also made up the name "motorhome" and went on to develop Xplorer Motorhomes. Mr. Frank has been inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame & Museum (RV/MH Heritage Foundation, Elkhart Indiana) as the father of the motorhome." (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travco

These photos showcase an original Frank Motorhome. All photos are copyright and owned by Ryan Brutt who graciously allowed me to use them. As you can see in the photos there are some shared elements between this early model and Myrtle including; the same Hehr side dinette windows, similar side vents to allow in cool air while driving, the dashboard dial setup, a push button transmission (although in the Frank it's down beside the driver's seat rather than beside the steering wheel), the grate above the dog house, sun visors, rearview mirror (although in the Frank it is mounted on the dash and in Myrtle it is from the ceiling), furnace controller, kitchen vent, stove and possibly fridge. The wing-like symbol on the exterior is the same as the one on Myrtle's glove box. 








 



This brochure showcases the early boxy body style of the first Dodge Motorhomes. It provides information on standard equipment, optional equipment and floor plans. The brochures states "The world and your doorstep - A new way of life. Now! The Answer to America's living problems... The all new Dodge Motorhome ... planned for gracious living, extended tours, or even short weekend trips. Enjoy the modern conveniences of home while cruising at highways speeds." (Page 4)