1978 Travco 290 4WD
This Article titled, “Roughing it in Style” first appeared in the June 1978 edition of Woodall’s Trailer and RV TRAVEL Magazine on page 72. I found it at the MH/RV Museum this spring. I found it very interesting that they tested this Motorhome during the famous blizzard of 1978. I missed it. I was in Japan with the United States Air Force.
Sometimes it seems there is nothing new under the RV Sun. Surely, it’s all been done. We have Travel Trailers to satisfy every need. We have fifth wheel trailers almost as big as Mobile Homes and Motorhomes more luxurious than houses.
Comes now from Travco, a member of the Dodge family, a 29 foot luxury Motorhome with-are you ready for this?----four-wheel-drive. No kidding. Travco has teamed up with Pathfinder, a four-wheel-drive after-market operation on the West Coast to produce the Travstar 290, a 29-footer with the sure-footedness of a mountain goat, and a host of luxury living appointments.
The opportunity to challenge the effectiveness of the four-wheel-drive system was fortuitously from an unexpected quarter-a Northern Illinois blizzard. Not only did the storm dump several inches of snow in a short time, but added insult to injury by whipping the powder into multi-foot drifts across roads. It was a time when few ventured out and many of those who did were not to see home again for many hours and even days. It sure seemed like the time to give the Travco and its four-wheel-drive a test. So, off we went Woodall’s intrepid crew and the Travstar, to seek out the worst that the blizzard-clogged roads could offer. We found it.
Drifts than ran to several feet, many coming above the Travstar’s wheel wells. Where other vehicles went around, we went through. If it looked like we shouldn’t be able to get through, we tried it. The Travstar never faltered. As hard as we tried, we were unable to find a challenge great enough to even give our steed pause, let alone put it in danger of bogging down.
Late in the day, the Travstar received the severest test of all. It was on a snow-clogged Illinois back road. The wind which had flung snow around all day had picked up and was clogging roads right and left. Traffic was at a standstill even on many major roads. The road we were travelling was definitely not major. It was two lanes where the snow hadn’t drifted. There was doubt whether there were any lanes where the wind cut across the road.
Then, ahead of us in the darkness was the most dreaded sight we could imagine on that forsaken day, a string of cars brought to a halt by a stalled van blocking what was left of the road. Traffic was moving in neither direction and the line-up of vehicles was growing steadily. There seemed to a real chance we would not be sleeping at home that evening. From our vantage point high above the road, we could see a team of would be rescuers trying valiantly to rock the van out of the ruts. It was only after the van was once again free that we discovered the real source of the problem-a car literally buried under the drifting snow.
The owner was despairing of digging out and was in the process of accepting a ride home. It was plain that the car would remain an obstacle into the night. It was just as plain that that meant trouble for a rig the size of the Travstar. With the buried car where it was, there was no choice but to abandon the narrow strip of road and brave the drifts, some of which ran one-quarter of the way up the Motorhome. There was no choice but to hope the four-wheel-drive option was all we had come to think it was. It was. Without so much as breaking traction, the Travstar carried us around the buried car, straight into the deepest drifts, including the one which the car was entombed, and through to clear road beyond.
Had we been stranded, there was every reason to think, we would have been the most comfortable folks out there in the snow. The Travstar is very well appointed.
The standard equipment list would choke a horse. Items like an auto-start furnace with thermostat, insulating window glass, six gallon electric water heater, four burner range with oven and power exhaust hood, cruise control, 3-way refrigerator, dual holding tanks with 90 gallon capacity, 100 pound LP tank with two stage regulator, systems monitor panel, gas-leak detector, a 45 amp high-charge convertor with 210amp/hour battery pack and a 6kw auxiliary generator are among Travstar’s goodies.
The options list include such amenities as a built-in countertop food blender, 110 volt ice maker, microwave oven with browning feature, 12/110 volt color television with built-in antenna and a central vacuum.
There has also been a great deal of attention paid to detail. There are a lot of minor conveniences which on first notice may seem inconsequential, but which can add a lot to on-the-road living. They include such items as a stove cover, a solid oak cutting board, a cutlery drawer under the sink, positive-catch latches on all overhead cabinets, a lighted vanity mirror and a digital clock above the dash.
Both driver and passenger comfort have been well provided for. The driver’s seat is equipped with an electrically operated 6-way positioned. The seat can be adjusted up and down, forward and back, and tilted up and back, all with the flick of a lever. The passenger-seat back tilts into a lounge position, but we found it difficult to either recline or swivel because of its proximity to the sidewall and the fire extinguisher mounted on the wall. It was easier to swivel and use the seat for in-camp lounging with the extinguisher removed.
Because the Travstar features four-wheel drive, you would expect gas mileage to suffer some, and it does. On-the-road mileage ran about 6.5 miles per gallon, not that far off the usual 7 to 8 miles per gallon that a Motorhome of this size can be expected to yield.
Shifting into and out of four-wheel-drive was relativity simple, though the shifting mechanism was stiff and required substantial force to move. To shift into four-wheel, the Motorhome is accelerated to some nominal speed, say 20 miles per hour, then allowed to decelerate while pressure is applied to the shift lever. Getting it back into two-wheel-drive is the same procedure in reverse.
The six person sleeping accommodations include a double bed just forward of the rear bath, two cabinet bunks above that and a couch/double bed amidships just behind the cab. As in the case with virtually all cabinet bunks we’ve seen, those in the Travstar are suitable only for children, and small children at that. An adult or teenager is going to find them inadequate. The remainders of the beds, however, are comfortable. We had a problem with the pull-out double in the rear. When it was pulled out, the decorative facing came off, ripping the screws right out of the plywood backing. It would probably be a good idea for Travco to develop a more secure attachment, possibly bolts run through both the facing piece and the plywood backing.
Driving comfort was as good as any type A Motorhome we’ve tested. Long trips were not fatiguing and between the 6-position-seat and the tilt steering, just about any driving attitude could be achieved. The one complaint we had in this area was that the four-wheel-drive shift lever and box cuts down on leg room, located as it is in the left side of the driver’s compartment. But, that was not a serious problem.
A more serious comfort problem was on-the-road heat. During the monster storm we had, there was absolutely no way to warm up, even the cab section of the rig. Even shutting off all of but driver’s heat duct and turning the blower on full blast could not get things warm. We suspect that had something to do with two unusual factors. One was that the wind was raging during the storm (there were a lot of people having trouble just keeping their houses warm). Second, there was an air leak in the range hood.
During another leg of the test, a ski trip to northern Lower Michigan, we had no problems keeping warm, even though the temperatures were dipping as low as 5 degrees at night and averaging around 10-15 degrees during a 24-hour period. The furnace was, more than up to nighttime comfort.
We achieved on-the-road comfort by operating the LP-gas furnace, a practice we don’t advocate. It would be best to have an automotive-type heating system installed for in-transit warmth if travel in cold weather is contemplated. These systems channel heat from the engine throughout the coach via ducting run directly from the engine hot-water system.
Finally, there might be some question about how badly a 29 foot; 5 ton Motorhome needs a four-wheel-drive. The same question occurred to us after we had been wandering through the Illinois snow. For awhile. After all, the Motorhome was pretty effective in two-wheel-drive, what with those huge dual rear wheels and all that weight.
We have to conclude that it isn’t necessary in most cases. The Motorhome is more than up to most driving conditions without the added drive. But, after our experience with the super drifts, we also had to admit that the Travstar has a place for the adventurer who wants to get to out-of-the-way-places, especially off the road, or who wants to be able to use the Motorhome in any kind of weather. There are lot people-Skiers, hunters, fishermen and other outdoor types who want to go where they want to go, regardless of the weather or road conditions. Some sports are even better when the weather is bad. It is this brand of enthusiast to whom a four-wheel-drive Motorhome is a good buy.
If you read this far, you must have reached the point of wondering what this machine costs. It’s steep, but considering what the Travstar has to offer, not too bad. The base price is $38,495. That includes a suggested retail on the four-wheel-drive conversion of $5995. The test unit with options came in at $45,970.00.