By 1961 they formally started a company with Raymond and Ronald as managing partners and Raymond’s wife, Ethel, as office manager and secretary. In the first year of operation, they churned out 160 units. The wood and aluminum bodies, which were mounted on a Dodge chassis, came in 20-foot, 23-foot and 26-foot lengths and sold for $6,500 to $7,300.
In 1962 the Franks formed an alliance with Dodge and thanks to the infusion of funds by the automotive giant, they were able to develop the tooling to fabricate an entirely new body made out of two huge 27-foot pieces of fiberglass. This streamlined design, which looked like an enormous version of the egg that holds Silly Putty, was a marked deviation from the boxy limited production house cars of the past. The motorhome was so popular that in order to further expand their market appeal, it was decided that a more identifiable name would be needed and in 1963 the Frank Motor Home became the Dodge Motor Home. Two years later, in 1965, the motorhome went through another incarnation when the company was sold to Detroit businessman Peter R. Fink, who renamed it the Travco.
Through all the ownership and name changes, the quality and desirability of the Travco remained high, chiefly because of its rust-proof fiberglass body and innovative features like its optional sewage incinerator system, the “Destroilet,” a gas incinerator-type toilet that almost eliminated the need to empty holding tanks. There were problems to be sure: the 318-cubic-inch engine in the early models had to work very hard to go up any significant incline; there were stability issues because of the lack of anti-sway bars, and its low-slung body hampered tire changing. Eventually a more robust 440-cubic-inch engine replaced the 318; other problems were corrected, and Travco became one of the most coveted motorhomes.
By the early 1970s, Travco experienced increased competition from other manufacturers and failed to come up with additional innovations that would separate it from its competitors. As with all motorhome manufacturers, Travco’s sales plummeted as the result of the 1973 energy crisis. Travco still had alliances with Dodge/Chrysler, which unfortunately caused it to suffer during Chrysler’s financial woes in the late 1970s. Travco Corporation finally ceased operations in 1979. In January 2004, the Travco’s inspiration, the Frank Motor Home, was featured as one of Playboy magazine’s “50 Inventions That Changed The World” in celebration of Playboy’s 50th anniversary. The list of innovations from the previous 50 years also included the Big Mac, Pampers, Post-it Notes and silicone augmentation devices.
Douglas Keister’s new book, Mobile Mansions, will be published by Gibbs Smith Publisher in the spring of 2006. If you have a unique motorhome, e-mail a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org. Doug is also the author of Ready to Roll: A Celebration of the Classic American Travel Trailer and Silver Palaces: America’s Streamline Trailers. Personalized autographed copies are available from Doug. You can reach him at the e-mail address above.