I WAS CONSUMED WITH A RAW, OVERPOWERING SENSE of pasty lust. To satisfy that craving, as undeniable as a bird’s need to migrate, we took advantage of a road trip in the all-new Escaper motorhome, Damon’s entry in the lower-midrange diesel-pusher Class A market. The destination was mine to choose, so I aimed the coach north toward that fairest of regions known as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or the U.P., also well-known as home to a cornucopia of pasty varieties.
A pasty (pronounced “PASS-tee”) is a meat-and-vegetable-filled light pastry shell that dates back to origins among the Scandinavian iron and copper miners. For the hard-working Finns, Norwegians and others, the pasty was a complete meal in itself. It
serves as a tasty snack, lunch or dinner for modern visitors to the upper Midwest, but
pasties are as rare as hen’s teeth elsewhere in the country. That rarity can lead to pasty
deprivation and, therefore, the lust that must be fulfilled. Not so rare these days are
diesel-pusher motorhomes, and it seems as if every RV company is getting into the act.
Damon, well known for its many towable products and a variety of affordable-level Class C
and Class A motorhomes, has a simple but effective plan to help its product succeed. In
short, the company rolled together a range of practical components and must-have features in a well-built diesel-pusher coach and kicked off a new product line in this growing market segment.
The U.P. was a long drive from our northern Indiana base, so we were glad to be astride the Escaper’s optional Spartan Mountain Master diesel-pusher chassis with independent front suspension and a powerful 330-hp Cummins engine. While the standard
300-hp Freightliner chassis does a good job, we appreciated that little extra oomph
provided by the engine in the Spartan. Later-model 2001 Escapers have a 350-hp engine in
the Spartan chassis. The test coach weighed 24,740 pounds, which left 2,660 pounds of
payload capacity before exceeding the manufacturer’s 27,400-pound gross vehicle weight
rating (gvwr). We had no such major load for our short-term trip, but those with
longer-term occupancy in mind will appreciate the payload capacity. Damon positioned this
coach to have a base-price of $150,925. Nicely loaded, it’s stickered at $169,659, which is
high enough to allow the inclusion of high-quality materials and appointments, yet it isn’t
up in the high-end coach stratosphere. Long, flat stretches of divided highway and freeway
rolled under our tires on U.S. Highway 31 northbound out of Indiana to start our trip,
which gave us time to grow accustomed to the motorhome’s handling and feel behind the wheel before the pavement grew twisty. There’s a great view out of the Damon’s windshield.
Most gauges are reasonably easy to see, as are the side-view mirrors; vehicle controls are
within a no-stretch reach for an average-size driver. Legroom is terrific, the seat and
steering-wheel positions are broadly adjustable with none of the digging seat belts
experienced in some motorhomes, and we still felt relaxed and cramp-free after several
hours on the pike. A three-point seat-belt upgrade was being phased-in early during the
Escaper’s production run. A side-trip detour due to highway construction in Grand Rapids,
Michigan, had us maneuvering through the back streets of the downtown area. The Damon has a very tight turning radius that made such shenanigans easy, despite the motorhome’s overall size. We fought vicious cross winds most of the trip north, and the Spartan held true and secure under the worst conditions. Passing trucks produced all sorts of bow waves and other mixed-wind effects, which caused the Damon to buck and weave a bit at the heaviest times, but the independent front suspension (IFS) allowed us to maintain secure control.
Past the picturesque burg of Cadillac, home of famous geared-steam-locomotive inventor Ephriam Shay, the highway narrows to a two-lane road and begins a series of dives and climbs through Michigan’s rolling heartland. As is common with diesel-pusher motorhomes, the Damon required a road-speed running start to assault the hills, but once we built up steam, the muscular Cummins propelled the coach up the business side of most grades with minimal slowing. Curving road forced speed moderation in spots, but once the turbocharger was back up into its boost range, the engine responded with surprising agility. Our first destination was Albie’s, a restaurant in Grayling near the junction of State Highway 72 and Interstate 75. Albie’s gives a northbound traveler a chance to whet a serious pasty appetite well before crossing the Mighty Mac (the 5-mile-long Straits of Mackinac bridge) into the U.P. We wheeled into the lot just after Albie’s closed for the night — a major letdown. But we consoled ourselves, knowing a breakfast pasty is also a mighty fine way to start the day.
We opted to stay overnight at the nearby Timberly Park and Campground, a friendly, RV-accessible spot just north of town on Business I-75. Dusk had settled in, but the sensitive rearview monitor and well-placed side-view mirrors combined with the chassis’
tight turning radius to make backing into the campsite an easy chore. The 12-foot 3-inch
slideout room moves quietly and firmly into place and presents no challenges during
campsite setup. This early production unit was not so equipped, but current Escapers come
fitted with a flush-floor slideout mechanism. Patience in the face of pasty lust is a
difficult thing to tame, but after a long day’s drive, a fair-size frozen dinner popped in
the Escaper’s microwave, plus a bowl of freshly steamed broccoli and a cold drink, did the
trick. More elaborate meals were likewise handled with ease at the curbside kitchen. The
optional fixed dinette booth ($270) has a table that’s large enough to handle four adults
and a reasonably cluttered meal. Our mealtimes were considerably less enthusiastic, but we still enjoyed the extra table space when working at a laptop computer there. Legroom, seat cushioning and overhead lighting were present in abundance. Centered in the floor of the lounge area, which is otherwise configured like the well-planned lounges in many other
motorhomes, there’s a carpet insert design that adds a whimsical flair to the coach. It
dresses up an otherwise bland part of the unit.
While waiting for the reopening of Albie’s the next morning, we were entertained by the Phillips Magnavox television overhead up front, and the Sony 10-disc CD changer/player made sure we enjoyed excellent music reproduction. This coach was also fitted with Damon’s Web TV option ($660), which allows for easy Internet access when parked in a site with a phone/modem hookup.
The subtle Lagerfeld decor package features beige-tint Ultra-Leather cockpit seats, optional
Hide-A-Bed ($635) and recliner with footrest ($595), colored just right to hide dirt
accumulated during semi-rigorous camping and travel use. The optional pearwood woodwork ($165), along with mostly low-key fabrics, creates a warm, upscale interior that encourages residential-level relaxation. Like many such motorhomes, the Escaper has bedroom storage to spare and a typically functional sleeping setup. We finally dozed off on the firm but accommodating mattress with visions of tasty morsels of beef, carrots, potatoes, peas, onions and rutabagas awash in gravy encased in a lightly crusted golden-brown shell dancing in our heads — to say nothing of the directions in which all the mirrors in the room caused our imaginations to stray. Or perhaps it was that fresh Michigan air; optional dual-pane windows ($1,350) helped keep the interior whisper-quiet when needed.
We understand that a large bedroom slideout is in the works for future Escapers, and some will include the slideout closet that’s so popular today. The next morning’s routine was to rise early, enjoy a refreshing wash-up in the commodious corner shower and complete other preparations in the bathroom area. A well-placed pair of wardrobes opposite the shower and vanity sink made it easy to get cleaned up and select clean clothing without rummaging through cabinets back in the bedroom or up front. At the crack of dawn, almost, we prepared to leave.
We stowed the jacks at the touch of a button, moved the slideout back into place,
and the motorhome was ready. Storing our campground hardware was a snap. Damon’s use of a raised-rail chassis and voluminous basement-style storage bays created lots of places to keep our important equipment. The washboard dirt road to the Timberly campground sees a lot of military tracked-vehicle traffic, so it was somewhat rough. The Escaper’s IFS and air-bag suspension kept the vibrations to a minimum as we carefully motored to the pavement.
Bump-induced squeaks and rattles are almost nonexistent in this coach, which seems to be built very tightly. A nearly empty parking lot is a welcome sight when driving a 39-foot coach, and the Escaper maneuvered easily into place. Albie’s was wonderful as usual, with warm baking smells and friendly staff, and the freshly prepared beef pasty with piping hot coffee on the side made for a filling and wholesome breakfast. Thus sated, we
began the most challenging part of the trip: crossing the Mighty Mac. Side winds through
the Straits of Mackinac can sometimes blow high-profile vehicles around on the bridge, so
we followed the safety instructions and stuck to low speeds while making the crossing. We
could sense the wind buffeting the body, but always felt secure and solid behind the wheel.
Just across the bridge, we paused at the Zodiac Party Store and Homemade Pasties in St.
Ignace and stocked the refrigerator with a few of that shop’s delightful turkey pasties.
One was heated and made a yummy lunch snack to give us strength for the road continuing north.
As we headed north on State Highway 123, a route that traverses a truly intriguing
region with stunted evergreen trees and wetlands reminiscent of the Yukon Territory and
parts of Alaska, we were sidetracked by an interesting sight in the tiny crossroads town of
Trout Lake. The Mead Paper Division pulpwood-loading facility included numerous
legendary-size piles of pulp sticks, as they’re known up north, and an impromptu tour of
the site, courtesy of a friendly Mead employee, gave us a close-up view and photo
opportunity that’s not available just anywhere. (Mead publishes several very helpful U.P.
maps of its timber holdings and related camping and recreation lands that can help an RVer
enjoy the area without running afoul of active logging sites. To acquire copies of these
three maps, send a large, self-addessed stamped envelope to: Mead Paper Division, Woodlands Department, P.O. Box 1008, Escanaba, Michigan 49829.) Our final camping destination was Muskallonge Lake State Park, just north of Newberry, on the shore of Lake Superior.
This time we had to squeeze into a tiny corner campsite, or at least it seemed tiny as we
carefully maneuvered back between the trees in order to avoid the fire pit. A cool breeze
drifted down across the lake from northern Canadian regions and made the campfire’s warm glow a welcome evening companion. Remote wireless speakers, part of the optional
Masterworks audiovisual upgrade ($930), were perched by the fire ring and gently added the dulcet tones of a local jazz station to the quiet hubbub of the campground and the
crackling of the fire. Another pasty made a quick trip through the microwave oven and
tasted mighty fine along with a cool glass of white zinfandel as a late-evening dinner. A
pasty rests pretty well on your belly after another day on the road.
Aluminum framing with polystyrene insulation is standard throughout the coach, including the basic floor framing. Smooth gelcoat fiberglass over lauan covers the exterior, and the roof is EPDM rubber over a lauan backer. Decorative lauan covers the interior walls, and the ceiling is a soft-touch fabric. The floor uses 5/8-inch oriented strand board (OSB), topped with carpet and padding, along with hardwood flooring in the galley and bath. Down below, steel cross members and framing shape the basement-storage area. This area is framed in a 5/8-inch OSB and textured aluminum laminate and lined with indoor/outdoor-style carpeting for content padding and protection. Our pasty lust was fully sated as we turned south to motor back toward home base. There’s nothing like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and several pasty-restaurant visits to satisfy a need for that special fresh-from-the-oven U.P. delicacy, and the Damon Escaper was a terrific means by which to quell the pasty lust.
Damon’s combination of well-chosen components and design provides a package with most
features motorhome owners want, and the company’s craftsmanship helps ensure those pieces will hang together and keep functioning for a long time. Damon Corporation, P.O. Box 2888, Elkhart, Indiana 46515; (800) 577-5692 Article by: Jeff Johnston Photos by: Jeff Johnston