Saturday, October 5, 2013

Those D****d sliding glass doors

In my opinion, Airstream trailers are built to the highest standards of any travel trailer available. Despite that, there are issues that crop up from time to time. In the case of the Mary Joan III, she shares a problem common to many late model Airstreams that have the double sliding mirrored doors at the midship closet. 

There is a beautiful cedar lined closet between the galley and the bedroom that has large mirrored glass sliding doors. While the doors and the tracks that they ride on are well made, they were never designed to take the bouncing and jostling to which they are subjected to in a travel trailer. The result being that they jump off the track and end up hanging askew by one slider or laying on the floor completely separated from the track. Given the frequency that this has happened, it is a miracle that the glass has not shattered.

We know that this is a common problem because there is a lively online forum of which this door problem is frequently revisited by people with the same complaint. It also includes reports by those who have made modifications in an attempt to solve the problem. You can see that thread here:

While the problem is essentially due to the fact that the doors weren't designed to withstand the bouncing of the trailer, a closer look reveals why that is. There are two small wheels that ride in a shallow "J" channel. The doors are suspended from these wheels. Two small plastic springs on either side of the wheels are designed to help keep the wheels in the channel above the door by providing resistance to upward movement. These springs are inadequate for the forces applied in a travel trailer moving over bumpy roads. In addition there are two tabs at the bottom of the door that slide inside another channel. This tab, captured within the channel, prevents the door from swinging away from or into the closet. 
There is one wheel at the top of each end of the door. The semicircular arches above the wheel are springs which
are designed to keep the wheel within the "J" channel. 
Because the springs are just not strong enough to prevent the wheels from jumping out of the "J" channel the door is no longer supported at the top. Once that happens the door can tilt at the top, lifting one or both of the bottom tabs from its channel allowing the door to either hang by the one remaining wheel or fall to the floor.
The wheels ride on top of the shelf which has a small curb (arrow) that
creates a "J" channel.

My solution was to prevent any vertical movement of the doors whatsoever without relying on the plastic springs to perform that function. To accomplish this, I drilled four holes allowing me to insert a pin that captured the door between the inside and outside flanges that concealed the "J" channel. 
These holes were drilled with the door closed. This is important to be sure that the hole in the top of the door aligns
perfectly with the two holes in the front and rear face frames. This picture is taken after drilling through all three
pieces of metal (front frame, top of door and rear frame).
View with door closed showing hole through outside face frame and door support

Schaefer Quick Release Pin 3/8" diameter by 2/5" grip purchased from
Jamestown Distributors (!6456&keyword=jamestown_distributors')
Pin in place, passing through front frame, door support and rear frame. 
Doors secured, all pins in place.
With the pins in place, I'm confident we will no longer open the trailer after a road trip and find our closet doors on the floor. We will be traveling to Provincetown for the Cape Cod Unit annual Columbus Day rally. We'll let you know how things worked. Until then, stay tuned.


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  2. The P'Town rally is over, how did this work for you?

    1. The pins worked exactly as I hoped. The doors stayed securely in place. We will put a small hook inside the closet to hold the pins (after I convert it from a hanging closet to a wardrobe).

  3. I apologize for the delay in updating this post. At our last visit to Jackson Center for other warranty repairs. Airstream rep,aced the sliding doors with hinged doors like those on the newer models. Thank you, Airstream.


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