When we were traveling out of South Dakota and into Montana a couple months back, we shattered a window in the Airstream while driving down the highway.
Looking in my driver’s side view mirror as I drove, I saw what appeared to be water streaming from the side window of the trailer.
In an instant, I thought this streaming water was really peculiar. I was confused. The only source of the water that I could fathom was that the sink faucet had broken off entirely and pressurized water was spraying several feet across the trailer against the window.
This seemed really unlikely, but I couldn’t come up with another theory on the spot. I just needed to get off the highway.
The crazy notion of spraying water stuck in my mind until I could find my way through construction equipment and barriers to the shoulder. I figured all of the surfaces, cushions, books, and clothes in the trailer were completely soaked in water.
As I turned slightly onto the shoulder, I caught a glimpse of the side of the trailer. What I thought was streaming water was streaming tempered glass. The wind was stripping thousands of little shards of glass away from the busted pane, and the shards sprayed like water droplets.
When I inspected the window from the outside of the trailer on the side of the road, I realized that the situation was much worse that I thought.
For every piece of glass the fell outside of the trailer, a piece of glass fell inward, blown around by the wind inside the trailer. A sparking dusting of glass shined on the cushions, books, counters, walls, and floor.
While the kids stayed in the car watching Beauty and the Beast, Katie and I went to work on the side of the highway.
We pulled out the bikes and other gear that traveled in the trailer. We pulled out the cushions. We then busted out all of the remaining glass that was shattered but still hanging in place.
Sweating on the side of the highway in the hot afternoon sun, we swept, wiped, and vacuumed all of the surfaces of the trailer until we were satisfied we had removed all of the glass. We had to dump the dust buster twice because it was full of glass, and we swept piles and piles of glass onto the shoulder.
We also had to vacuum the cushions, wipe all of the children’s books, and clean the bikes and other gear before returning them to the trailer.
It was a complete mess, and it took us a solid hour to remove the glass.
Before we started driving again, I used some heavy plastic sheeting, Reflectix, and duct tape to cover the broken window to keep the little bit of glass stuck in place from falling out and to keep the wind from dispersing little shards we likely left behind.
The plastic held a couple hundred miles to our next campsite, though I had to pull over several times to apply more tape or repair a hole in the plastic.
Once we reached the campsite, I had the time to thoroughly inspect the window and the required repair. I thought I would be able to repair the window properly on the road until I started my online research.
It turns out that the window that shattered is an OEM part. The tempered glass has an aluminum frame pressed around it by an industrial press, and then that aluminum frame is riveted into the shell of the trailer using about forty rivets.
If you can imagine an airplane window that is riveted to the shell of the fuselage, then you can image kind of how the Airstream window is constructed.
There was no way I was going to be able to make this repair on the road. The trailer would need to go into an Airstream repair shop that specializing in vintage Airstream repairs. These are hard to find, and they often have waiting lists weeks or months long.
So, I had to improvise, which I love to do!
I went to a small hardware store in Fort Benton, Montana. I picked up a sheet of plexi-glass, a plexi cutting tool, gorilla glue, caulk, and gray duct tape.
At the campsite, I market the oval shaped window on the plexi and cut it to shape to fit over the window on the outside of the trailer shell. I set it in place using a liberal amount of gorilla glue. I had to hold it in place for half an hour while the glue dried.
After the glue had dried, I caulked around the top and sides of the plexi-glass to make it waterproof from falling and running water.
Once the caulk dried, I strategically applied duct tape around the entire window pane, layering the tape in such a way that the wind passing over it would not peel the tape away, kind of like you might image the feathers of bird to be layered as they lay on one another from head to tail.
A few thousand miles and many weeks later, the repair continues to hold. It looks like crap, of course, as the window is duct taped on, but the trailer isn’t yet the car from Tommy Boy.
Water, wind and bugs stay out, and I think it will get us through to North Carolina, where we can get in line for repair at an Airstream shop.