with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Latches and Broken Dishes on the Road

Jarring down Highway 10 through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, our backs were screaming from the rugged interstate. At the Louisiana border, we encountered a huge cavern that cross the entire two lane highway. There was no swerving to miss this one. As it approached, I could see the layers and layers of pavement coming at us, cut away by the huge hole, a pavement layer cake. When you can see 50 years of pavement on the back side of a hole in the highway, you know that you are about to lunge your truck and trailer off a cliff, smash down in the canyon and then slam into that second side.

Truck and trailer on narrow rickety bridge crossing in Alaska - one of the easier roads we've traveledPart of the joy of having a fifth wheel trailer and truck combination is that you get to feel the bumps more than one. You got the traditional front and back tires smashing into the pothole, but then the double axle wheels on the trailer slams down and jerks the truck back with it. It’s the kind of jarring experience few carnival rides every emulate because they would be slapped with lawsuits and personal injury claims.

That monster canyon was too much for us and Brent took the first exit off the highway. We stopped at a gas station and rolled out of the truck. Stepping, crawling, or even sliding out was impossible. Our backs were twisted up in agony.

I managed to make it into the trailer and cried when I saw that the kitchen cupboards at the back of the trailer had all sprung open and our Corelle plates and bowls were shattered on the sink, table, and floor of the trailer. We got gas and then pulled into a nearby WalMart to clean up the damage.

Corelle dishes are wonderful. They claim they don’t break, and, for the most part, they don’t. But drop them on stone or cement or Louisiana’s Interstate 10 and you have shattered Corelle.

A Mention in Trailer Life
I was so thrilled with Brent’s new latch design, I and others encouraged him to send his latch design into Trailer Life magazine. Within a couple of weeks, we got an email announcing that Brent’s design had been chosen and would be featured in their “10 Minute Tech” section. What a thrill.

If you are looking for quick tips to make life in a trailer much easier and safer, these tech tips in magazines like Trailer Life and Motor Home Magazine can save you a lot of time and trouble, not to mention suffering, so take time to check those out.

Corelle doesn’t break. It splinters. Tiny little slivers of almost translucent white glass, spread across the sink, counter, stove, table, and buried into the carpet. We vacuumed as best as we could with the slideout pulled in, and then when we finally pulled of the highway that night, we opened it up and throughly vacuumed again, looking closely with flashlights for any sparkle.

For the rest of the long voyage across Interstate 10 to Florida, we used bungee cords to hold the cabinets closed. That helped. Not long after, we were bound again to cross the United States southern half and this time, we made a point of going on Interstate 20 to avoid the bone (and dish) breaking southern route.

We made it across Alabama, Mississippi, and laughed that we weren’t suffering as bad as the Louisiana border approached. This was much better. The river was before us and a narrow bridge, but we felt that the worst was over.

It wasn’t.

Just as we hit the entrance to the bridge that crossed the Mississippi River, the border between Louisiana and Mississippi, a huge crater lay between us and the bridge. Cars were coming at us, so there was no swerving. Once again, we slammed into another hole in the road with a major jolt.

As soon as we crossed the river, once again in Louisiana, we pulled off and inspected the damage inside the trailer. I was relieved to see at first that the bungee cords had held the cabinets closed. Then I opened them.

Almost every Corelle dish we had painstakingly replaced at Outlet Malls in Florida had been destroyed. They had compacted against each other and broken.

Want a new set of dishes? Taken them on a visit to Louisiana.

A few miles later, we encountered another canyon in the road and when we checked the trailer again, one bungee cord had actually snapped. It was time for radical action.

Replacing and Repairing

While I was out buying new dishes (again), Brent was at the hardware store looking for some good wood pieces. Let me tell you why.

We had some choices before us. First of all, the bungees were a temporary idea, and obviously not strong enough. We needed latches. Second, we could have said “screw it” with the glass plates and gone paper (ick) or plastic, but this was in 1997. The “old” days. Plastic plates were made of melamine which, when used in the microwave, releases a gas which poisons the food you are cooking. I looked everywhere and researched the limited resources on the Internet (these were the “old” days, remember) and couldn’t find any plastic dishes that looked nice and worked in the microwave. And we are nature photographers and writers. Do you really think we would clutter up the environment using paper plates full-time?

view of one of the lower cabinet latches Brent custom madeSo I went out for more Corelle dishes and Brent went off to deal with creating new latches.

Yes, we could have bought some latches and installed them, but Brent is a perfectionist and wanted the latches to match the overall design of the cabinetry. Today, most motor homes and trailers come with built-in latches, but ours didn’t. It was time for Engineer Brent to design new latches for our trailer. Everything else is customized, so why not our latches.

view of one of the lower cabinet latches Brent custom made in useHe wanted to have the latch swing out and over the cupboard door. Unfortunately, the design of these cabinets features a door that is just under 1 inch thick. The latch would have to have a mount that would raise it up so the latch would easily swing out and over the edge of the door.

Using the strong red oak wood, he cut blocks that were 3 x 1 x 1 1/2 inch in size, the grain running longwise. With a jigsaw, he very carefully cut an L out of each piece about two inches in. The small piece would become the latch, and the bottom piece would be the mount.

Placement of these was also taken into consideration. These are big latches, designed to seriously hold the doors closed. They also stick out a bit. Having them on the bottom of the cabinet meant hitting them as we moved around the cupboards. Same with having them on the side. The best bet for the upper cabinets was to have them as close to the ceiling as possible, out of the way but accessible.

view of the latches close to the ceiling of the trailerAgainst the ceiling, if the block was left with square edges, the latch wouldn’t swing clear of the ceiling nicely, so Brent decided to round all the corners to allow the latch to move freely as it turned and look more finished.

With a long screw and Teflon washers between the latch piece and the mount, the latch would be tight but move easily over the cabinet door.

We put six of these custom latches on six cabinets in our kitchen, and 8 years later, covering Interstate 20 and 10 several more times, and the frost heaves of Alaska, they have never once broken or popped open. We do have to remember to latch them before we move, but that’s one of the many things we have to remember when we prepare to move on down the road.

Padding the Dishes

Now that the latch was in place, we needed to deal with the issues of broken dishes. I went to a nearby fabric shop and found some heavy fabrics, and after some trial and error, ended up choosing fabric that is thick enough to pad, soft enough to not scratch and absorb shocks, and still do the job of protecting the dishes, pots and pans during travel.

Look for flannel, felt, wool, or synthetics like medium thickness microfleece. If it is too thick, it just adds to the bulk of your dishes and it is troublesome to store when you aren’t using them. If it is too thin, then it doesn’t do the job.

I cut the fabric into 8 inch squares. This worked fine for the bowls and smaller plates, and it actually worked well for the larger plates as it was just thick enough that the edges didn’t touch enough to crack against each other. I cut different sized pieces to go in the pots and pans to accommodate their various sizes.

Before we travel, I place the fabric between the plates and bowls and stack them flat (not on their sides) on top of each other in the cupboards. Oversized pans like cookie and pizza pans also get a layer of fabric between then and they are stored in the oven while we travel. Pots and pans have their own cabinet, and I just automatically put the fabric in between them as I stack them after every use.

When we’re done traveling for a week or more, I take out the fabric between the plates, bowls and pans and roll the smaller sizes up in the larger sizes, tie a ribbon around them and put them in a storage spot awaiting the next trip. The ones in the pots and pans I just leave alone.

Inside of the cabinets themselves, I’ve put padded, non-skid shelf liner, which adds another layer of protection.

We use heavy bar glasses and these have yet to break. We place them rim down on the padded shelf liner and do not stack them. They take the brunt force of the road very well and we haven’t had any problems with them banging together either. We keep only four of these large glasses and we have a set of large plastic cups for when we have guests over, and these stack easily and wedge into a corner of the cabinet until we need them.

We have heard about people taking their glassware on the road and setting them the rim with a larger plastic cup stacked on top of them so they don’t clang together. Others use special glassware racks with posts which hold the glassware in place while the vehicle is moving. We found these to take up space we didn’t have and so far, so lucky.

Other Latches

Our latch design isn’t the only one out there. Depending upon the width of your cabinets, there are many different kinds and ways of latching your trailer or motor home cabinet doors. You can even install extra strong catches, but these tend to wear your arms out pulling them open.

Children’s safety latches and locks are another way of adding a bit more safety to your cabinets while traveling. There is a type that goes on the inside of the cabinet so you can pull the cabinet door part way open and then you have to push in on the catch to release it so you can open the door all the way. This works if you will not be spending much time in your trailer and you want a safety latch that isn’t obviously visible.

Another form of children’s safety locks are C-clamp looking plastic locks. Once they are compressed and slid closed, they take some playing around with to release them so they will open up. This is perfect for cabinets featuring handles next to each other like closet doors. The handles proximity allows a single clamp to be looped around each handle and tightened up, holding both doors closed. We use this on our hall closet in the trailer, which rarely opens, but can over rough terrain. When we are done traveling for a while, we unhook it and put it in a drawer. It’s lightweight and takes up very little space and is very quick and easy to use.

There are many ways of latching and protecting your gear as you travel. We’ll have more tips in our Trailer Tales, but if you have any, add them below in our comments.


  • Posted December 26, 2005 at 20:29 | Permalink

    We were sitting down to dinner tonight, when my wife went to the cupboard..As she picked up a couple of small Corelle bowls, the bottom of one fell out, leaving her with nothing but the ring of the bowl. Now,my problem is,where can I match the set around Pheonix, or are they good for the lifeof the bowl..

  • Posted December 26, 2005 at 22:04 | Permalink

    I’m not the expert to ask about Corelle guarantees, but try searching online for information on finding a matching set and order them off the Internet if you can’t find a store in Phoenix. Odds are that any kitchen outlet store will have them, and there are a lot in the Phoenix area.

    Corelle dishes tend to be cheap, so we just bought new ones each time we shattered ours while traveling. We don’t buy patterns, though, only the boring white, as my husband is a gourmet cook and he wants to see the food, not the patterns on the dishes, so simple is best for our lifestyle.

    Good luck.

  • sibell
    Posted July 2, 2006 at 11:57 | Permalink

    I have found the padding of dishes most helpful. We have a boler style trailer that bobs along behind our land cruiser on all sorts of back roads. The padding I use is the grip stuff you can find on the roll for lining cupboards and I do exactly as Lorelle does above. When we stop for the night, the second thing (after levelling the trailer) is to un-layer all the dishes and roll up the squares of grip rubber and tie them with a rubber band until it is time to pack up again. This works well with the pots and inverted lids too. In a 13′ trailer; space is a real challenge, but inverting the lids of the pots and stacking the next size pot on top with the grip squares in between makes a great space saving idea.
    Happy camping everyone! Sibell

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