May 13 2017

More Boler Adventures: The Bargman L-400 lock

The Bargman L-400 is the lock that was originally fitted to most Boler camper trailers, along with other small campers of similar vintage. The Detroit-based Theodore Bargman Company goes way back to the early 1930s, making door locks and other RV parts from the 1940s, and L-400s from the early 1970s into the 1990s and maybe a little beyond. Unfortunately, the L-400 was never what you’d call a quality piece, and so it is that many Bolers have outlived their locks, requiring owners to supplement them through various means, or to simply junk them in favour of something that works.

But we (those who will continue reading) don’t want to throw out our ailing L-400s. We want them to live!

Don’t look to Bargman for help, though, because while the company still exists, it no longer makes the L-400 – or any other locks for that matter – and isn’t interested in supporting owners of them. So the L-400 cannot be replaced with a new or factory “repro” version, and parts are no longer available through RV parts retailers (although one brave soul named Ian Giles indicates he’s working on a replacement kit). At this point, if an L-400 needs repair you have a choice of finding replacement parts online and taking them and your lock to a locksmith, finding the parts and repairing it yourself, or replacing your L-400 with a non-original lock of dubious fitment. Alternatively, you can search for a new-old-stock (NOS) L-400 online. They do come up, but given the prices, you’d think they were made of solid gold rather than pot metal. Still, if you’re a motivated buyer…

Of course, many vintage trailer owners are keen to keep theirs original, and the only lock that will do is a working L-400 (it’s part of the history, right?). So here’s some L-400 information that may help you fix yours.

Note tip of handle is wearing away. Will not properly connect with bolt assembly.

Good handle. No wear at tip, but missing nylon bushing.

The Bargman L-400 features a distinctive “paddle” handle design, and despite the lock’s generally low quality, many are still somewhat operational. The benefit of paddle handle designs, by the way, is that they fit flush with the exterior, which is certainly desirable on a camper. Despite their shortcomings, many Boler owners (me included) really prize a working L-400 for its period authenticity, and to be fair, the Bargman company likely didn’t envision people using them a half-century on. Consequently, for those who like the original look, finding or fixing an L-400 is a most satisfying occasion!

Making things complicated is the fact that there are two L-400 versions (at least, two that I have found). From the outside they look the same, but inside there are differences. Here we’ll just digress into some lock parts terminology (courtesy of the venerable Master Locksmiths Association’s “Glossary of Lock Terminology”).

Inside the L-400 you’ll find a bolt assembly consisting of a steel bar onto which a bolt is attached at one end. If you’re not sure what a “bolt” is, here’s the Master Locksmiths Associations’s eloquent definition:

“The part of a lock or latch which provides fastening or engagement by protruding from the case or forend to engage in the staple, striking plate, link, shackle or other member.”

The two bolt assemblies. 050 and 051

Got that? For us lay people, the bolt is the bit that sticks out of the door, flat on one side, curved on the other. It’s permanently cast to the stamped metal bar and together they’re called the bolt assembly. If you need a new bolt, you must get a new bolt assembly. They come as one.

Another bit to know about is the shank assembly. It’s the piece that attaches to the handle that causes the bolt assembly to move in and out (find it on the exploded diagram below, parts 8-1 and 12-1).

Okay, so the replaceable internal differences between the two L-400 versions are the bolt assemblies and the shank assemblies. One L-400 model has a Bargman part number 10-40-050 bolt assembly and the other has a 10-40-051 bolt assembly. The numbers are stamped on them, and they share the same lockbody 10-40-010.

Each version of the bolt assembly has a corresponding shank assembly and locking mechanism associated with it. In other words, you can’t replace a 10-40-050 bolt assembly with a 10-40-51 bolt assembly. You have to have the right one, as even if you change the corresponding shank assembly, it still won’t fit the locking mechanism (which is replaceable — one is included in a repair kit pictured below — although I’ve yet to determine how). We know from repair kits that Bargman updated the shank, bolt and locking components in 1984, so these two L-400 versions represent locks made pre-and post-1984. This means the majority of bolt assemblies for Bolers will be 10-40-050 because the majority of Bolers were built before 1984. Both L-400 versions will fit all Bolers, though. As I say, they are externally identical.

Grey painted Bargman L-400

You may also find a later-build (post 1984) L-400 distinguished by being finished in a gloss light grey paint as opposed to the chromed versions found on most, if not all, Bolers. The finish is a purely cosmetic difference. Should you come across one of these, it’s exactly the same lock and dimensions as the chrome version, and will be a perfectly adequate, if not a perfectly original replacement. Then again, you may rather have a correct, working NOS grey L-400 as opposed to a nonstandard replacement that will likely require you to cut into your door to install.

In my journey of L-400 discovery I’ve determined that there are two specific parts of this lock that will fail over time. These are the bolt and the paddle handle. Both fail by wearing away so that they can no longer make adequate contact with contiguous parts. In the case of the bolt, it wears away so that it no longer engages with the striker plate in the doorframe. The result is that your door won’t lock or stay closed (this is a result of the cheap soft metal used for the bolt. If it had been made of brass, it would have held its shape forever).

Failing bolt

Badly worn bolt (top) compared with new bolt

In the case of the handle (see images above), there is a metal protuberance on the back that is designed to capture the bolt assembly and move it sideways so that the bolt goes in and out of the lock (again, thus enabling your door to open and stay shut). Like the bolt, the metal on the back of the handle wears away and it simply loses sufficient contact with the bolt assembly. An indication that this failure is imminent is a paddle handle that has a lot of play. It seems completely loose; you can maybe pull it out a half-inch before you feel the bolt assembly moving, but even then, it may not move much.

In both cases – the bolt and the paddle handle – replacement is the only option if they’re sufficiently worn. To the best of my knowledge, they cannot be fixed. But if you can source NOS replacements for the offending parts, you may get that lock working again.

You don’t have to remove the lock from your trailer to determine if it needs these parts. Look at the bolt. All worn down at the tip? It’s toast. And operate the paddle handle. If it’s got lots of play and the bolt barely moves, you’ll need one of those, too (they come up on ebay occasionally for about $35.00, although price varies with demand).

Then there is the key cylinder. They seem quite long-lived, but if the cylinder simply won’t turn, maybe yours has failed (or it could just need some light oil). The good news is that these seem to have more availability than the other L-400 parts (at least, I’ve come across a half-dozen without looking hard). It should go without saying, though, that if you find a replacement cylinder, it needs its key! The keys are not interchangeable although each keyset is not necessarily unique to its cylinder. I suspect that Boler made several cylinder/key combinations reducing, but not eliminating, the chance that your key would work in your neighbour’s Boler.

The keys should come in pairs with a small numbered metal disc identifying them. I currently have key cylinder PK504, PK 876, PK570 (tellingly, two sets of those), along with the corresponding keys. More good news is that if you find a complete NOS lock, it will come with its keys (or it should!). If it doesn’t, it’s possible that a good locksmith could make keys that do the job (but it won’t have the distinctive “B” for Bargman on them). Changing the key cylinder, however, is a not job for those easily upset by small, fiddly, willfully uncooperative devices (I felt my BP go up just thinking about this…).

Repair kit

There’s yet more good news, though. As alluded to above, Bargman made repair kits for the L-400. Last year, I purchased one of these on ebay for $75.00 US (about $900 Canadian). Okay, I exaggerate…. a little. But there was also shipping, customs, exchange, handling, brokerage fees, administration, bribes, tips and taxes to consider, which, you know, irks. Anyway, after arranging financing I was delighted to find that the repair kit is a treasure trove of L-400 lock parts that included both bolt assembly versions and a keyset, along with a replacement spring, clips, the two shanks, screws and a substantial and finely constructed striker plate that in no way can be made to fit the door frame of a Boler. But good on Bargman for making at least one item of lasting quality.

The repair kit I bought came in a plastic bag with a particularly useful exploded lock diagram stapled to it. “Bargman Replacement Parts for L-400 Door Lock,” it says. Another version arrives in a green plastic bag but it only says “Repair Kit” on it, along with the Bargman part number 11-40-302.

Bargman Repair Kit

14-40-902 repair kit with locking mechanism

Clearly these repair kits were made post 1984 because they both include the two bolt assemblies. A third kit, 14-40-902 includes all the parts plus a lock mechanism (it’s below the spring in the picture). If you see any of these kits for sale, just hold your nose and pay.

I’ll get to lubrication in a moment, but first I want to talk about removal, which is a piece of cake. There are two screws in the lock body and two more at the bolt. Carefully remove the screws ensuring that in no way do they make unintended contact with the ground, then pull the inside plate with the conventional lever handle away from the door (don’t worry, it’s not going to explode into a hundred bits in your hand). The main part of the lockset with the paddle handle will then be completely unattached so you can take the screws and the lock to your fully provisioned machine shop with programmable hi-tech lathes, drills and presses, or to the nearest picnic table.

Take a look at the lock. You’ll see a spring, and the back end of the bolt assembly (you should be able to identify the number) and the locking mechanism. If you move the paddle handle, you should see the bolt assembly slide and the bolt move in and out of the lockset body. You may also see that the whole thing is gummed up with old grease, dirt, corrosion and maybe a deceased insect or two. Without going any further you could spray some WD-40 on the works and clean it up with a cloth. Just doing that could help, at which point you could reinstall the L-400, run into the house and yell, “Honey, I fixed the Boler lock!”

The works, showing locking mechanism, spring, and tip of paddle handle engaged with bolt assembly.

This is always impressive, especially when there’s noticeable improvement. However, in the case of these locks, it probably requires disassembly and parts replacement, which actually is nowhere near as daunting as you might imagine (then again, I habitually own vintage British sports cars and have therefore built up a tolerance for mechanical absurdities.

First thing to do is take some pictures of your L-400 as a reference for how it’s supposed to look when reassembled. Yes, you’re going to be careful taking it apart and it will seem an easy thing to simply reverse the order when reassembling, but a guide never hurts, especially as there are several parts and C-clips to manage. Notice where things are, and locate the metal protuberance (mentioned above, which probably has an actual locksmithy name other than “protuberance” but was not singled out by the Master Locksmiths Association. I plan on writing a letter.).

Handle pin. Punch from this side.

Assuming you’ve acquired a replacement bolt assembly and paddle handle if required, the key (no pun intended) to replacing the bolt assembly is to remove the handle first. This is accomplished by dislodging the pin that holds the handle in place, one end of which is slightly fatter and knurled. You’ll want a punch and a small hammer and you’ll punch from the end that’s not knurled.

Handle pin, knurled end

A few taps and you’ll see the pin emerge, then drop into your hand (it’s only knurled for about a half-inch). Now, one caveat here… with the handle out of the way, you’ll see that the shank assembly passes through the main lock body and is secured to it with a tiny clip. You’ll have to remove that clip to unfasten the shank, which will permit you to remove the shank, spring and the bolt assembly. Come to think of it, I think that the operation of the whole darned lock is dependent on that tiny clip. Don’t lose it!

Additionally, take a look at the handle now that it’s removed, and you’ll notice two nylon bushings that stabilize the pin (pictured above). If you’re not re-using the handle, save the bushings as you might need them for your replacement.

With the handle removed, you can slide the old bolt assembly out, clean everything up, add some grease, slide in the new bolt assembly, position its spring and replace the shank. Check for correct operation.

There will be some tension on the spring when you replace the handle, so you’ll need to hold everything in place with one hand, and position the pin to drive it back in with your two other hands. Finally, fitting the tiny clip back on to the shank with the handle in place may be challenging.

Voilà! Almost fixed!

In the event that you have, and are replacing the key cylinder, this would not be the time to do it as you’ll certainly need a massage and a good night’s sleep. However, when you tackle the cylinder, you will likely be completely mystified as to how removing it could even be possible. Examining the L-400, there appears to be no obvious access point from the lockset body to the cylinder at all.

Key cylinder with keys. That’s the top of the cylinder (the flat edge of the key) you’re looking at.

Key cylinder internal spring

Without exaggeration, this took me days to figure out. Perhaps this technology is an everyday part of the locksmith world, but it sure isn’t part of mine and honestly, I think even British automobile engineers would be impressed at the devilish level of obscurity and challenge built into this lock when it comes to removing the L-400 key cylinder. Assuming the L-400 wasn’t deliberately designed to prevent owners from fixing them (which, let’s face it, could be the case). But assuming Bargman isn’t completely malicious, there really is only one way to change this cylinder, and the solution, as with many things in life, is to approach it from the rear. The cylinder, as you can see in the images, contains a number of brass discs (or plates), one of which is taller than the others. Viewing from another angle, you can see a tiny circular component beneath the tall one, which is a spring. By pressing on the tall disc it can be made flush with the cylinder body. Here resides the solution to the cylinder’s removal.

Your task, should you accept, is to fashion a very thin metal probe (I used a long, skinny nail…) to fit in the miniscule space between the failed key cylinder and the lock body and manipulate it in such a way as to push the disc into the

Note the flash of brass at nine o’clock.. That’s what you have to push in.

cylinder, freeing it from the slot in the lock body that holds it in place (it’s another three-handed job). Thus achieved, the old key cylinder will willingly slide out. This, in and of itself, is cause for champagne and a large party because people of a certain age can’t even see the brass disc buried deep in the recesses of the lockset without a flashlight and high-powered reading glasses.

But wait, as they say, there is more, and this is the time and place where character is truly built because getting the new cylinder in is actually harder than getting the old one out. Really, it’s ridiculous. I would suggest meditation or at least the rest of the champagne as preparation.

Here’s some important advice, though. First of all, it can be done. Secondly, don’t make the mistake of putting the cylinder in upside-down. Unfortunately, it will happily fit that way (ask me how I know this…). If you do make this mistake, it’ll still work, but you’ll have to put your key in upside-down to lock the door, which will become an idiosyncrasy of your particular Boler that will cause future owners to obsessively contemplate revisiting your excellent if flawed work on the L-400. (Okay, I fixed the upside-down key cylinder and it was easy now that I know how. I used a super-thin tweezer from a watch repair kit, so maybe I exaggerated a bit…).

One more thing. I mentioned earlier the nicely constructed striker plate. There are two striker plates supplied in the repair kit, actually… one for the doorframe and one for the door.

Door striker plate that comes with Bargman repair kit. Won’t fit your Boler!

OE Boler striker plate of dubious quality, but it fits so hang on to it!

Note that neither of the striker plates supplied in the repair kits fit Bolers. Here are pictures of the replacement repair kit striker plate for the door, and the cheesy striker plate that’s in my door, likely produced by our friends at Boler back in the day. As mentioned above, this plate is an important component as it enables you to secure the front of the the lock to the door with two short screws. A nicer plate would have been appreciated and I guess if you know what you’re doing with metal, you could make a better one. Anyway, just for comparison purposes, here’s the Bargman door striker plate on the left, and our jerry-built “original equipment” striker plate. If you do get a NOS lock or repair kit, don’t toss the existing striker plate!

Well, that’s about it, folks. That is my data dump. I think I’ve pretty much got the measure of the humble Bargman L-400. Now tell me there’s another way to get that cylinder out…

NOS Bargman L-400 lock with keys.

Copyright Text and images: Paul Williams, 2017

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