A few years ago a Studebaker Sprinkler Wagon arrived at our shop in a rather sorry state. Our mission, which we chose to accept, was to return it to working condition.
Because the wagon gear was so badly rotted in places, the tank had been removed and we needed to rebuild it, along with several pieces that had gone missing. The water pots were seized and the wooden bunks under the gear were rotted as well. Because the whole thing had been sitting for more than a year, the unfinished wood on the tank had also shrunk, revealing some nasty cracks.
Our first step was to do some research.
We managed to track down a copy of the original 1893 sales brochure from the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana. It showed eighteen of these units, quite popular in the late 1800s, hooked up and ready to work in Salt Lake City. Mainly used for road building and spraying streets for dust control, they were also used for irrigation in local parks. The brochure also said that units were available in 500- to 1000-gallon tank sizes and “tanks are made of Cypress (wood) unless otherwise ordered.”
Ours was a 600-gallon model but the wood used to rebuild this tank was of dubious quality, with knots throughout. Thanks to the Oregon Historical Society, we found a detailed drawing and picture, which helped us figure out what was missing, how the whole thing should work, as well as its original colours.
We took it to a shop that sprayed box liners to seal the tank. Then, we started replacing all the wood in the gear. The front platform is like a jigsaw puzzle and the whole thing had to come apart. We took many digital photographs for reference, so we could put them back together the right way. While the reconstruction of the gear was underway, we turned an eye to freeing up the seized sprinkler pots. They were brass and couldn’t take a lot of heat, so we soaked them in diesel fuel. After letting them sit for three days, we were able to operate the mechanism by hand. While we were giving them a thorough cleaning, we noticed a date stamp on the housing – July 26, 1892.
The whole project was like opening a time capsule.
It was a wainwright’s dream job! It combined research, woodwork, ironwork, wheelwork, fabricating painting and problem solving, all at the same time. At one point we had every flat surface in our shop covered with metal parts for painting.
Then came the finishing touches. An old advertisement showed the lettering on the back of the tank, so we spray-painted them back on. And we painted it in the original colours of cream for the tank and red gear. We topped things off with the addition of brass hame balls to the top of the levers for a little wagon bling and we were finished.
Sitting before us was just a little over 3200 pounds of history. With a full load of water it would weigh over 9000 pounds!
We couldn’t resist taking her for a little road test. Hooking up a team, we spent an afternoon putting through several loads of water. Although it looks kind of complicated, when working properly, it’s quite easy to operate. Foot pedals open the valves in the pots and the levers rotate a collar on the pot that controls the volume of water. It’s all gravity fed, so it’s really a slick machine.
Well, it went to work every day this past summer at Heritage Park in Calgary. The teamsters even had a competition to see who could go the furthest and do the most work with a load of water. You can imagine it’s quite a sight as it travels around the Park, spraying down the streets for dust control, such a common sight in years gone by.
A few interesting details:
- A brass tag with the word “Niagara” on the wagon sprinkler pots turned out to be the name of the foundry (still in business today) that made the brass castings.
- The sprinkler system itself was marketed as (I’m not making this up) the Winkler Sprinkler System.
- The steel rails had the name “Carnegie” molded into them. Carnegie Steel was a big steel manufacturer at the turn of the century and this gave us an indication of the age of our patient.