A few years ago a Studebaker Sprinkler Wagon arrived at our shop in a rather sorry state. The customer had removed the tank from the gear and sent it out to be rebuilt as it was badly rotted in places. Parts of the linkage along with the tool box and footboard had been left in their shop however when the tank returned, they had gone missing. Add to this the fact that the pots were seized and the wooden bunks under the gear were rotted. The whole thing had been sitting for a year or more and the wood in the unfinished tank had shrunk revealing some nasty cracks. Our mission was to return the unit to working condition.
Studbaker Project photos by Terry Bailey on Flickr via SlideMyPics
We first did some research. We found that these wagons were quite plentiful in the late 1800’s. We managed to track down a copy of the original 1893 sales brochure from the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana and in it was a photograph showing 18 of these units hooked up and ready to go to work in Salt Lake City. They were used mainly for spraying down city streets for dust control and for road building although should the buyer decide to use it for irrigation in parks, “lawn shoes” were available for your horses so they didn’t tear up the turf. They were available in 500 to 1000 gallon tank sizes and in the brochure it was stated “Tanks are made of Cypress unless otherwise ordered.” Ours was a 600 gallon model but the wood used to rebuild this tank was of dubious quality, knots being very plentiful throughout. Thanks to the Oregon Historical Society we also managed to track down a detailed drawing from which we were able to figure out what was missing and how the whole thing should work. They also provided us with a picture which enabled us to match the original colours of the unit. The unit had a brass tag bearing the name Niagara. Our research revealed that Niagara was the name of the foundry that made the brass castings and they are still in business today. The sprinkler system itself was marketed as (and I’m not making this up) the Winkler Sprinkler System. Winkler was later bought by Studebaker and they marketed the system as their own. You might ask where all these wagons disappeared to if they were so plentiful. Well many would have been converted for road building, the tongues being cut off so they could be pulled by motorized vehicles. After they were no longer serviceable they would have been left to rot like most horse drawn equipment. Then of course there were two world wars that gobbled up all the scrap metal that was available.
First we had to get the tank sealed up. To do this we took it into a shop that sprayed box liners. It turns out they had a “little person” on staff whose moniker was “Liquid” and he was able to get inside the tank and spray it. Our next step was to start replacing all the wood in the gear but before we did this we took many digital photographs. The front platform is like a jig saw puzzle and the whole thing had to come apart. An interesting thing that we noted was the steel rails had the name “Carnegie” molded into them. Carnegie Steel was a big manufacturer at the turn of the century and this gave us an indication of the age of our patient. While the reconstruction of the gear was underway, we turned an eye to the problem of freeing up the seized sprinkler pots. They were brass and we didn’t want to use a lot of heat. Our pal Jesse, a heavy duty mechanic and welder suggested soaking them in diesel fuel as it is a magnificent penetrating fluid. “Just put them in a pail of it and walk away for about three days” he said. He was right! When we pulled them out we were able to operate the mechanism by hand. When we had them apart to give them a thorough cleaning we noticed a date stamp on the housing. It said “July 26, 1892.” It was like opening a time capsule.
It’s a project like this that taxes your resources and skills to the limit. Research, woodwork, iron work, painting, problem solving. It was a real challenge. At one point we had every flat surface in our shop covered with metal parts for painting. Jesse even got into the fray as we put him to work fabricating the parts of the missing linkage. We made a new cover for the hatch as the old one was pretty ratty and was missing the elbow and filler hose that attached to it. The sales brochure showed a water lever indicator as an available option so we made and installed one of those. We made new metal rods that the pots mounted to as the ones on it were bent from the wagon being backed into something at some point in time. However some bend was original as this allowed adjustment of the pots to change the direction of the spray, we just had to figure out just how much was desirable.
Then came the finishing touches. We found an advertisement that showed the lettering on the back of the tank. We took this to a sign maker and had a mask made of it. After spraying the lettering on, Dale’s wife Marsha undertook the task of touching up the little inconsistencies that showed up after the mask was removed. The wagon was last used with a fixed neck yoke but the pole was fixed as well and that put a lot pressure on the horses as the grade being traveled changed. So as per the original set up, we added rings and chains to the nose of the pole to alleviate this problem. 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 just couldn’t resist taking her for a little road test. We hooked one of our own teams and spent an afternoon putting through several loads of water. Although it looks kind of complicated, when it’s all hooked up and working properly, it is quite easy to operate. The foot pedals open the valves in the pots and the levers rotate a collar on the pot that controls volume of water being applied. It’s all gravity feed and just that easy!
Last week I was at the park on another matter and I spoke to Chris, one of the teamsters there. The subject of the Studebaker came up and he said, “You know the sweetest thing that you guys did when you rebuilt the wagon was putting on that filler hose. One of my first recollections of working at the park is of standing on the platform trying to hold the fire hose while we filled the tank. It was quite a job and once it even got away from us. The hose was like a live thing, spraying water all over the place. We were getting soaked, the horses were getting cranked up, and there was quite a commotion”. I can just imagine.
Well it went to work every day this past summer and Chris told me the system worked so well that the teamsters even had an ongoing competition to see who could do the most work with a load of water and one told me “I try and see how close I can get to peoples shoes before they jump away from the spray”. I guess it’s quite a sight as it works around the park spraying down the roads for dust control, much as they did in years gone by. But for us, the image that comes to mind when the subject of the Studebaker is brought up is that date stamp, July 26, 1892.