Studebaker Sprinkler Wagon

circa 1910

Completed May 2010

This is my all-time favourite wagon that I have ever built. Perhaps I developed Stockholm syndrome with it as I faced the many challenges presented?

Seemingly, as with most other parts of this wagon, I really battled to make the springs of the driver's seat. I had to keep redoing the ends as they simply would not solder correctly and kept breaking off. Then my soldering iron packed up….. Eventually, I stopped trying to fix the springs and simply sanded everythngto look relatively smooth. At least they were to be painted, and there would be a number of other bits to look at too, so hopefully these flops would not be THAT obvious.

However.... they were not right and I had to remake the whole lot.

I had been so intent on not messing up the springs, that I did not SEE what I was looking at when making the u-bolts. On the photo one can clearly be seen that the u-bolts sit on either side and parallel to each of the spring sets.

Making the 5th Wheel

Initially this gave me a headache because Ivan Collins’ plans are not too clear and I have never seen a 5th wheel. Fortunately for me, Kenneth A Larson ( went and took some photos for me – without which, I probably would have given up on this model PLUS I got some help from the guys on the forum.

(Not much to say as to how I made this. Some sawing, lots of filing, some fitting, more filing, lots of sanding, more fitting, more sanding….)

Here are photos of the pieces, and then of the pieces dry-fitted..

The rims had their own set of challenges. After I had planed a Jelutong plank down to size, I popped it on a jig and turned them out on the lathe.

Using the rod I had made, I proceeded to cut the hubs.

Working with Jelutong proved to be much easier than pine, but had its own share of problems. Parts of the Jelutong was porous and my lathe work chipped because of the gaps. The first one took an hour and a half to make, the second one an hour, the 3rd 45 minutes, the last only 30! Proving that practice makes perfect.

In the 1870's, Studebaker and Wrinkler Brothers, both of South Bend Indiana, were the most active in producing Sprinklers, which were used for watering streets, parks, racetracks, gardens, lawns and plants.

Their size ranged from 175 to 1000 gal. The most popular were in the 250 to 750 gal. range. The Sprinklers were fitted with a fifth wheel that balanced the tank and allowed 90 -degree turns. They weighed from 2,300 lbs. - 3600 lbs. empty. The Studebaker Sprinkler, considered top of the line, featured an assembly that could deliver a spray 30 feet in width and adjust to eight different volumes from light to heavy. Studebaker Sprinkler tanks were made of Tidewater Cypress in a horseshoe shape (circular on top, flat on the bottom).

In 1899, Studebaker purchased the Wrinkler system for the sum of $25,000.


In days gone by, sprinkler wagons were used to wet down the dust of the roads and Studebaker was the leading seller of Sprinkler Wagons by 1910.

2. not being able to see/touch the actual vehicle. I started my research in 2005 (whilst still busy with other models). Little did I know that it would be three years before I would start on drawing the components!

I saw a photo of a Studebaker Sprinkler Wagon and immediately added it to my “Want to build” list. I found and purchased plans online but soon realised the challenges posed by:

1. working from Ivan Collins’ plans, (he did not draw them for resale but for his own reference and use, so some of the details are missing – on some plans more so than on others) and

The internet is a wonderful place, pity there are so many schmucks on it too. No-one I contacted wanted to help me. In fact, most people I emailed simply ignored my requests for information. I was very happy when, after enquiring about a wagon I saw on his site (,  Kenneth Larson mailed back and said he might be going that way again sometime and, IF he did go, he’d take some more photos for me.

Time went by (so much time that I had almost shelved the plans as undoable) when I received mail from Ken. He’d taken and posted some photos for me! (1 year 10 months later). I was ecstatic that he had remembered.

I completed my Helgoland ship model and started on the Studebaker Sprinkler Wagon on 5 May 2008. (Yes, I keep a time log so that I will know EXACTLY how long the model took to complete This time does not include research time).

I took the plans, which were in 1/8th scale and, copying them at 80%, scaled them from 1/8 to 1/10 (my standard working scale, so that all my models are the same relative size).

Then I started analyzing the drawings, and referring to the many photos I had gathered, I drew each component in isolation – as is my custom. (Except nuts and bolts). This helps me understand the construction before I start, and to plan how I am going to tackle the project.

At one stage I got VERY confused - not knowing what I had already drawn and what still needed to be drawn. I then decided to shade the drawn parts, and the rest obviously still had to be drawn. 

I started on the wheels because I find them to be the most tedious to make.

Because of the metal flanges on the sides, I opted to make the hubs from wood. I bought a dozen beers, and went to use my buddy’s lathe. Unfortunately, the thin part of the wheel broke because the wood grain was wrong for the thinness of the side wall, and I was using pine.

I then took a Jelutong plank (I am going to build the model from Jelutong), cut some discs from it, and constructed a rod with the grain lying in the right direction to give a stronger sidewall despite a thinner cut.

I forgot to take the diameter of the metal rod on the inside into account, resulting in some near close cuts - and HOLES!

Putting the hubs back on the metal rod, I filled the gaps with wood filler and worked the hubs  to the required finish and dimensions using sandpaper and needle files.

(If ever there was a question as to whether or not this model is going to be painted, that question was no longer a question).

Next I made the flanges and glued them in place.

Needless to say, I could not complete the hubs on the lathe. At least I got this much done!

This is how I overcame the problem of the holes…. (there was not a chance that was I going to remake them).

There was still the problem of the porosity (which is evidenced by the rough edges on the photos above).

I tried some wood surfaces/primer on a spare piece of timber to see if it would smooth the roughness but this did not work.

I then took some wood filler, thinned it (using water) to the consistency of tea, and painted the hubs with that.

Then I let it dry overnight, gave each hub a light sanding, and then dipped them all in sanding sealant and left them to dry again.

The aim was to get a smooth enough finish that looked like metal when complete.

The wagon that I had plans for had metal hubs, but I had used wood because of the fancy flanges on the inside part of the hub. (My silver soldering skills were still lacking). Besides, I intended to paint the entire model, which would also serve to hide any patch-up work.

On to making the spokes.

Having cut 64 blocks of wood for the spokes (16 per wheel), I carefully measured, and sanded the points. However, I soon realised that I should not have cut them 2mm oversize as it would be a lot of work filing this little lot to size, (have I mentioned that wheels are tedious to make?) so I re-cut all the spokes to final size, leaving only 0.5mm oversize to allow for filing.


Eventually, I got around to shaping the 3x5mm spokes.  How I did this was as follows:

  1. Cut planks 5x5mmxlength. 
  2. Made a mark where the hub will cover to, and another mark 5mm from that to allow for the "curve" as the one spoke comes out of the hub and “joins” the one next to it.
  3. Then I filed the edges from the 2nd mark, all the way to the end of the spoke – using a needle file.
  4. I then took sandpaper and filed the wood round and smooth, ensuring a smooth, flowing transition over the 2nd mark.

This method might be primitive, but it seemed to work and I had never had the privilege of watching anyone else make spokes.

To fit the spokes to the hubs, I started by maing a basic jig. (Jigs make my life easier!)




I took some short cuts at this point. I first inserted half the spokes as-is using the jig I had made.

Then I made a drawing to show how the spokes will overlap and marked off how to file the tip of each spoke.

I filed the tips off the remaining spokes to fit between the already fitted spokes. I used LOTS of glue to hold it all together (one can’t see the glue anyway).

Only once I had started fitting the spokes to the hubs did I notice some irregularities in them. When I initially made the spokes, I had started with the front ones, and improving as I progressed. RESULT: the rear ones were as they should be, but the front ones had to be touched up to look like the rear.

Eventually, I had all the spokes fitted..

The spokes and hubs had proven to be quite a challenge, so I made the wagon bed before moving on to finishing the wheels. 

(Clearly, I still had much to learn about  photograping my models!)

However, the cutting tool was not true and I ended up with an angled rim.

So I made a simple contraption and sanded the edges round.

So I set about cutting the final bit through, using a jeweller’s scroll saw.

These wheels were a headache as not only was the inner surface also angled, but the one rear wheel rim broke.

I was going to attempt to make the rims from separate pieces of timber glued together (as illustrated in JT’s book “Making Model Carriages” p48), when my buddy arrived at my house and handed me a set of semi-cut wheels!! He had decided to give the previous method one more try. What a lovely surprise!!

The method had worked after all and all that remained was for me to cut them out, sand them down, and....VIOLA! Rims.

Wheel Construction

  1. Taking a piece of melamine, I marked a cross on it and scribed two circles – one for the inner diameter of the front wheel, the other for the inner diameter of the rear wheel.
  2. I then drilled a hole in the centre having the size of the hub, and countersunk the edges to accommodate the hub flanges.
  3. I then cut the edge off the melamine in line with the outer circle and sanded the tip of each spoke until the drawn circle.
  4. I cut the melamine again and repeated the same process for the front spokes.
  5. After further manual filing and fitting, I eventually got a perfect fit and glued it all together. Then some cut-off dressmaker’s pins for studs… and ….. WHEELS!


Making and fitting the axles:

These were relatively easy to make. I made them entirely by hand – no machines used. However, the challenge was to marry them to the wheels, which if you will recall had oversized centre holes? This is how I overcame that challenge:  simply cut bushes on the lathe and fitted them to take up the slack. 

I used polyethylene instead of styrene (as suggested) to make the metal rings, and the spacers.

Because this is going to be a painted model, because I got lazy, and because a hobby is to be relaxing and this was was giving me far too much stress, I used wood to make some of the long metal strips.

This I did by cutting, filing and sanding strips of wood to the correct size, then soaking them in hot water, before clamping them in position. The rest is simple to figure out.

However, I did make the rest of the 5th wheel’s metal pieces from metal......

Making the springs

I had loads of 1mm x 10mm brass strips, so I decided to use this instead of mild steel.

I first measured and cut each leaf of four sets – keeping each separate.

then, because cutting 10mmx1mm brass strips using a tins snips results in curls at the ends, I had to “help” them back in shape using a hammer.

The mistake is very clear to see. (Pictured above L-R: original, flops, correct one.

I had made them to run diagonally to the spring sets. Result: not only were they too wide, but they were also too short to fit they way they should do, and I had to throw those away and make a new set. 

During the process, I referred to a photo (taken by Ken Larson for me) a few times. Each u-bolt, though made from plastic, took roughly an hour to make. Needle files were too harsh and I used flexible emery boards of varying grit to get the final u-bolts.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic when all 8 were completed (barring some final shaping, smoothing, etc).

Eventually, after four months, with the spring leaf sets finally completed, I got to making the making the u-bolts for holding the springs to the axles, opting to use a very hard plastic.

Then to file them all to the same width (i.e. 7mm), I took a piece of 

timber, sawed a piece away on the side it to give a “pocket” of 7mm, and by inserting each strip one at a time, and marking each with a scribe, I was able to mark each one to the same width - a lot easier than measuring and marking one by one.

Then to the grinder….

This resulted in a mess. [Note to self: never use a grinder to file down 1mm thick brass!]

I tried silver soldering all the spring blades together so that I could remove the securing nut and bolt in each set. Fortunately I practiced on a lot of scrap! Eventually I concluded that the LP gas soldering setup I had is not potent enough to solder the bunch of brass leaves in the springs. 

I then turned the stainless steel hex bolt and nut around so that the hex bolt head is at the bottom, applied some thread locking liquid to the nut, and used my Dremel to grind the nut and protruding bolt thread down to 0.15mm. I took one down to 0.1mm but it  was too thin and so the whole set of spring blades popped apart. Obviously I simply replaced the nut and bolt and redid the process. (Obviously I was experimenting with some macro photography below!)

I then tried a fine fret saw but the blades kept breaking.

So I used a hack saw,  needle files and good old fashioned elbow grease.

After I had filed and sanded them all correctly, I could start making the end loops.

I am of the opinion that making springs can be more frustrating than making wheels! However, challenges are what keep us on our toes and improving from one model to the next.


Anyway, on with the build....


To make the loops at the end of the spring blades, I first made a little lip at the end of the strip of metal. This helps when bending the final tip of it. Then I beat the metal around a metal rod that had the required diameter of the axle that would eventually go through the loop. After some panel beating and bending with long nose pliers, I ended up with the end looped!

Then for shaping the blades…..

I first bent the blades around a smallish bottle before bending them around an old piston that I got from somewhere (long ago) and helping things along with my trusty hammer.
I did not want to anneal them, as I was concerned that this might result in the springs being too weak to support the weight of the completed model.

After having bent the longest blades of the rear set, I realized that they were too short and I had to remake them.

Eventually, I had 4 sets of bent blades. But the curve was not right yet. They were too round.


At that point, I lost my nerve. I procrastinated for many moons and did not touch the model for fear of messing up what I had done till that point. I tried using a mould-block method, but this made things worse. I had to remake 4 blades.

So I took a 2.5mm nut and bolt, put it through the centre of each spring set, and clamped each spring set in my vice and bent and twisted each one until I eventually had a shape that matched to what I saw on the plans.

Before finally fastening each spring set, I trimmed the edges of each blade.. 

That’s it. Problem solved. I made a hole in each spring and axle block to accommodate the hex bolt heads. VIOLA!! Problem solved. No more visible hex bolt-head.

With hindsight, comes wisdom, so I decided to use brass to remake the U-bolts. 

This time, I also concentrated on the photo!!! I felt more comfortable with brass U-bolts! In fact, making them from brass took less time than it had taken to make them from plastic!!


Then the other little bits….

POINT OF NOTE: I had dreaded the thought of all the filing and stuff to make the springs from brass, but in the end, it was a very satisfactory exercise. And I enjoyed it too!

To the right, the recess for hidng the bolt head in the spring pack in the axle block can be seen.

The water tank.

Having built plank-on-frame ship models in the past, I decided to use the same methodology for the water tank.

 First off, I made a frame from pine and balsawood. (This was a memory from when I used to belong to a ship model society). Cutting enough planks (9 x 1.5 x 250mm) was quite hair raising as, for the first time, I used my semi-industrial table saw without a guard to do this fine cutting. (I know… I know…. In fact, it had already nipped me once – not serious though).

For the front ad back, I made a template that I glued a lot of planks to before cutting them out  and filing them to shape.The rest was easy. No real challenge to this part, except for keeping my fingers intact!

(The last photo above shows that wood filler is my friend! It helps smooth things out!)

Here’s what I call my “feel good exercise”. Just for the heck of it, I very carefully dry-fitted all the bits (except for the small parts), to get a feel for what the wagon will look like, it’s size, PLUS to encourage myself!

Tank fittings

Once again, I am so glad I found Ken Larson’s website ( and that he then went and photographed the Studebaker for me! It enabled me to see detail that I otherwise would have missed.

This is the place where they put the water in (whatever that might be called!!)

I did not have 1mm shim stock, and it is going to be painted anyway, so I used plastic from an ice cream tub. Worked a dream…. I just hope the superglue lasts longer than I do.


Once again, I am so glad I found Ken Larson’s website ( and that he then went and photographed the Studebaker for me! It enabled me to see the detail, without which, I would never have been able to build this model.

Tank fittings

One of two side steps and brackets

Tap (Wood carved)

Grab rails

Braking mechanism.

No short cuts taken this time!! In fact, I had starting to get the hang of working with metal and really enjoyed myself.

Nothing fancy in getting these made. They were mainly made through sheer patience, using my dremel, files, dental burs, and my trusty 3rd-hand for soldering.

Sprinkler head and mechanism.

This is where I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY valued Ken’s willingness to take photos for me. He went back a second time for me - just to measure and photograph the sprinkler heads. The Ivan Collins plans were a mystery and severely lack detail in this area. 


(Once again my reference to his site  (well worth seeing), and Ken’s photos of the Studebaker sprinkler wagon can be seen at

This time, I opted to make the components from wood instead of metal simply because I feel more comfortable working with wood. I used an indigenous South African wood called Imbuia, which is a hardwood..

The water hose:

I bought a piece of bull denim as it seemed to have the closest look to what I wanted. I also bought some invisible thread (It’s actually very, very thin fishing nylon, but it is used when sewing calls for discretion).

I cut a strip to the required size and threaded it with the invisible thread. Getting as smooth a finish as possible.  I then smoothed this with wood glue to seal all the edges and prevent fraying.

Sprinkler head

Water outlet below the tank

It was at this point that, I decided that I was going to paint my wagon (hahaha!!) according to the colour scheme of the one standing at Mackinac Island (I saw it on the web and liked the way it looks).

The following parts works with the pedals and particularly had me baffled because they were mere scribblings on the plans. This is the mechanism that opens/closes the water flow.

Pedals for sprinkler mechanism

Levers that opens the water release

Attach to these rods, which are then attached to the pedals.

Tank strapping

I cut the head out of brass on my Unimat lathe. I then cut a groove at the end and filled this with wood glue. I shoved the end of the pipe down over this and allowed to set overnight. 

Then I drilled a small hole through the end of the head, and after securing it with some invisible thread, I added a dab of glue to hold it all together.

Obviously being the easier option, I made the strap securing points from wood, which I glued (using cyanoacrylate) to the chromadec straps after having cut and shaped them.

I soaked the hose overnight in some black coffee to get the desired colour, and then rinsed it to get rid of the stickiness. Note that I scrunched it into a small container so as to give it a used, old, wrinkled look.

From here on out, it was plain sailing to the finish, so I'll tell this part mainly in pictures.

Making and fitting the tyres

After having airbrushed the tyres red, I cut and shaped the tyres using mild steel, silver soldered the tips together, makingthemever so slightlysmaller than the rim. Then I heated them using a light flame and pressed themover the rims. This is the same method actual wagon wheels were and are made.

Then I carefully sanded the tyres and hand brushed a coat of clear lacquer over  to preserve them.

Painting and Artwork

I had reached the point where I could start painting.

I applied a primer for non-ferrous metals to all the brass parts and a standard grey primer to all the wooden parts,followed by a LIGHT sanding of the primered wooden parts. I then gave the tank a proper coating of the same grey primer, as the final colur would be grey.


Doing the artwork was easy.

Having decided to use my own initiative regarding the artwork, as I did not exactly like the graphics on the back of Ivan Collins’ wagon. I still used an authentic Studebaker logo, but the rest was based on that of a wagon I had encountered in my research - one that took my fancy. It would seem as though people went accordig to their own liking in this regard. I even saw some without the genuine Studebaker logo!

I took some graphics and photos that I got off the internet, and trotted off to a printing shop. They designed (under my watchful eye) the layout and printed the vinyl stickers for me. I was in no way prepared to paint this by hand/airbrush!! 

Sprinkler Head Pipes

The pipes under the wagon had a "corrugated" look (I don't know how else to describe them) so I loosely wound some copper wire around a plastic tube, removed the tube, put the right sized heat shrink sleeving over, and heated it to get the desired look. 

After having peeled back the top, I pasted the negative on the model and airbrushed it.

The following pics show the sprinkler head metal parts and how I positioned them using a jig.

Finally, after the paint touchups, attaching the wheels and singletrees, I called it done.

A lot of people ask "but how long did <X> take to make?", so here is a breakdown in hours to the nearest 2 decimals: (I record in minutes)

  • drawing  25.84 hrs
  • wheels  24.37 hrs
  • spokemaking  31.17 hrs
  • painting  16.66 hrs
  • metal work  145.58 hrs
  • tank  12.25 hrs
  • sprinkler  24.5 hrs
  • sprinkler metalworks  32.58 hrs
  • general  110.83 hrs

Total in hrs: 423hrs, 45min.

I started working on this project on 5 May 2008, and completed it on 5 May 2010 (Yes, it took exactly 2years complete!). It is one I am particularly proud of.


Fitting tank on frame

Fitting fifth wheel

Fitting springs

Fitting sprinkler assembly

Fitting the water release pedals to the foot board and then that to the wagon

Fitting side steps, driver's seat, side hardware and brake pedal.

Fitting brake assembly