Wilson’s Traveling Sprinkler

I collect old stuff; mostly because it reminds me of my youth.
Sometimes, my collections begin because the focus of the collection
is just so darn cool. I recently began a collection because of the
coolness factor.
I like mechanical things. I like to understand what I use in my daily
life and so many things are now computerized and beyond my
comprehension. Mechanical things can be taken apart and understood
one system at a time which is comforting to me.
The “Automatic Traveling Sprinkler” was born in 1930 from the mind of
John Wilson. Wilson was the engineer, and custodian, who invented a
small tractor that was driven by water as it sprinkled the lawn.
Wilson used the invention to water the lawn at the high school where
he worked as a janitor. The tractor was made with a large convex
front tire which straddled a garden hose and would follow any path
laid out by the placement of the hose. The “Wilson Automotive
Sprinkler Company” planned a production start in North Platte,
Nebraska sometime in the forties but World War Two needed most of the
nation’s metal so production could not begin in earnest. John Wilson
died in 1946. A company named National Manufacturing picked up
Wilson’s patent after it expired in 1960 and has since made a
sprinkler similar to Wilson’s creation.
I got my traveling sprinkler from an internet auction site. I have
wanted one of these traveling sprinklers for years but they are often
expensive. The reason for the expense has many facets. First off,
there are collectors who want to add traveling sprinklers to their
collection. Secondly, the company is still in existence and making
the sprinklers and parts so these sprinklers are still useable.
Thirdly, the sprinklers are about 32 pounds of steel and toughness so
they are worth more than the lighter plastic versions which are sold
currently. I feel I paid about the right money for mine which made me
Now about that coolness factor; this little traveling sprinkler looks
like an old steam tractor or maybe a Rumely Oil Pull. I like the
chunkiness of the main structure and the unflinching use of steel and
heft in a time when the cost of shipping didn’t drive every decision.
This little sprinkler was made to last and give years of service. I
would guess it was built more for the urban resident than for rural
families as most people on the farm probably focused more on crop
production than their lawn. However the shape, form and design remind
me of a tractor made to be delivered to a farm with a requirement for
minimal service.
My particular model is the A-5 which appears to be the base model.
It is currently advertised as the perfect size for the average
homeowner however I just bought it for show. I may test it but only
for my own curiosity. I didn’t purchase Wilson’s automatic sprinkler
to increase our lawn’s rate of growth; it just makes me feel good to
look at it.

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