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With severe drought crippling a significant portion of the U.S. this summer, lawn irrigation is an art every Toolmonger with a yard has considered. While I don’t have an in-ground irrigation system, I’ve been somewhat successful using a few Nelson’s Raintrain traveling sprinklers. They can cover a significant portion of the average yard in the limited hours available for best watering, saving money and allowing you a full night’s sleep. However, just like any car or household machinery, these suburban practice farm machines sometimes break. Fortunately, with an online part order and a little time, they can be brought back to life to water again another day.

I’ve had one of these traveling sprinklers since the first full summer in my house. Once the lawn was quasi-established to the point where the wheels wouldn’t dig a rut into the mud, each sprinkler proved useful to water about 1/8 of my lawn overnight. I’ve seen them available for $60-$120 and I’m convinced most of the cost is directly due to the heavy metal body.

The Nelson 1865 Raintrains are incredibly useful, but they are far from perfect. I’ve had them jump the guide hose overnight, only to find them watering the neighbor’s yard in the morning — or attempting to climb up my cedar fence. I’ve learned not to pick them up by the sprinkler arms since they bend and break easily. I’ve had them pulling too much hose, forcing them to stop and water only two spots in the yard for hours. Recently I’ve also had them push the ramp forward instead of hitting the shutoff valve, then dig into the yard, stripping the plastic gears in the process.

Repairing the sprinklers has proven cost effective and relatively easy. Most parts are simply plug-and-play. The biggest difficulty I had was detaching the rear drive wheels while I was replacing the rear drive unit. The wheels were attached with those nasty toy axle caps. They were ultimately destroyed in the process, but Nelson must have figured that’d be the case since they provided two new ones with the drive unit.

Once the wheels were removed from the body, I could finally find out what drove this machine. Of course, I was less than thrilled to find out that plastic gears were at the heart of it, but I eventually realized plastic is probably the only thing that would work long-term in an irrigation environment where the gears could be exposed to water. Fortunately, the drive unit is only $30 with shipping, so it’s really no big deal.

Perhaps the biggest accessory I need to invest in to ensure trouble-free operation would be a watering timer. I had some old mechanical Melnor timers a while back, but they ended up not working correctly after a few months. My next step is to research the newer digital timers. Hopefully that will prevent the wandering sprinkler in the middle of the night.

Overall, I still enjoy using the Raintrains. For the cost and with some precautions, they’re definitely worth it to help save the lawn. Do you have any experience with the Nelson Raintrains? I’ve love to hear about it!

Nelson 1865 Raintrain Traveling Sprinkler [What’s This?] [Via Amazon]

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50 Responses to Traveling Sprinkler Repair

  1. Steve Chambers says:

    Wow, I haven’t seen one of those in a long time. My father watered our lawn with one that looked similar but was made out of cast iron and aluminum. The thing weighted a ton and I believe he still uses it. It had a little rust on it but however it happened never seemed to rust away to nothing as I always expected it to do.

  2. Brian says:

    I’ve had a Raintrain for about 5 years with no repairs needed. It waters like real rain, but yes it will skip off the hose once and a while. I payed about $50 new at Menards.

  3. Chris says:

    Obviously it’d add a lot (maybe $10/sprinkler?) to the cost of the drive gears, but wouldn’t stainless steel or even brass hold up pretty well to most municipal water? It works for the fittings…

    Be interested to know what it’d cost to get a set of replacement gears machined in brass, too.

    cl

    • Jeremiah says:

      Having gears machined would probably cost $20-$30. They would last a very long time.

      • Scott Rupert says:

        Chris/Jeremiah> Since I have a small fleet of them I’d be interested in checking that option out. Any thoughts on where to go to see if I could get brass or stainless steal replacement drive gears machined?

        • Steve Walden says:

          Scott, one place that you might consider so that you can do the math whether it’s even worth seeking the machining-out is the National Walking Sprinkler company. They have 3 models available, one that can haul 300 feet of hose. All of which you can buy with a steel drive gear system, as opposed to nylon.

          HTH,

          SteveColorado Railroads

          • Garry says:

            I own a National Walking Sprinkler Model B3 (their largest model) that is only 3 months old. It’s ok but not worth the additional cost and it won’t pull over about 100 feet of hose behind it before it gets stuck on buffalo grass. Once there is 100 feet of hose behind it, it has traveled 200 feet.

  4. Brau says:

    I use these all the time but do not use the shut-off ramp. Instead I use an Orbit Timer(one that allows up to 6 hours per period – see link)to shut it off when it gets to where I want. I set it to run during my local watering hours.

    Thanks for the take-apart! Good to know how to fix it if it breaks.

  5. John from MI says:

    You can get these with a steel gear.

    http://www.nationalwalkingsprinkler.com/

    • Scott Rupert says:

      John> I like how you can get the option of buying steal gear for $10 more. I also like how you can buy a different model for different lengths of hoses that it is meant to pull. You definitely pay more for the base models – more than twice as much as a Raintrain. My neighbor had the discontinued JD model. He’s also had to perform maintenance on his but also loves it. And for what its worth his lawn is much nicer and bigger than mine.

  6. Austin says:

    Before we installed in-ground sprinklers my dad used this all the time. I recall adjusting the pitch of the sprinkler arms to do narrow areas, and pointing them downward even further to work in grass seed when over-seeding.
    I wish the thing had something on the nose that when it hits an obstruction it would put it in neutral.

  7. Christopher Dahle says:

    You are just wasting money with the Nelson Raintrain. The plastic drive gear SHOULD be a $2.00 repair part, not a $30 replacement of the entire gear train. Expect a Nelson to last no more than 2 years, less if you have kids.

    Buy the real thing instead. See http://www.nationalwalkingsprinkler.com/

    The National Walking Sprinkler is the original, American made deal, designed before the second world war, made from steel, brass, and cast iron, and darn near bombproof.

    This is the kind your grandma had, and she’s probably still using it. They are indestructible.

    • Black Soap says:

      What is the scrap value of that thing?

      If you don’t know off the top of your head, your neighborhood meth freak probably already knows what he can get for it at the scrap metal dealer.

  8. Ironherder says:

    I was going to say that I have been repairing these for years, but the implication that I can’t do it correctly is too close to the mark. In the dim distant past, I might have paid retail for one, but since then I have collected several by getting to the curb before the trash men. I posted pictures of my favorite in the Toolmonger flickr group.

  9. thecheepone says:

    Some may call me cheap, but the 6 minute JB weld works great to repair a worn gear. Clean up the gear with hot soapy water. Apply the JB Weld liberally to where the gear is stripped out. As it cures, use a WD-40 soaked toohpick to mold the new teeth. Sand / file to final shape once fully cured. I’m on year two with just that repair. Picked up another for $5 at a garage sale and completing the same repair tonight.

  10. Vaughn smit says:

    Good day Where can i buy this raintrain sprinkler in south africa and price please thx

  11. GWHebert says:

    Spend the extra money and buy a the national walking sprinkler, http://www.nationalwalkingsprinkler.com.

  12. Janet Autry says:

    Where can I buy replacements for the little black ends on the arms?
    thanks, Janet Autry

  13. Rob says:

    Can anyone tell me how to get the gear box open? After I remove the screws it still will not open.

    • Enrique says:

      Take the tee off first. Then you will
      see a brass bearing stem. To remove all it use a 3/8 Allen wrench(preferably on a socket) it will make the the removal easier.

  14. John says:

    I just found one of these very old Nelson sprinklers. The rear wheels do not move they seemed to be locked. I have not found any posting that mentions this problem. I figured I would ask just in case I am doing something wrong before I tear it apart to see what the problem is. I would hate to do this if it is just something I am doing wrong. Without water I can not spin the rear wheels, with water and arms positioned correctly it will sprinkle but not move. I bet this sprinkler is at least 30 years old. Thanks hope somebody can help me out.

    • Mark says:

      John
      I took a large flat screwdriver and placed it in the brass female part down the hole where you disconnected the rotating water arm T. Press just hard enough to get some friction and then you can unscrew that part that hold the worm gear in place.

    • Enrique says:

      Pull up gently on the lever at the top and. move it to neutral. If that does not free up thr eheels you may have an internal problem. Wiggle thr rear wheels while moving the hi n lo speed lever it is expensive snd delicate. Email me if you have any questions. I just rebuilt my craftsman traveling sprinkler.

  15. don says:

    Most likely the gears that move it forward are stripped. Take the arms off to get them out of the way and then take the bottom off the plastic gearbox. You will find a housing break or flat spot on the main drive auger. JB weld can fix housing problems but not the flat spot. For about 35.00 you can replace the gearbox. However for 45.00 you can replace the sprinkler. Mine had so many repairs I spent the 45.00 today.
    dm

  16. Scott Haley says:

    I don’t care if I destroy them or not, how in the world DID you manage to get the toy axle caps off the rear wheels?

    Mine are so tight I can’t seem to manage to wedge anything between the cap and the plastic wheel.

    • Chris says:

      I haven’t tried and don’t even own one of these, but maybe you could drill them out, or drill enough of a hole to get a hook into? Or try to slip an old-school double-edge safety razor blade (they’re thinner than single-edge scraper blades) in there?

      cl

  17. Wayne says:

    The problem with mine is the sprinkler head (and tractor) begin to turn way slower than when new. Is this a symptom of stripped gears, or a water seal/leakage issue?

  18. Richard says:

    I’m looking for 2 new shot off ramps for the nelson sprinkler tractor.

  19. gerald says:

    I just replaced 2 gear boxes on 2 of my tractor sprinklers.
    The secret to removing the caps on the wheels is to use 2 large flat headed screwdrivers to drive with a hammer under both sides of the axle cap. (it will lifth them slightly-may also damage plastic wheels a little)- then take a contruction flat pri-bars (used a lot in home-type contruction–also roofing) drive the flat part of the pri-bar under the cap while pressing down slightly– then hit it like hell (several hard swings while pressing down) and they should pop off. The first one took me about 30mins to work on to figure it out. 2nd one came off in 2 mins. ( THEY SHOULD BUILD THOSE GEAR BOXES WITH WITH METAL GEARS)

  20. gerald says:

    I purchased my spare parts at ACE hardware store here in KS.

  21. Dan says:

    I have a Orbit and my gears stripped out I called them up they sent a whole new rare assembly free of charge

  22. Vic says:

    what is the diamter of the rear wheel please??

  23. eddie acosta says:

    Why does my traveling sprinkler go backward and not forward do I need to move something or make an adjustment? thanks

  24. Stephen says:

    Dan – You the man! Thanks

  25. Stephen says:

    My plastic wheels spin after dragging a little hose. How would you suggest to ‘lock’ those in?

  26. Norm Galey says:

    where do I find gearbox parts for an orbit traveling sprinkler

    • John says:

      Absolutely! I recently purchased an Orbit and a Nelson sprinkler at a garage sale for a dollar for both. The guy said they both had stripped gears. Took them home and looked up the Nelson, replacement motors everywhere for around 30 bucks including shipping. Looked up Orb it and all I saw was people, including you, asking about parts for them. I took the Nelson apart thanks to a you tube vidio and then decided to dissect the orbit to see how it was made…..Same motor! Order the replacement motor for the Nelson and replace it. It is a sealed unit so you can’t just replace the gears. Hope this helps.

  27. Walter Bennefield says:

    where do I find a motor part#ts-04040 for a john deer traveling sprinkler need a couple of them please

    • John says:

      If it is the one made by Orbit more than likely it is the same motor for the Nelson just a different color. It comes as a unit in the replacement kit. Look up replacement motors for the Nelson and compare the photos. Probebly the same.

  28. steven says:

    My nelson sprinkler has steel tires. Will the new gear box work with the steel tires? Does anyone know how to tell how old it is

  29. tim says:

    Nelson is a total piece of crap. 3rd time used , gears gone.cost $55.00 & wont pull 30ft. of 5/8″ hose without stripping $30.00 worth of gears.says it will pull 100 ft. Of 5/8 hose. total B.S. real crap , don’t buy ! a tripod rainbird moved a couple times will cost a lot less !

  30. Matt says:

    I have 3 Nelsons and 1 National. I like the Nelson for their speed. They have two speeds. The faster speed can cover more area in the same amount of time as a National. The National is move slower, soaks more, and is more reliable. It is a must to have a water timer as well as using the ramps on the Nelsons to protect your investment. I love sitting out on the lawn drinking a beer watching my travelling sprinklers in the evening, or having coffee watching them in the am.

  31. Patty says:

    I used my Nelson traveling sprinkler for about 16 years before this year. Worked just fine until this spring, when water will not come out of the arms. The bearing turning the arms feels gritty, and there is resistance to turning the arms.

    Anyone have any ideas? (I am prepared to try to take it apart, but somehow, this doesn’t sound like a gear problem.)

  32. Thanks for this info I love it.!

  33. Mike says:

    I have broken an arm retainer nut on my Craftsman model 564.79014 and cannot find a replacement part for it. Has anybody had any luck finding these parts?

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