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!