The Drinking Water Cart – the first ‘buffalo’?

Caught between various kitchen duties, some doughboys take a break for a photograph, posing around the water cart. What would later be called a ‘water buffalo’, this is one of the earliest of the US Army’s portable water supply vehicles, made to Quartermaster Department specifications.

In this image, we see the typical overseas caps and puttee wraps that ID our characters as AEF soldiers somewhere in Europe during World War I. They are posing around a vital piece of equipment, the M1918 Drinking Water Cart. This is a slightly altered version of the M1917 Water Cart, but the differences are fairly superficial.

Model of 1917 Drinking Water Cart, manufactured by The Studebaker Corp., South Bend, Ind., National Archives image, Oct 16, 1918.

The cart consists of a large galvanized sheet steel tank mounted on a sturdy wooden frame, utilizing two escort wagon wheels, and a couple of prop poles when the cart doesn’t have an animal in harness. On the back deck of the cart, you will see a simple pump cylinder arrangement setup, with a long vertical pump handle used to fill the tank from a water source. The water was pumped through a long hose from the water source, through a strainer cylinder mounted at the top rear of the tank, and then into the tank itself.

You can see a row of rivets around the central body of the water tank, which held an interior baffle in place, which kept the water from sloshing back and forth and causing all kinds of havoc for the users and the hitched mule.

The differences between the M1917 water cart and the M1918 were minor, with the most obvious being that the water tank was inclined forward on the M1918. The reason for this is apparent in this very image, as it kept the bottom of the tank relatively level when the mule was harnessed.

Around the back of the cart at deck level is a water pipe connected to the tank, with a series of tapped fittings for water spigots, ready for thirsty troops to fill their canteens. The M1917 had 15 of these spigots, and the M1918 had 13 – no idea why the change. There was a large spigot for filling large containers on the M1917 that was omitted on the later cart, which sported a wheel valve for shutting off all water from the main tank.

Model 1917 Cart Harness, USQMD drawing, Class 20, Division 22, Drawing 2.

The mule in the image is rigged with a collar and hames setup, unlike the M1917 cart harness which featured a breast-strap only. Perhaps the troops found this a better harness rig for a cart that could be extremely heavy when the water tank was filled.