3/16 Scale C&NW Water Tower / Christmas Tree Watering Tank


My trains are only set up during Christmas around our tree.  In the past, I have used a plastic container to hold tree water, and a siphon tube to transfer the water to the tree holder.  The model water tower shown here replaces the plastic container I was using, and looks more appealing than a plastic tub. The tower is a 3/16 scale model of the C&NW tower shown in the 1948 C&NW drawing CE-16730 copyritten by Daniel S. Dawdy and Ribbon Rail Productions on the web site hpps://cwrr.com/WWW.CyberspaceWorldRailroad/Ribbon Rail Productions.   I can't thank these folks enough for hosting these drawings on their site.

Tower History

The Lusk, Wyoming water tower was built in 1886 by the Fremont, Elkhorn, & Missouri Valley (FE&MS) railroad two years after control was aquired by the Chicago and Northwestern (C&NW) railroad. The FE&MS was absorbed into the C&NW in 1903. The C&NW used the FE&MS water tower design as their "standard" watertower in a 1937 drawing CE-9832. In 1948 the design was slightly modified and released jointly with the C&NW controlled Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha (C.St.P.M.&O.) railway as drawing C.E.-16730. My model tower is scaled from the 1948 version of the C&NW "standard" watertower.

1886 Fremont, Elkhorn, &Missouri Valley railroad water tank in Lusk, Wyoming

3/16 Scale Model of 1937 Chicago and Northwestern railroad water tank


The justification for building this tower was that it would be used for a Christmas tree watering system. There are a few minor deviations from the true 3/16 scale to allow the tower to be used for that purpose. For instance a cut down polypropylene DVD container was used for the water tub. That container results in the tub diameter being 5-1/4 inches in diameter, which would be 28 feet full size instead of 25 feet (the 24 feet tank is actually 24 feet 8 inches in diameter outside). Also, the tower support is about 1/2 inches taller than scale in order to maintain the water level in the tree holder. Changes like these cause additional changes to maintain the look of the original tower.

Tank Crosssection


The foundation serves two purposes. It increases the height of the tank without changing the aspect ratio of the tower to the get the water level up to the level needed to feed the tree stand. It also increases the width of the tower base so the high center of gravity of the water in the tank on top of a very light wooden tower support does not tip over the tower.

Foundation Drawing

Foundation Top View

Foundation Front View

Board Fabric, Posts, and Frost Box

For construction of the frost box, the tower support, and the tank, fixtures were needed to make sub-assemblies.

The tank and frost box are made of wood stirrer sticks bonded to fiberglass window screen with sealant. A cardboard fixture served to align the sticks and hold them. Then a piece of screen was laid over the sticks and sealant was smeared on the screen. After curing the result was a flexible wood board fabric.

Step One - Alignment

Step Two - Glue

Board Fabric on Fixture

Five rows of posts were needed. All posts in the rows had to be angled the same in order to be assembled together and glued. The fixture to make each row used wedges and rubber bands to hold the posts for gluing. Also note the pins, cut from sewing pins, that were inserted into each post to ensure alignment and to hold that alignment if the glue breaks in the future. Holes for the pins in the bottom of the posts can be seen in the foundation photos.

The frost box had to be hollow to allow the water tube to drop from the plastic tank and make a sharp turn at the foundation to go to the tree stand. Wood-board fabric with horizontal wall stiffners was used to make a wall panel that was flat but bendable at the corners.

Post drawing

Post Row Gluing Fixture

Frost Box Buildup

Frost Box Clamping

Tower Support

The tower support was assembled pretty much like the real thing was assembled. Temporary alignment boards like the ones shown in the Support Side photo maintained alignment during assembly and then were removed. Trimming of long joists was done after the tank was constructed.

Support Front

Support Top

Support Side

Support Braced
and Trimmed

Support at Ground Level


The tank was built around the plastic water container using wood-board fabric. To ensure easy removal of the plastic ontainer, it was wrapped with a layer of cardboard and then plastic food wrap. The fabric was glued to a masonite disk floor and at the screen backing overlap using sealant because it will flex slightly when the roof/lid is remoced to add water. The intentional gap left after glueing the fabric was filled by adding stirring sticks after the fabric had fully cured.

To simulate the tank bands, 22 gauge copper wire was used with plastic wire insulation pieces to simulate the band clamps. Tank bands get spaced progressively wider as they go up. This reguired using rubber bands to keep the bands spaced properly and parallel to each other during the 24-hour cure time of the sealant used to hold the bands to the wood.

Another fixture was needed to hold the tank floor joists in position during glueing. This fixture had to be adjustable, allowing the center joists to be glued with the joists held close to their ends, then adjusted closer to allow the outer joists to be held close to their ends. The adjustment was performed by sliding the fixture pieces on nail pins.

Tank Shell 1st Glue

Tank Shell Glued With Gap

Tank Shell Complete

Tank Bands With Spacers

Floor Board Fixture On Shell

Floor Board Fixture


Three layers of cardboard were glued together to form the tower roof. After glueing and sanding, the botton side was coated with sealant and the top side was coated with varnish. The varnish served to seal and prime the topside for a coat of black paint. The sealant on the backside was to seal and prime the surface for attaching the roof to the plastic container lid.

Polypropylene does not bond well to glues, but it does bond fairly well to DAP 230 sealant. So sealant was applied in layers to the plastic lid to give a large bonding surface to the plastic and match the shape of the cone at the lid edge. After the sealant on the lid was cured, a final application of sealant glued the cardboard roof to the sealant on the plastic lid.

Top Of Lid With Sealant

Sealant Buildup

Cone Buildup

Cone Varnished

Roof Bottom

Roof Top


I saved the hardest for last. The spout had so many small pieces. The counterweight box had to be made of 3/64" wood glued togeter in steps around a plastic form. Then to make the assembly dissasembleable, multiple parts had to be press fit. The weights had to be made from cored solder and equal the weight of the spout. The spout of course was tappered and curved so it was a slow process involving bending, squeezing, glueing, filing, glueing, filing, bending, squeezing, glueing, filing, glueing, filing, ad infinitum.

The final spout assembly took two days to mount with removeable strap bolts, but the result is a counterbalanced spout that is moveable up and down like the full-size original.

Counterweight Box

Spout Subassemblies

  Assembled Spout  

Completed Tower

Photo of Tower Coming after Christmas 2022 was forgotten. Tank was not large enough and now will be used with a warehouse containing water resevoir. Photos are delayed until 2024 Christmas.

Scale C&NW Water Tower / Christmas Tree Watering Tank

Copyright Dale Thompson,
14 March 2022 through
last revision on 21 January 2024.

Refer to Copyright notice at thompdale.com.