Adventures in Small Engine Repair (Part 1)

Suffice it to say, this isn’t going to be one of those ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair” sort of posts.  But it is about the trials and tribulations of my attempt to save money (?) by repairing my (inherited) Troy-Bilt™ roto-tiller.  Proceed at your own risk 😉

When I was growing up in eastern/rural New York, I lived on a plot of land that my parents had purchased in 1964.  At that time it was a little over 2 acres, and a lot of it was wooded.  It was in a completely new development, subdivided out of an old farm owned by a family named Kerr.  Hence the road that worked its way into the development was called ‘Kerr Road’.  One of the interior streets that worked its way into the development was named after the contractor that had purchased the old farm and built the majority of the houses in the cul-de-sac.  All of this has nothing to do with the rest of the post.  Just giving you some background.

Seeing as we had a good amount of property, my father, who grew up on a farm in Ulster County during the 1930s and 40s, knew his way around small engines to a certain degree.  Over the years, he attempted to impart his knowledge to my brother and I, so as not to have to utilize small engine repair places too much.  Some of it rubbed off on me, some of it didn’t.  In the ensuing 30 or so years since moving away from where I grew up, I’ve done some repairs on my own, but for the most part I’ve left the heavy lifting to a smattering of local gearheads that have done work on my snowblower, roto-tiller, chainsaw (ok, that was a clusterf*ck) and string trimmer.

About 20 years ago we were having problems with the roto-tiller and had some local guys at a seasonal repair shop take a look at it.  They came with a trailer, hauled it away and a few days later pronounced they had fixed it.  Of course, that came with a caveat.  While they had given it what they called a ‘tune-up’ (changed the oil, looked over the engine) they were unable to get the wheels unstuck from the axle.  When the tiller was new, it had a system whereby you could move the unit by switching out cotter pins in the axle and moving the wheels to another hole further out so that the tiller could be moved without running the engine.  Over the years the wheels had become either rusted or frozen on the axle so this was impossible.  And what the guy told me, either he was going to have to take it to someplace where they could use a blowtorch to heat up the axle, and then a ‘wheel-puller’ to get the wheel off.  Or, they could take the medieval approach, cut the axle and using a hammer pound the axle through the shaft, and put a whole new axle and wheels on the tiller.  Which of course would cost more than the value of the machine as it was now.  His recommendation was just to move it when the engine ran.

Which is fine, when the engine runs.  But if the engine stalls when you’re on the other side of your property, and you can’t get it going again, with the wheels frozen, one has to ‘walk’ the machine on stuck wheels, back and forth repeatedly to get it back to the garage.  Which for a machine that weighs a good 80 lbs, is no simple feat.  It would be much better if the damn thing rolled like it was supposed to. Continue reading “Adventures in Small Engine Repair (Part 1)”

Turning Soil

backyard01It’s Springtime, the ‘season for new life’ as the pundits have called it over the millennia.  It’s also the season for weeds, invasive plants and other things growing in our gardens.  To that end, we have a limited amount of time to get things prepped before my wife and I go to our local garden center to purchase the items that are going to be blooming and festooning around our home this year.

We have a limited amount of space, because our property is rather small.  We have two separate lawns that we maintain, a few bushes that are left over from the previous owner(s) and as of this year, no trees.  There are multiple maple saplings trying to poke their way through the ground at different points in the backyard, but since none of them are in good places (usually around the foundations of the house) every year we cut them back, so as to keep some sort of disaster from happening. (no one wants a tree growing in the middle of their house unless it was purposefully designed to be there)

troy-bilt1Over the years we’ve assembled tools for this job, one of the most important ones is my wife’s 1970’s era Troy-Bilt™ Junior Roto-tiller.  For being close to 50 years old, it’s still in pretty good condition.  It’s the old workhorse that we have, my 30 yr old Agway snowblower comes in a close second.  Over the years it’s had some bumps and scrapes and a couple of tune-ups but in the last year or so it’s been running roughly, and over the winter I replaced the muffler that was pretty rusted, pitted and nearly useless.  Wednesday it took me a good 10 minutes of yanking the starter cord, fiddling with the choke to get it running, and even then it wouldn’t rev up to a higher RPM then a little above idle.  Even so I tried to take it out to the backyard, though when I attempted to use it in one of the easier beds, it didn’t do so very well under load.  After the third time the engine conked out, it took me another five minutes to get it started again.  Since the wheels are frozen on the axle, I can’t get them to move unless the engine is running.  After that I pretty much gave up and babied it back to the garage.  I figured after lunch I’d take apart the carburetor and see if I could do some tinkering to get it running more smoothly.

Even without the roto-tiller working adequately, I think we got a good amount of work done.  Between using the weed whacker to mow down the heavy-duty weeds, and using a garden fork to pull up dandelion roots, as well as digging out best we could knotweed stalks, the beds look way better than they did in the morning.  I even used my new non-clogging rake to collect the leaves from last fall, and deposit them on the brush pile behind the garage.  Though I expect my neighbor to the north is less than pleased to see the pile grow, as it backs up against part of his backyard.  He’s in the midst of his third year of transforming his father-in-law’s property into something of a cross between a Japanese garden and something I can’t quite put my finger on.  But at least it’s interesting to watch the transformation as it happens year to year.

In the evening, after taking a quick jaunt into the backwoods looking for the small engine repair place we used 2 years ago for the snowblower (finally found it, but it appeared abandoned) and then getting some lunch at a local hot dog stand, I checked out a couple of YouTube videos on repairing and cleaning carbs.  I then decided to do a little surgery on the tiller, and ended up with a problem almost immediately.  One of the nuts on the carb wouldn’t come off easily.  The first one did (finally), but the other one just spun on the bolt.  After ten minutes of screwing around with it (no pun intended) I gave up and went to get my Dremel.  Attaching a cutting wheel and then being sure I didn’t start a fire, I proceeded to cut off the offending bolt.  So, now I have to locate another bolt to put the carb back on when I finish messing around with it.  Too, I need to go to the Advanced Auto near here after work and get some carb cleaner, the right engine oil (SAE 30) as well as some shop rags, since this is going to be a messy job.  I’ve been mulling over just buying a new carburetor and calling it done, but I’d like to see if I can somehow resurrect this one, without having to call in an expert.  If all else fails, there are other small engine repair places in this area.

Oh, btw, this is what the garden area looks like now.  Pretty good if I do say so myself.