Getting the most bang for your buck

While I’ve been ensconced in this roto-tiller nightmare, I’ve learned a good deal about small engines, and older machines as well.  Though I’ve sort of discovered that which I already knew to a certain extent.  The older your machine, generally the more expensive the items are to replace on it.  Unless you can find ones that are similar, and more often used, therefore less expensive.  Which is what I’m in the process of searching for now.

Its been like a detective story, to a certain extent.  I have this engine, that’s been working like a champ for 40 plus years, and then suddenly, it starts to misbehave.  For a while I baby it, and finally, it quits.  So, I think to myself that it’s going to be a relatively easy fix.  Take off the offending part, find its replacement, unbolt one, bolt the other on, pull the starter cord and all’s right with the world.  Except it didn’t happen that way.  After taking the carburetor apart, I’ve discovered for the past 20 years, when I moved the choke lever, in actuality it wouldn’t have made a difference if I left it in any position, because a flange is missing from it.  So it’s ‘wide open’ all the time.  Curious how the people that ‘fixed’ it all those years ago never mentioned this was the case.   Too, finding the correct model of the tiller was nearly impossible because the identifying ‘plate’ was made out of paper and has completely eroded/erased over the intervening 40 some odd years.  Somewhat fortunately, when the tiller was put together, identifying numbers were stamped into the metal of both the engine shroud as well as the carburetor, but rust and corrosion as all but obscured them as well.

I’m increasingly thinking that it would be better just to get a new carburetor and bolt it on, hoping for the best.  Getting an original is going to cost upwards of $70-80 USD and that’s too much for something like that.  A repair for the entire unit including oil change etc. would be less than that, even if I were to include mileage to and from whatever repair place I could find.  To that end, I took the best amount of information that I have and placed an order on eBay for a compatible carburetor and it should be delivered here on/around June 3.

Even though I’m sort of giving up on the whole ‘repair the old’ strategy, I’m going to hold onto the old unit for reference if the new one happens to go sideways.  Even though there are parts missing from it, I could still use it for repairs down the road, as much of the unit is still functional.  Too, I took time to clean it and put it back together, so I know better how it all works.  At least for now.  So I’m ok with having it clutter up one portion of the garage.  Considering the rest of the clutter in the garage, that’s in dire need of attention, it will be good to move onto another one of my projects.

Mulch Math

Monday was Memorial Day here in the USA.  Since it was a Federal holiday, and I’m a full-time worker, anymore I have the day off from work.  Which sort of screws up my scheduling for the remainder of the week, but what can you do.  I could have chosen Friday as my other day off, and then worked 4 days straight until my scheduled day off next week, OR I could have Wednesday off as I normally do, and then work 6 days.  Since my wife generally schedules her doctor’s appointments on Wednesdays, I figured that was the better choice to make, since I don’t mind working a six-day stretch at a time.

Since it was a day off, we’d decided that we were in need of a trip to either of the big box home improvement stores, Home Depot, or Lowes.  There are three in the vicinity, 20 and 40 miles away, depending on which direction we wished to travel.  If we decided on east (Home Depot), my theory was it would likely be more crowded, as it’s more of a ‘built-up’ area, and there would be more people shopping.  As it turned out, it didn’t make a difference.

A few miles after leaving the house, there was a distinct binging sound from the instrument panel.  We’d just taken the exit and were heading west when I discovered I’d forgotten to gas up the car the day before.  So we were approximately 20 miles from an empty gas tank, we were tooling down the road doing 65 mph and had the AC running full tilt.  The closest gas station was behind us and there wasn’t an exit to turn around at for another 10 miles.  Call it the perfect storm.  I shut down the AC to conserve gas and crossed my fingers that we weren’t going to run out before getting to our exit.  We do have AAA, so if worse came to worse, we could call and they’d bring us 5 gallons of gas, but no one wants to be in that situation, it’s kind of embarrassing, y’know?

As it turned out, we made it to the gas station with a smidge left in the tank.  With disaster averted, we were free to travel to Lowes and do a bit of shopping.  Only when we got to the store, the parking lot was jammed.  Looks like everyone else in the area was taking advantage of the warm weather and making the pilgrimage to get plants, home improvement options and all manner of stuff, taking it home to do whatever with it.   Oh well.

Once we got parked, we made out our game plan.  Roto-tiller hardware first, then mulch and potting soil second.  I’d already checked the website for the store before going, determining that they didn’t have much in the way of small engine repair options, so that was going to have to wait for another day.  Also before leaving, we’d gone out to the backyard and did some measuring, to see how much mulch we were going to be needing this year.  My wife had used the calculator on the Lowes website, plugged in the numbers and came up with about 21 bags, with a presumption of 2 inches of mulch in the beds (originally she went with 3 inches, but that raised the amount of bags to 30, so she went with less depth).  I used a different calculator but made an error, instead of using the measurements as separate pieces of the puzzle, I added them together, creating a huge square footage box, which translated to over 100 bags of mulch.  I only discovered my error later in the day.  Fortunately we didn’t buy the 100 bags!

Going to the hardware aisle, I found an associate, gave him the bolt that I had and informed him that I needed two more just like it.  It took him about five minutes to finally come up with them, though he insisted that the bolts were ¼”, when I used a 7/16ths wrench to remove them.  After getting two nuts to go with them and paying for them, we were about to go to the garden center when my wife decided to interact with the cashier.  She asked him about the mulch and potting soil, and he suggested that we pay for them right then and there, and pick them up at the garden center to save time.  I was ok with that, for the most part, but when my wife said “Five bags“, it stopped me short.  Instead of saying something, I just let the guy ring it up, thinking she’d changed her mind and decided to get fewer bags initially, to be sure they were the right color, or whatever else was on her mind about it. As it turned out, I should have said something, because later in the car she confirmed that she’d erred, she meant TEN bags, not five.

Going to the garden center with the receipt, I was able to find the potting soil easy enough, loaded the bags on a flatbed and rolled it towards the exit.  I talked to one of the cashiers, and asked her to confirm that they were paid for, but she pretty nonchalantly waved me through without even looking at my receipt.  Makes me wonder how much they lose in thievery per month if their employees are that lax.  Or maybe there was something else going on that I was unaware of.  Getting the mulch was a little more driving, as they had a space in the parking lot where the bags were on pallets.  Giving the receipt to one of the burly fellows, they took very little time to pile them in the Edge and we were pretty much done.

By that time both of us were pretty ready to come home.  I wanted to swing by Wal-Mart to check to see if they had anything in the way of small engine repair, but as it turned out they didn’t.  Piled into the car and headed home.

I went back to the Lowes website this evening and checked out their mulch calculator, plugging in the numbers as they were originally measured, and then as a combined total and discovered my error.  What I originally thought was my wife’s error turned out to be my own.  No harm done, but as the saying (sort of) goes ‘measure twice, order once‘.

Small Engine Detective

This is Part 2 of my adventures in fixing the Troy-Bilt™ roto-tiller, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Working on this machine has afforded me a great deal of trouble, due to its age.  The other wrinkle is that the company that originally made it, went out of business and sold off its assets to another company in 2001.  Presumably the old records went along with the assets, but finding the correct manuals and such is hit and miss, considering the age of our machine.  When attempting to look up model numbers, I often hit dead ends, since the name of this particular machine was/is it’s ‘number’, so it doesn’t fit in any of the search criteria on the present company’s website.  Too, it has an older type of engine, made by Tecumseh, and the identifying marks on the parts don’t match up with anything currently being referenced on websites, parts listings, schematics and the like.

Over the last several days I’ve discovered that the tiller has a horizontal shaft engine, which if you looked at it, you’d already know, but it just didn’t occur to me that’s what it was.  Horizontal, meaning the shaft that exits the engine and goes through the frame to the tines that turn.  Too, it’s a 4 stroke or 4 cycle engine, which somewhat narrows down the schematics I have to pore through to find the right parts.  Within the last day (major brain fart on my part!) I’ve been looking for the correct bolt for re-marrying the carburetor to the engine, and couldn’t find a reference to it anywhere.  It only just occurred to me to look at the wrench I used to loosen it in the first place.  Major DUH!  What was a mystery within minutes became a solved problem.  It’s a 7/16ths, 1 inch housing bolt.

This (Friday) morning I went ahead and popped the lid on the can of carburetor cleaner and let it start to do its magic.  Set my phone timer for 2 hours and let it go.  Upon opening up the can two hours later, I was pleasantly greeted with a very clean carburetor and parts.  After watching multiple videos, I’ve noticed that an O ring seems to be missing from the bowl on the bottom of the carb, but it fits very tightly against the lower section, and it wasn’t leaking before I started tearing it apart.  Having said that, I’m fairly certain that more than likely if I put the whole thing together, fill the tank with gas it will start to leak, since the gunk that was in the bowl and around it are now gone, so the cleanliness of it all will become its downfall.

Saturday afternoon after work I’ll be heading to the hardware store in search of replacement bolts for the carb, as well as some shop towels since I neglected to get them the other day at the auto parts store.  I don’t have enough rags here at the house I discovered, and cleaning the tiller has proven to be a very dirty job.  I sprayed the wheels with the penetrating oil, but the wheels are still very, very stuck.  I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope that the oil was going to work immediately, but hey, it was worth a try.

Baby steps.  I’m hoping to have it running by Memorial Day.  More to come!