“Jim, we got a heartbeat!” – Leonard McCoy

The roto-tiller is fixed.  Finally.  I woke up yesterday morning at 6 am and just couldn’t get back to sleep, so I decided to stay up.  After going downstairs, puttering a little bit, fed the cat and finished a blog entry, I checked the weather for Thursday and noted that it was fairly chilly outside for a mid-June morning.  Something sort of called me out to the garage, so I went out there and stared at a few things before my eyes fell on the half-fixed roto-tiller.  I decided then and there that it was going to get finished.  It was only a fuel line connection to the gas tank (and a fuel filter installation) away from being done.

The gas tank was still off, so I had to finish putting on one of the small covers that prevents dirt from getting into the starter cord holder.  The nut only barely went on the bolt so I was forced to do a little finagling with a wrench and my drill/driver, but I finally got it back on.  Screwed in the self-tapping screw at the top and I was ready to go on to the gas tank.  Which turned out to be fairly easy, since the rust patterns on the various pieces reminded me of where they went.  Put the bolts in the respective holes, lined up the rust patterns and in this case used my impact driver to drive them in securely.

I had purchased a new spark plug, so I put that in after checking to be sure the gap was correct.  At that point I ran into a little snag with the fuel line, but a bit of measuring along with a couple of mishaps, and I was glad I had purchased the longer length of hose, as I ended up needing almost all of it to get it all connected, since I measured wrong the first time.  But after getting it all figured out, clamped up, I kneeled back and gave myself a little greasy pat on the back.  Checked my work to be sure I didn’t have any parts left over (didn’t!) and then went to get the gas can.  I filled the gas tank a little, checked to be sure there wasn’t a leak anywhere (yay, no!) and then filled the tank about halfway.

Moment of truth.  I checked the choke on the carb, and pulled the starter cord.  Nothing.  Looked up at the controls and realized the lever was still set at ‘STOP’.  Duh!  I pushed the lever forward to ‘START’ and then pulled the starter cord again.  Still nothing.  On the third pull, I was rewarded with a chug and the engine caught.  Apparently the complete lack of fuel in the system caused it to need a bit more in the carb to get things going.  But once the engine caught it continued to run, but it was running a little roughly.  I switched up the lever a bit more and it started to run a bit more smoothly.  But the governor was still surging a little, so I tweaked the carb until it evened out.  Once that was done, I revved the engine a little bit to find where the various speeds needed to be.  After doing that, I wound it down a bit, and then pulled the lever all the way back to stop.  Contrary to what it had been doing, where in order to stop I needed to pull the connector off the spark plug, this time the engine wound down on its own and stopped finally.

At this point I decided to take it outside the garage and give it a little test under load, where pre-repair it was having the most trouble.  Bringing it out beside the garage, I drove it into a patch of ground that had been tilled about a two weeks ago, when I was in the middle of trying to repair the old carb and had it all together and trying to see what it would do.  This time when I put it into gear, the engine didn’t die down or ‘hunt’ when the tines bit into the earth, it stayed high in the RPMs and cut through the ground like it was nothing.  Even moving into a patch that hadn’t been tilled before caused the same result, it worked just like there was nothing amiss.  Success!  Not wanting to wake the entire neighborhood (the engine on the tiller is a little loud, I’ve taken to wearing hearing protection while running it) I brought it back into the garage and shut it down.

This project has taken me I think the better part of a month to complete, but it hasn’t been without merit.  I think I’m perfectly capable of effecting successful repairs on it should the need arise, given my experience and that should save me money in the long run.  If nothing else I have considerable documentation, pictures and having documented my efforts here and elsewhere (I kept notes) it should keep me from having to find someone else to do the work for me.  Certainly I can change the oil myself now, and that’s a big thing when it comes to swapping out equipment for the changing seasons.  And I can take the knowledge of this and apply it to my snowblower, since the engines are nearly identical.  So bonus for that too.

It runs!  It’s fixed!  Now I have to move on to the desktop computer.  Go me!

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!

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)”