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How to Resurrect and Fix a Long Abandoned Rototiller.

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I have been gardening for a long time and I have developed my own system that really works for me. Part of the success I have had with my system is due to the rototiller that I use and the way I use it. I explained a lot about my system in an instructable I made back in 2007 called Shred and Till

       When I first started working my bit of ground I decided to spend the extra money and get a good heavy duty rototiller. I killed a cheap regular one in just a couple of years and still never got things done the way I wanted. So in 1984 I bought a Troy Built Horse tiller with an 8 HP engine. Over the years It has taken all the abuse I could throw at it and come through fine. In addition to the tiller,  I bought a "hiller furrower"  attachment which  really cuts planting time and also saves work by simplifying watering. I trench a furrow and drop things like seed potatoes in the furrow and then rake it to cover it up. I flood water the furrows which saves water and helps to keep weed growth down.  It is a great system and I have been producing way more produce  than what I can use from a relatively small piece of ground.
        After my kids left home and my grocery demands dropped a lot I was still harvesting a big bounty of fresh garden produce that was way more than I could use.  Why not just cut back on the garden you might ask?  Well, its complicated, everything has become intertwined. The garden is where I get rid of all my shredded paper, leaves, compost, sawdust, basically anything that can be composted. The only garbage I send to the landfill is stuff that can't be burned or composted. I actually have no garbage collection. In addition a lot of my watering goes to the garden, which also just happens to give me my air conditioning, which is explained in my most popular instructable on free air conditioning.  In addition gardening is actually pretty healthy for a person, outside work is good for you. And finally I have found gardening is also very rewarding in another way.
       I tried selling the extra produce that I grow but it is just a big hassle doing that. I found it to be a lot more fun and rewarding to just give it away. I have actually developed a sort of delivery chain through which I have donated to people in several cities. Many people don't know where it comes from but sometimes I do get feed back through my distributors. Last year I had a huge bumper crop of potatoes (I planted 6 different varieties) which ended up being a bounty for many other people too. In the late fall I received a thank you note that was relayed to me. It was from one of the people who had received some of my potatoes.  She was a single mom with a little daughter who had just been to the grocery store shopping. Her girl had asked her if they could buy potatoes because she really liked them. The mom said they didn't have the money for it then but she would put it on her list. Well, as good timing would have it, when they got home they found a big box of  gourmet potatoes sitting on their door step, left for them by one of my "distributors". So they got to have farm fresh potatoes that were better than what you can get in the store. I was happy to know I helped a little.  
     However, due to an unfortunate event it looked like this might all come to an end because ----

SOME LOWLIFE actually stole my 28 year old 350 pound rototiller right out of my garden last fall. 

I priced a new one, they cost around $2500 plus shipping and that is beyond my budget at the moment.  So it was looking questionable as to whether the garden would be continuing on. 

And then I found a tiller. 

I worked cases for the Census Bureau for several years and was doing so last winter. So I was driving down a gravel road out in the middle of rural Montana and some old farm buildings caught my eye.  I always take my camera with me and sometimes stop to shoot pictures of the rural landscape.  So I went down the long driveway that had not been used in a while and started shooting pictures. And I almost fell over this big Troy Built Horse tiller in the weeds next to an old wind mill generator.  It had been there for a LONG time, but that was good because that meant nobody wanted it. The house was long vacant also, it looked like only the fields were being used for wheat which is not uncommon. The productive land is leased out and the junk is just farmed around.  
      When I got home I looked up the satellite pictures in Google Earth. I often used it in my Census work.  A lot of people don't realize that there is a feature where you can look at the older satellite pictures. You can roll back time so to speak. I looked at the older images and it looked like there had been no activity at the farm site since 2006 and I saw no trace of any garden as far back as I could go which was 1996. So chances are that tiller was sitting there outside in the elements for all those years. I was hopeful!
 
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Step 1: Doing the Homework

Finding something your interested in laying out in the weeds at an empty farm does not mean that you can just take it. You need to ask and get permission, otherwise your a thief. If you want to have a good reputation and be welcome in an area you need to work with the people who own the land and who live there. Maybe to them the old cars parked out in back are just junk, but its their junk, and most of the time if you talk with them they will be reasonable and negotiate with you for what you are interested in. So I needed to find an owner to talk to. 

As the satellite pictures show, there was nothing happening at this place for a long time.

In many states, Montana included, property ownership is a matter of public record. This means if you know were a piece of land is located you can find out who owns it and who is paying the taxes on it. Montana has a web site that is pretty advanced and lets you research ownership. So I was able to find out the name of the owner and where they are located. It turns out the owner of this place lives in North Dakota.  After some searching  I had a phone number so this spring when the snow melted I started calling. 

It took several calls but I finally got in touch with the owners. It turns out they just bought the land the year before and they were only using it for farming.  I talked to a very nice lady about the old tiller parked there and after talking to her husband she said that if I could get some value out of it they were more than happy to let me have it.  So I got permission to salvage the tiller and the cost was  just the gas money to go and get it.

So I enlisted the help of a friend and his truck and we drove out and loaded up my "new" tiller.  When I had the chance to look it over I found that this model is a few generations older than mine was. From what I can tell this model came out in the mid 1970's but if I could get it to run it would work for what I needed.   It took a ramp and a come-a-long to get it into the truck. The tires actually still had some air in them, but not much.

And now the challenge of making it work again began.

Step 2: Start with the penetrating Oil --- put it on everything

I put air in the tires and then evaluated what I would need to do. Everything that was supposed to move didn't. The throttle cable was rusted and frozen in place. The tiller had been parked with the engine engaged to the transmission. That was frozen. The engine itself appeared to be OK. It still had oil in it and there was no water in the oil, a good sign. So the first task was to spray penetrating oil everywhere.

You can get oil into a throttle cable by tipping it up and spraying it into the hole the cable goes down. After a few days the oil travels the length of the cable and loosens it up. Be careful that you don't force this to hard or the steal wire will break and you will have to replace the entire thing. Start with just little movements and work it until you get the full range back.

They way this tiller works, the engine actually slides up and down on 2 steal posts and loosens or tightens the belts that connect it to the transmission.  The long lever and yoke work on a fulcrum so its pretty easy to engage the engine. The posts were rusted in place, the lever locking wheel was rusted and frozen and the engine belts were tight so I could not disengage  the engine.  After several days of putting penetrating oil on it I removed the bolts that lock the posts in place, took a hammer and hammered them down until they moved enough to free the engine. More oil, more hammering, more oil ---- slowly I was able to get the posts gliding again. Finally just a few hammer taps would move them up and down. So finally the engine was free so I could work on it.

Step 3: The engine

This tiller has a 7 HP Tecumseh engine with an electric start motor. My other one didn't have electric start.  The battery for this one is long dead. The case was cracked open from freezing and thawing and the plastic was powdering from the UV exposure.  I just removed the whole bracket and battery assembly. I can always get a replacement battery later if I want to go with the electric start.

The engine  spun with no trouble and after removing the spark plug I could feel the compression from the spark plug hole. I didn't bother to test what the compression  was, it was either going to start or it wasn't. The fuel line was rotted away so that had to be replaced. I changed the oil, which didn't look to bad considering how old it was. I also changed the spark plug, cleaned the air filter and treated the starting rope with a lot of silicone spray. These starter ropes get stiff with age and I found that if you treat them with silicone lubricant it makes them softer. The silicone apparently works into the rope fiber and lubricates it without making dirt stick to it. Spray it really good, up close, until everything is treated and wet with silicone, then let it dry. Working the rope usually loosens it up after the silicone has soaked in. Because the tiller had sat for so long I took the precaution of ordering a carburetor kit for it. There are companies on eBay that sell them pretty reasonably. The model number of the engine was stamped on the cowling of the engine so I could order the right kit. It turned out to be a good thing that I took this step. When I dismantled the carburetor I found the bowl seal was all cracked. If I had tried to just add gas and go it would have leaked all over. There was a sticky residue in the bottom left over from the gas that had evaporated. I cleaned everything with carburetor cleaner and flushed out every orifice I could find. Then I installed the kit parts,  set the screws according to the directions and put it all back together.  

I used a car battery and jumper cables to spin the little starter motor. It spun pretty easily. The way it works is when it spins the front part shoots out using a spiral groove to engage the gears on the flywheel.  That part was pretty dry and stuck so I sprayed it a bunch of silicone and it worked a lot better.

After doing all of this the engine was ready to try and start.

Step 4: StartMeUP

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Step 5: Lube job

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With the engine now fired up and running I had to get the rest of the tiller back in working order.

The transmission or drive-train of this tiller is all enclosed. Its probably one of the reasons they last for so long. The entire main mechanism is in a steal housing which is filled with gear oil. The oil in this one may even be the original oil because it was something that was rarely changed, so I needed to change it. When I opened the drain hole to drain it some very nasty looking gear oil came out along with a bunch of water. After it emptied, I closed up the drain and poured some diesel fuel into the housing to  flush it out. I rocked it back and forth to slosh the fuel around and clean it a little  and then drained it again. I left it open for a few days to help eliminate any left over fuel or water.

The inlet for the gear oil is on the top of the transmission in the same hole the bolt for handlebars is threaded into. It is not air tight as it is intended to allow venting if the fluid expands because of running the tiller and getting warm. I think this is also how the water got in. When it was buried in snow and the snow melted it would have allowed some of the water to run into the filler hole. 

I filled up the transmission with new gear oil and then reassembled the rest of the parts. To find  the set hole in the posts the engine glides on I put in an Allan wrench and used it as a feeler as I tapped the posts. When the hole lined up you could feel it with the wrench. I put the set screws in and then reassembled the yoke and lever mechanism. It moved pretty easily and the engine could now be moved into  and out of gear. So it was all ready to try out finally.

Step 6: Back in business

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I started it up, put it in gear and rolled out to the garden. Everything worked! I had to adjust the tightness of the belts and fine tune the gas mixture to the engine but I was able to work the ground. I spent a few hours of tilling before I finally got my confidence that it was going to hold up.  I worked up a row and then attached my furrow attachment and cut a furrow. No problems. It has a little less power than my old one so it gets a little slow in the hard spots but as a replacement I am happy with it.

Over he next week I was able to plant everything so this season is off and running, a little late but still in the game.

Step 7: Future Work

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After a few hours of work I found that the front seal to the transmission is leaking gear oil pretty badly. And then I found the rear one where the tines are is leaking also.  SO those will have to be replaced. In addition the belts stretched out after a while and I had to adjust it as far as possible to keep the belts tensioned tightly to the engine. None of these things are a surprise. It just means that I will have to do some more rebuilding work on it.  This season the big challenge was to just find out if it would run and work. Now that I know it does I can worry about getting replacement parts and making it better.

One thing I am NOT going to do is paint it. In fact I may just sprinkle oil and dirt on it and tie a few dirty rags to the handle bars. If I painted it up all nice and bright Troy Built Red for sure some lowlife would try and  tiller nap it. So the uglier it looks the better. Maybe I should add some scorch marks to it with a torch so it looks like it caught on fire.  I have an old horse trailer that I think is going to end up being its parking place. I can lock the trailer. Of course they may just steal the whole trailer with the tiller in it. I guess I have to lock the trailer tongue too.

There is one big improvement I am making, I now have a CCTV camera system. So if there is a next time I will have the lowlifes on camera. Smile!!!
kimtimp1 year ago

Your tiller looks like one my dad used to have back in the 70s. Thank you for sharing your renovation of this one. I have a tiller sitting out at the corner of my garden. It belongs to my brother and has been sitting there for 2-3 years. We tried to get it going this spring--the gears were frozen, but we eventually got those worked lose. But when we put gasoline in it, there was a leak. I'm going to take another look at it after reading your post.

finton1 year ago
I've got to agree with Schober: great i'ble and love the photography! I particularly like the "story" mode of this i'ble. As a favour, though, would you to make a few spelling changes: 2 x "your" to "you're", 3 x "steal" to "steel" and 4 x "its" to "it's"? Makes things easier to read for us "meticulous"* types to read...  :]


* "precise, thorough, pedantic, accurate, or shows attention to detail"
JoLoveN1 year ago
I love your look on life. I grew up farming & working my butt of for what we had & knowing how people will just steal things just because they want it.... Makes me sick. People have been stealing metal, car parts, wire, whatever they think they can make money off of from my dad the past few years. Wanting to get security cameras to set up cause the cops here won't do jack here. They tell us not to leave things outside. But he lives up on a hill surrounded by trees & private property signs up. So for anyone to see the stuff, they have to trespass first. But they cops don't say anything about that.
And yes! I think everyone should get out and do a good hard day's work. Youngens these days think that vacuuming a floor is "such hard work". Lol!
What an amazing job you did with know-how, curiosity and patience. Those leaning barns are a photo treat! Congrats on a great 'ible.
pfred22 years ago
Don't leave this one parked where people can see it. You know what happens now!
Bill WW2 years ago
Wow, excellent photos and story.

When I saw the intro Rototiller photo, I thought: I the contest between Rototiller and field, Rototiller is about to loose this contest".
toolman8832 years ago
i have a troybilt tiller also, i don't think you need the two belts because you move the one belt between the two groove pulley, one is low power band and the other high power band.
Vyger (author)  toolman8832 years ago
Yes and moving the belt gives you 4 speeds. That is the way mine was. But I found out in this older model it has 2 belts that both engage the engine and it only has 2 speeds. That is one of the ways I was able to identify the model and year it was made and get the parts list and diagrams. I discovered that Troy Built and Garden Way went bankrupt about 10 years ago and the assets were bought by a new company. Fortunately they have put all the manuals up online but they no longer have the listing of serial numbers or past ownership records so it is a little more difficult to identify specific machines. I didn't know they had so many different models but apparently they kept refining their design over the years and made a lot of changes.
dontno2 years ago
Being a mechanic and worked on some relics. I can fully appreciate your dedication and labor of love to bring the tiller to life. I tip my hat to you.
Schober2 years ago
Great Instructable! Very cool to hear that old engine start up after sitting for so long. Also some of the best photography I've seen from an 'ible. in a long time. Your photos of those leaning farm houses are spectacular. I love the lens flare in the one with the house leaning on its neighbor.
jmerp2 years ago
great to see some one bring an old worthy machine back to life instead of just buying new.
jptrsn2 years ago
Great write-up, and a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing!
Libahunt2 years ago
Nice reading! Especially for self-taught out-of-need motorcycle mechanic as myself. Proves that a very rusty machine can be brought back to life. I'm going to use it as inspiration if my parents will trust me to save some money on purchasing mower for them...
Great story and Instructable, it's good to see that older garden machines can be brought back to their former usefulness.
rimar20002 years ago
Awesome restoration work, congratulations!