Swapping Out a Motor on My Rototiller

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

I’ve always wanted to be one of those
“guys” that just “swaps” out an engine when it’s giving him trouble.
Kind of like the NASCAR pit crews after a big wreck of a crash, who are
able to rebuild the car in minutes and get it back on the track after
only missing 2 laps. But alas, I am an electronic publisher with no real
skills in this area. How does one become one of “those guys” with real

Well I had no such skills, but moving off the grid and
meeting a great coach like my neighbor Ken has given me a newfound
confidence to try things I’d never have tried before. Building walls,
putting in a new bathroom upstairs, putting up a wind turbine…

year I bought a new rototiller because my old one was giving up the
ghost. I kept the old one for back up and it kept coughing and
sputtering along. It’s handy for me to have a second rototiller because
the berry gardens are a long way from the main garden, so it’s nice to
leave a tiller over there and not have to drag the machine that far. One
thing technology has taught me as well, is that a backup is always a
good idea.

The old tiller was a Troybuilt, made in Troy, New York.
My mom bought it secondhand 15 years ago and had it tuned up. She even
managed to get the manual with it. Judging by the black and white photos
of guys with long sideburns and narrow ties in the manual, it was made
in the late sixties or early seventies. So it didn’t owe me anything. I
got my money’s worth from it. Everything worked fairly well except for
the motor.

Canada has a chain of discount hardware stores called
“Princess Auto.” They sell stuff, cheaply. Amazingly cheaply. One of the
reasons that so many Canadians have such well-stocked garages is
because of Princess Auto. Michelle won’t even go into a Princess Auto
store because the smell of new rubber tires and other caustic odors
grosses her out, but I kind of  like it. It’s the smell of things being
accomplished in shops.

Recently they had a 6.5 Hp horizontal shaft
motor on sale for $120. It was a savings of $120 off the regular retail
price, which is about 1/3 of what you’d pay for a new Honda engine. And
yes, it’s not a Honda engine, but if it works… even for a while, is it
worth the gamble? I really like having a back up plan, and a back up
rototiller has taken on new importance with us running a CSA and growing
produce for 12 families this summer.

So I took a shot and bought a
motor. I decided that for $120 I’d risk it, and it didn’t fit, I’d
leave it in Ken’s garage because sooner or later he’d find a use for it.

couple of days ago I got out all my tools and took the old engine off.
I’m good at that. In fact in Grade 9 Autoshop class I was excellent at
completely dismantling our Briggs and Stratton lawn mower motor. But
when it came to getting it back together… not so good. “Mr. Smith, it’s
okay to have parts left over, right?”

lucked out and the new engine fit the mounts perfectly. I took the
pulley of the old crank shaft and put it on the new one, got the belt
repositioned, tightened everything up and lo and behold, it worked! It’s
like a new rototiller only this one doesn’t belch out all that blue
smoke when the going gets tough. Yes Greenpeace, you can revoke my
membership now.

My new Troybuilt rototiller I bought last year
(with a Chinese-made engine) cost me about $900. My pretty good back up
rototiller cost me $120, less the amortization on the tools I used to
replace it.

believe capitalism is ultimately responsible for the destruction of the
planet we are experiencing right now. It’s this relentless march
towards making more stuff, cheaper, that’s going to do us in. And while
most of the time I try to remove myself from the lemming-like plunge off
the consumer cliff, I joined the hoards this time and bought a new
engine. A gasoline-powered one at that. I can rationalize it ’til the
cows come home (and since we don’t have cows this could be a while)
since I’ll be using it to grow food, local food, that will reduce the
carbon footprint of food brought from the southern U.S., blah blah blah)
but I’m part of the consumer machine regardless.

Which brings me
to the miracle of the whole episode, which is how do you make a motor
like this and sell it for $120? The mind boggles! Look at this motor!
It’s has steel that took energy to make, and to reheat and form into the
engine block, and it has steel for crank shafts and dozens of other
parts, and it has plastic that was oil and it has new paint made from
petroleum. And someone had to design it all, very precisely, and ship
all the parts from different places. And people had to put it all
together, and test it. Oh, then they had to buy a cardboard box made
from trees, and this box even had two chunks of Styrofoam in it that
came from oil. For $120? How is this possible?

When I do this kind
of consumer analysis I always think about the documentary movie called
“Manufactured Landscapes,” much of which was filmed in Chinese
factories. You see the people lining up in the morning from massive
dormitories before work, and then the mindless, repetitive assembly work
taking place on miles of workbenches. The scale boggles the mind. I’d
last 3 days before I threw myself off a building.

And yet here I
am with my new motor. Well to my fellow homo sapiens that made this
marvelous machine I say “thank you.” I appreciate your hard work. I
appreciate your craftsmanship and your efforts at building such a
machine that will my life easier. I will use it wisely to try to
ultimately grow enough food that many of us will live a little lighter
on the planet.

I’m not sure what else to say. Sometimes we are
caught up in a machine and a force that is far greater than us. I try to
resist but often I’m just dragged along behind it like everyone else.
The irresistible force paradox asks “What happens when an unstoppable
force meets an immovable object?” If capitalism and consumerism is an
unstoppable force, apparently I am not the immovable object I like to
think I am!

Cam’s Note for Tim at the Video Store: Yes Tim, I
am wearing that sweatshirt formerly owned by my mother-in-law with the
pastel woodland scene on it! But I can wear stuff like this ‘cuz I can
swap a motor out!

For more information about Cam or his books please visit www.cammather.com or www.aztext.com