Monday, October 17, 2005

The guy who knows the trick, or For Whom the Till Tolls

You may remember a few posts back, I made a harebrained attempt to rid my yard of sandspurs(scroll down to the 'things that don't work' post if you need to catch up). This weekend I tried something a little more effective. A rototiller!

The one pictured is pretty similar to the one I rented. The wheel is intended to be flipped up. It's only put down when you want to move it around. More on this later.

I figure, if this doesn't get rid of sandspurs (along with everything else), nothing will! I've mainly just had it with my dogs going out the in yard and getting incredibly dirty and dusty because there is no grass in the back yard, and the front is too full of sandspurs for them to play in. I figured I would use the rototiller to plow under all the (currently) living grasses on my property, then in a couple of weeks after I've raked and leveled it, I'll get a few pallets of sod, put it down and have an instant lawn!

Of course, you can kill grasses and weeds with herbicide, but that felt too impersonal to me. I really hate my current lawn. I didn't want to just spray something on it and wait for it to die. I wanted to be actively involved in killing it (Also we have outdoor cats and herbicide probably isn't good for them).

So, I rented the tiller on Saturday afternoon with the brilliant strategy of keeping it all day Sunday. The rental place is closed on Sunday, so if you do an all-day rental after 2 on Saturday, you can keep it all day Sunday too. I picked up the tiller and the rental guy went over the starting procedure with me.

Rental Guy: "Choke forward, throttle on, pull the cord once to get some gas in it, choke to middle, pull again".

Me: "Got it."

And I did get it. I went home with the tiller and set to destroying my yard as quickly as possible. Since the machine had just been running, it started right up. Not really knowing how to use it, I had a little trouble at first. As I mentioned earlier, the rear wheel is designed just for moving it from location to location. When you're tilling, you put the wheel up, and there is a 'drag bar' that you lower into place for leverage. The technique for using this eluded me at first, and I made several very large holes as the tiller dug straight down and didn't stop. Again, since I wasn't real familiar with using this thing, I expended a lot of effort pulling it out of the ground, making turns, fighting with it as it skittered over harder parts of the yard, etc.

Eventually I figured out how to make it work for me, realizing that the drag bar is there to get leverage on it to bring the nose up out of the earth, so it could get purchase on the next section of untilled property.

So I was going along pretty good and got most of my front yard and a large chunk of the backyard done. I had promised the freedom wife we would take a bike ride, so I shut the tiller down, got cleaned up, and went along our day.

I didn't get back to the idea of tilling until later Sunday afternoon, thanks to my friend Eddie and his innocuous request to have 'a' beer at a nearby pub. 'A' beer turned into 3 beers, but I figured a little buzz would probably make the work seem a little less difficult (alcohol and heavy machinery..always a good mix). I was hurting for time now, so I needed to get cracking. I figured I would finish up the areas I hadn't been able to hit earlier, then get some fertilizer onto the ground, till it in, and then if I had any energy left I would rake and level until it got dark.

I went over to the tiller, remembering the instructions from the u-rent it guy. Choke forward, throttle on, pull the cord once to get some gas in it, choke to middle, pull again.


Choke forward, throttle on, pull the cord once to get some gas in it, choke to middle, pull again.


I started second guessing myself. Which way was full choke? Was it all the way forward or all the way back? I tried both ways. I smelled gas. Sh*t, I flooded it. Better wait a few minutes. I started raking to kill some time. After about 15 minutes I tried again. Still nothing.

At this point, I figure something is wrong. Even though I smelled gay white boys, I thought maybe it was low, or some moisture had gotten in the tank or something. I put some of the gas that had been supplied with it in the tank, filling it. Still no start. Pull, pull, pull, pull. Now my arm was tired. I started thinking maybe my arm was too tired now to give it a strong enough pull to get it going. I raked and leveled some more. The sun started making its run for the western horizon. F*ck, I thought. I'm running out of time here.

Desperation began setting in. I start checking for anything that might be keeping it from starting. I pull the spark plug out. It looks a little fouled so I hit it with some sandpaper. Still nothing. I pull the air cleaner off (verifying which position is full choke). Nothing. I prime the carb a little. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I get a can of quick-start (ether) from the hoopty blacks on boys truck and spray it into the carb opening. Still nothing. I consider huffing some of the ether and forgetting all about tilling for the day.

At this point, I'm thinking that maybe it wasn't so smart to rent the machine on Sunday, because that's precisely the day that the rental place cannot help me if the machine fails. Oh sure, I could take it back and bitch that it didn't work. But I know already exactly what will happen;

Me: Hey, I need a refund or something. This thing wouldn't star..

U-rent it guy: VVV-VRROOOOOM(starts tiller up while I'm in mid-sentence explaining that I couldn't get it going)

I don't want to have to do this, but there's no technical support center in India for Briggs and Stratton 5hp lawnmower engines (if there is, I don't know the #). Especially not old used ones from local u-rent-its. I start mentally inventorying the few people I know that might be able to succeed where I failed starting a gasoline engine. The person who knows 'the trick'. Mechanical stuff always has a trick to it, and it's just a matter of calling the person who knows what that trick is. The guy at the u-rent it knows the trick, but they're closed.

I call Mark, remembering that he could almost always start chainsaws that I couldn't, but he's too worn out from his weekends activities to give it a try. I call Rodney, who agrees to come over and give it a shot, to no avail. I feel better though, because at least I'm not just so inept that I can't start a lawnmower. Or, at least, I'm as inept as at least one other person.

So, what else could I do? I gave up.

And sure enough, this morning when I returned the tiller, I explained that I didn't get my full use out of it, because it wouldn't start on Sunday. I started running down the inventory of things I had tried, when the u-rent guy stops me mid-sentence and says "Didja check the oil?". No, I said, my mind flashing back to the container of oil that had been supplied in a little wooden box along with the extra gasoline. "S'got an oil sensor. Won't start if its low".

No one told me that.

So u-rent guy put a little oil in it, and sure enough, Choke forward, throttle on, pull the cord once to get some gas in it, choke to middle, pull again, and it started right up, purring like a kitten. Normally I would go apes*it in a situation like this, but I figured it would be more advantageous to just calmly explain that no one had mentioned to me that the machine would not start if low on oil. I recalled that there was sort an improvised looking red light mounted on the side of the gloryhole, and I wondered what it was for. It was probably a low oil indicator, but of course that indicator would only work if the machine was running.

Fortunately, the guy wasn't an a**hole, and gave me a raincheck good for one month to rent the same machine, which is all I really wanted.

That, and to know "The Trick".