Confessions of a Tiller Tinker


| April 2003



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1947 Graham-Paige Model B1-6

Its enormous size and large, two-stroke engine surprised me when I set eyes on the machine. The price was right and it ran well, so I bought my first Rototiller: a 1947 Graham-Paige Model B1-6, better known as a Frazer Rototiller.

After a few minor repairs - including new tines - I tilled my garden. The machine's sound, especially when tilling deeply with a wide-open throttle, is unique. The engine doesn't have a governor, so the operator must be careful not to give it too much gas. Yet, after that summer, I decided it needed maintenance if I wanted to keep the tiller in service.

They are the forerunners to the present-day Troy-Bilt Rototiller. Rototiller Inc. started manufacturing the Roto-Ette Model T in 1949 after an engineer convinced the company's founder, C.W. Kelsey, that his one-wheel Home Gardener was too expensive for the average gardener. On the other hand, built in 1952, the Model 2 was slightly more affordable. I salvaged the best parts from both tillers and reassembled the Model 2. It didn't have its original Briggs & Stratton engine, so I purchased one and will eventually install it in the Model 2. Still, the tiller is easy to operate and especially useful to till flowerbeds.

I didn't consider myself a collector, even after tinkering with those three tillers. I just liked old, worn-out equipment that I could fix and actually use. That changed after I attended the 1999 Grease, Steam and Rust Show in McConnellsburg, Pa. As I walked through the gate, I saw something unbelievable. There before me sat an entire display of Rototillers!

Five handsome Rototillers sat on a trailer, each with detailed information about the garden machines. I'd never seen anyone display the large, yellow tillers anywhere, and I was so excited that I searched for the owner. The unique display belonged to Bob Antram from Somerset, Pa. We talked for more than an hour about Rototiller history, and in the process he shared a wealth of information and renewed my interest in restoring my first Rototiller.

I decided to narrow my 'old iron' hobby to Rototiller equipment from that moment on. I sold my other old garden tractors within a few months and made room for more Rototillers.