Appalachia Pap

Using Pap’s Tiller

Matt using Pap's tiller in Garden

Last growing season we realized our tiller was on its last legs. The Deer Hunter discovered a hole had formed in the drive housing and all the oil had seeped out. The machine was about wore out and I said we should look for another one. Finding one that pleased The Deer Hunter and was sturdy enough to fight our rocky land proved to be a difficult undertaking.

Over the weekend as we were cleaning up the garden areas and preparing for planting The Deer Hunter started worrying about our tiller situation again. I remembered Pap’s tiller was sitting in his garage. The Deer Hunter said he thought he’d tried to use it a couple of years back and something was wrong with it, but he decided he’d go take another look.

Before I knew it he had Pap’s old tiller in the garden turning up the soil.

We both marveled that the thing cranked after sitting for six years. The tires are dry rotted and it’s smoking a little, but other than that the tiller runs fine.

As we stood admiring the old tiller The Deer Hunter pointed out the string Pap used to tie the back guard up so that he could see the tines working and to prevent the guard from dragging the dirt down.

He also pointed out a wire nut saying “I remember Pap got me to drill a hole in the drive housing just before he died so that he could put some gear oil in it. Said a drive housing ought to never be sealed up tight where you couldn’t grease it when needed. After adding the grease we used the wire nut as a plug. Pap said that would work just fine.”

Last night’s video: Corie’s Last Hike Before She Leaves Home to Start a New Life.


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  • Reply
    March 11, 2022 at 3:03 pm

    Boy or boy! This post brings so many things to mind.

    I bought a rear tine Troy Built 6hp tiller back in the ’70s. I used it to till up the yard and reestablish the lawn at several houses we lived in. When I moved from Raleigh to FL in ’92, I gave it to my brother who used it at his place in Raleigh then took it to Clinton after he and his wife retired to her family’s farm. His daughter still uses it. John passed last August. The world has a big hole in it.

    My Pa – pictured in the avatar at left – raised a garden from the Great Depression years through WWII ( but ‘Victory Garden’ meant only words for him) until about 1960 when he was in his mid-60s. He didn’t have a motorized tiller but hired an old man with a mule to come break the ground and lay out the furrows every Spring. He worked the garden every afternoon with hoe and spade and spading fork after coming home from working an 8 hour day at a Lineotype machine. With 11 mouths to feed, a garden was a necessity.

    Your Pap’s Troy Bilt replaces what I recall as a front tine back killer with a mind of its own that I recall seeing Matt operate. Or, do I mis-remember that? If it does replace that variety, I’m sure Matt is a very happy camper.

    Tomorrow is the big day when one of your twins gives you a son-in-law. Blessings to Corie and Austin and to all the Presleys and Wilsons.

  • Reply
    Angelyn McLain
    March 10, 2022 at 4:36 pm

    How special that must have been! It reminds me of when I inherited my Granny’s little Christmas tree! She had used all kinds of things to hang the ornaments on the tree. Lots of bread ties! Lol She was very frugal!
    It’s funny the things we notice that makes us smile and think of our loved ones.

  • Reply
    March 10, 2022 at 1:07 am

    “They just don’t make ’em like they used to…” and my Dad said that in the 1970’s! How awesome that Pap’s tiller is breathing new life into another garden season!

  • Reply
    kathy patterson
    March 9, 2022 at 10:25 pm

    The tiller reminds me so much of our adventures with tillers. My Aunt Hassie had the tiller. She would bring it to Grandpa and Grandma’s house on Thursday to help clean out the garden. My mother, my Aunt Hazel, my Aunt Pauline plus all the little young ‘uns would grab a hoe and hoe the weeds that the tiller didn’t get.. The tiller never got away from her. Mommy decided that she needed a tiller. All went fine with mommy’s tiller until one day it got away from her while she was tilling the beans. It went through the bens and into the tomatoes be fore it stopped. O boy what a mess. She had a swaft tilled out. Yes, the tomatoes that year were sparse. After that mommy went into her weed battles. She had an old red braided rug in the living room that ended up on the tomato patch to keep the weeds out. It don’t work well. Daddy really had a time the next spring when he plowed the garden. The rug didn’t rot.
    The string on Pap’s tiller reminds me of the twine strings mommy tried to save to tie things up. She finally got tired of reminding daddy to bring back the twine strings when he fed the cows in the winter. So she would go out in the pasture field and get the precious strings. We tied up everything with twine strings– fences, gates, car trunks, flowers, etc. Mommy even bottomed chairs with twine strings until my cousin Norma Jean told mommy that twine string chir bottoms hurt her panties. Norma Jean was 3.
    Take care and lots of love.
    Kathy and Charles

  • Reply
    Shelia Nelson
    March 9, 2022 at 8:27 pm

    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” My family lived by this back in the days when I was young. Mama and Daddy didn’t have the money to replace things. My Daddy could fix things using a paper clip 🙂 . I know you miss your Daddy–always will, just as I do–and it means a lot to me to use his tools. He gave me his best hammer when I got married 46 years ago. Now, who would have ever thought to give your daughter a used hammer as a wedding gift?? But that hammer means as much to me as the pots, pans, towels, and every other wedding gift I received. It was worn from Daddy using it, his right hand held it many times before I got it. I keep it in my sewing room closet and no one uses it without my permission. Everyone knows it’s special–just like Pap’s tiller. Thanks for sharing your life with us Tipper! Your posts make me think and reminisce and take pride in my Appalachian heritage. (Seventh generation East Tennessean here!)

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 9, 2022 at 2:42 pm

    My tiller looks a lot like that. I use a stretched out coat hanger to hold up the guard. My tiller smokes a little too and it won’t run without it’s choked a little bit. I leave it outside with an old plastic wheelbarrow my wife bought a long time ago flipped upside down on the engine.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    March 9, 2022 at 1:32 pm

    We used my grandpa’s tiller for years and years. Till the wheels wore off! I could till with it but not with the bigger one we have now. I have a picture of him in their garden that’s so precious to me.

  • Reply
    GoodGriefLouise ( Bill )
    March 9, 2022 at 11:28 am

    Invention is the mother of necessity. Great job!!

  • Reply
    March 9, 2022 at 10:44 am

    The older things are better, because they were built to last, and built to be fixed. Now it costs more to fix something than it does to replace it. I grew up in a time when you fixed things until they couldn’t be fixed any more, then you bought a new one. My husband and I still repair things. Also, if you can get ethanol-free gas, your tillers, mowers, and other gasoline-powered equipment will last longer, because ethanol destroys the insides. My husband and I make a trip twice a year to fill up our big gas cans at a place about 40 miles from us. It’s really important if you have portable generators.

  • Reply
    March 9, 2022 at 10:16 am

    Such a good memory of your Pap. Even though the tiller to needs new tires it worked! Once the Deer Hunter replaces the tires you’ll be able to use the tiller for many more years to come. Pap would be well pleased to know you’re still using his tiller. It’s like a small part of him is still helping with the garden.

  • Reply
    donna sue
    March 9, 2022 at 10:00 am

    I trust someone with your Dad’s lived-and-learned wisdom over someone who has not had much experience. And I totally agree with Mint2Be’s comment. So many of the things in my house I have bought second hand at estate sales, yard sales, thrift stores, antique stores, and on eBay. Only a very small percentage of my stuff is brand new. I find time and again, that the new stuff has a 6 month life (or 4 years like how my brand new expensive refrigerator died the day after I put $160 worth of groceries into it, grumble grumble), but the old stuff is still running even if it is from 1920. I enjoyed this post. I do miss seeing your Dad in new videos. He was always like my own Dad is to me – comforting, so full of wisdom, a twinkle in his eye, and someone who is my hero. My Dad can fix anything and make it work, and your Dad could, too. You cannot find many men today who you can say that about. Thank you for this post!

    Donna. : )

    P.S. Tipper, would it be ok if Mint2Be sends you her email address, and then you could send it to me?? I know you are super busy right now, we can wait until after the wedding! Thank you!!

    P.S.S. – Mint2Be, if you could send Tipper your email address for me, I will write you. I don’t like giving my personal info online for the world to see, call me cautious, but I have no problem telling you in an email. I am sorry I am so late getting a response to you this morning. I was up until about 2 a.m. (working on a project), and so I am dragging mentally and physically this morning. I am finally sitting down with a large mug of coffee! I am looking forward to hearing from you!!!

    • Reply
      March 9, 2022 at 6:23 pm

      Done! I don’t blame you for not putting your personal info out there; that is why I only put the general area that I live and not the exact location.

  • Reply
    March 9, 2022 at 9:36 am

    Many years have past since I lost my own common sense dad. In around 1999 Dad bought one of the best tillers he could find. He passed on in ’01, so think it was only used to till 3 big patches of beans the following year. The tiller was too big for me to manage, but always had a relative ready and willing to till or plow each year. That ole tiller has gone on to live with my daughter, and they still use it to loosen soil for landscaping etc, no vegetables ever planted.
    Your post reminds me of how inventive those men were. They could solve any problem, Also my dad had a host of friends with different talents, and knew exactly who to call if a problem developed. He replaced siding, friends put on roofs and helped him work on his old truck. Uncles would come down from other towns to climb ladders with him and keep things running. I look back at that, and I think it was quite a miracle that there was so much self sufficiency. Especially as I am quoted hundreds for simple fixes. He taught me well, though, and I use YouTube constantly. I am amazed at what it teaches you to do. What a change from the old ways!

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    March 9, 2022 at 9:29 am

    Appalachian ingenuity. I’ll bet Pap would be very pleased that his tiller was still being used.

  • Reply
    March 9, 2022 at 9:28 am

    Daddy bought a huge tiller from Sam’s Club back in the late 80s that was designed for a strong man to operate. I took the tiller after he died and used it for several seasons. It became too much for me to handle in the large garden I raised back in the 90s. My grandson decided to try his hand at gardening last year. He took the tiller home and ordered a fuel line and did some maintenance on the big yellow monster that now runs like new. Daddy would be so happy to know his first new tiller is still being used by his family, a great-grandson he never got to see.

  • Reply
    Gene Smith
    March 9, 2022 at 9:16 am

    Every time I think about gardening I remember mylate father-in-law, who liked to crawl through the rows, planting and even weeding. It was hard on his work pants. He said he did it because it was easy on his back. He’ was the only person I ever knew who planted, weeded, and sometimes harvested on his hands and knees. I have pictures somewhere. His tiller was an old model from Sears.

    • Reply
      Patty Hansen
      March 10, 2022 at 8:46 am

      Gene, that is the only way I can garden, too. I have had to have one surgery on my back and really need 2 more in the future and I can’t really bend over (and I’m only 41). I can crawl along just as good as can be, but boy o’boy trying to get back up! Sometimes I surprise people when they come wandering out into the garden as I pop up like a woodchuck way done in the middle of a row. I take a plastic feed sack and put it under my knees and just slide along. Weird, but gets the job done. I grow our whole years worth of food so I spend a lot of grueling hours in the garden and can’t use a tiller. I live in “rock country” and the tiller was given away 70years ago when the rocks kept bending the auger. I can’t understand how my Irish ancestors could farm anything here when they came, but they held on, God Bless ’em. Liked the memories of your father-in-law, Gene…maybe someone will remember me like that too!!!

  • Reply
    Rita Speers
    March 9, 2022 at 8:58 am

    Wow! What a telling story of the life and ingenuity of your Dad and of your husband, who learned from him! And of you, Tipper who was reminded of the possibility of getting a little more use from an old machine. Waste not want not! Get the seed into the ground! Big smiles all around!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 9, 2022 at 8:25 am

    What a swell story. And your’s to Sandra. I am in agreement that older is better. So vexing, we proved we know how to do better. We just quit in mass production anyway.

    It is a very good thing, I think, that the Deer Hunter will be more than metaphorically ‘following in Pap’s footsteps’ behind that old tiller. There is one or more country songs in there, maybe even a hymn. Those two little touches of the string and the wire nut speak volumes about Pap as a man who had good reasons for what he did. Thus the old-fashioned phrase ‘of blessed memory’.

    Thanks for this, something to ponder all day.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    March 9, 2022 at 7:58 am

    Seeing Deer Hunter utilize Pap’s old tiller probably brought about a lot of old feelings and memories of your wonderful Pap. But Pap won’t be ever needing that roller again. His hard work is over as he enjoys his reward in heaven. What a comfort in knowing Pap is somehow right beside you in that garden, encouraging and still assisting his family. I got a very good feeling about this year’s garden for you!!!

  • Reply
    March 9, 2022 at 7:43 am

    How many old machines are just sitting around in barns and such that could be put to good use instead of running out and buying the newest model which sometimes is not nearly as good as the older well made things. I’m glad you thought of Pap’s tiller and put it to use; I bet it would make him happy to know that and proud of you as well. You proved that just because something is old doesn’t mean it isn’t of use anymore – hmmm maybe just like people, just because they may be “old” doesn’t mean they aren’t of use anymore – they have MUCH wisdom to pass down and we should soak up every bit of it we can get.

    P.S. to Donna Sue – I live in NC too in the Piedmont area, what area of the state do you live?

  • Reply
    Martha Justice
    March 9, 2022 at 7:42 am

    Pap and my Daddy would have made a great pair. Always coming up with a way to solve any problem they faced. Thanks for sharing. Gardening was my Daddy’s favorite thing to do. I miss him so very much everyday but especially during planting season.Also my husband, like the Deer Hunter, would help him do whatever he needed done.❤

  • Reply
    Kim Glenn
    March 9, 2022 at 7:41 am

    Such sweet memories

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    March 9, 2022 at 7:27 am

    I agree with Pap about sealed gearboxes.

    Daddy (and I) have used a golf tee for a plug (e.g., in place of a broken vent plug on a gas can), but I’d never thought of using a wire plug. A fellow just uses whatever is on hand.

  • Reply
    Sandra Henderson
    March 9, 2022 at 7:23 am

    That looks like a Troy built, an older one. Those are wonderful! I have one that way back from 70s probably. Was out loafin up Rabinowitz gap area. Behind the school, back up around the mill…
    It was sittin by the road at the end of old farmhouse driveway. It had a “FREE” cardboard sign hanging on it with wire. Nobody was home. It was heavy and Ford truck a little high to pick up and put in. Went home, hoping I would be there when came back, to get small utility trailer which had metal ramp . It was there and loaded it up. As I was standing next to it, I looked around. Large farmhouse roof protruded over apple trees in yard. Little barn, shed, next to Apple trees. I imagined it came from inside there and rolled to road, as it still had dust on it from obviously being stored inside. Barns across road and beautiful fields. I wondered if some just didn’t want it anymore? Was it broken? Did the owner(s)pass away and children had to clean out everything? So many questions… I felt the presence of a beautiful life there. All the happiness, hard work, daily chores and routines that come with the seasons here in the mountains. The tiller works great, after a new carborator and lots of tinkering. Maybe I should take pops advice about the oil. It’s time to get it out and follow your lead with the garden.

    • Reply
      Sandra henderson
      March 9, 2022 at 8:17 am

      Was suppose to be tabun gap, where I found tiller

      • Reply
        Sandra henderson
        March 9, 2022 at 8:20 am

        R a b u n
        Won’t let me type it without changing. Sorry. I’d edit, if I could.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 9, 2022 at 7:14 am

    We sure do miss Pap! He was so calm about everything he did, and he had such good level sense. We don’t see much of that in the world today!
    I miss him!

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