The Rodeo Tiller

Bull riding is a highly anticipated rodeo event because it provides lots of danger, unpredictability and close calls. All of which makes me think of our rototiller.
Initially, the thought of using a tiller on our garden excited me when my husband got it from his dad. It was old when my father-in-law bought it at an auction and he used it for years before giving it to us.
When our son was a toddler he called the rototiller “rodeo tiller.” I thought it was cute and started using that name too. Eventually the rototiller lived up to its nickname.
The machine may have made gardening work go faster but it didn’t make the work any easier for me. Controlling it was like being entered in the bull riding event. Strong arms and a bull rider’s grip were necessary to handle Rodeo Tiller. It was really heavy, old and about as big as I was. I had to mentally prepare using our garden tiller the same way bull riders anticipate their ride. Like riders, I tolerated having my arms being jerked on; getting tossed about, knocked off balance, and nearly dragged around. Whether “rodeo” tilling or riding a bull, once one’s committed, there’s no going back. For me, it was because there wasn’t a reverse anymore.
Rodeo Tiller became difficult to deal with and started getting fussier with age. The kill switch eventually quit working and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get it to shut off. My husband did it by pulling the wires off the spark plug but I wasn’t comfortable doing that. His little tricks for getting it to run never worked whenever I tried them.
When the motor gave out he replaced it with a different one from an old pump which eliminated having the reverse. After that, correcting or making quick turns took all my arm muscles. Since its size, weight and power intimidated me I needed lots of concentration to operate it.
Bull riders know it’s time to quit once they develop fear or doubt. In my case it was when I lost confidence in handling Rodeo Tiller. Close calls of nearly tearing up a swath of vegetable plants and tangling up the garden fence made me fear the heavy old tiller. I’d sometimes forget there wasn’t a reverse anymore and have a runaway trying to turn sharp because I couldn’t control it and put it in neutral at the same time. When Rodeo Tiller hit a bank, buried rocks or big dirt clods it would jerk me around or attempt to throw me. I became concerned about the welfare of our vegetables.
Whenever I tilled, I looked more like a rodeo clown performing an act than a rototiller operator and did a sloppy job. My husband’s work was more professional-looking so I decided to retire from rodeo tilling and let him do it.
Like a lot of retired bull riders these days, I’ve switched to announcing (announcing what to watch out for with the tiller) while I watch my husband rototill and giving performance highlights (recapping the highlights of the job he did). Although if we ever got a new rototiller I’d probably come out of retirement.
column orignally published June 28- July 4, 2009

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