Wilford Roberts always has an interesting project or two going on in his big detached garage in Perry.
Recently he was found tinkering with several old garden tillers — the Rototiller brand.
Roberts has used that brand of garden tiller since he was a youngster and working with his parents, G.E. and Ethel Roberts, in their commercial gardening business in Perry.
“My dad bought the first Rototiller available in Iowa prior to World War II,” Roberts says. “It must have been in 1936 or 1937.”
Later, an American company began making the equipment, patenting the name Rototiller and adapting the European machines to American soil, which tends to be rockier, according to available history.
Roberts remembers tilling gardens with Rototillers after school when he was a teenager.
“I would charge $2 to till a garden and do 10 gardens in one day. I was making $20 a day. Back then, that was a lot of money. People were making $1 an hour and I was coming home with $20 for one day’s work,” Roberts says with a laugh.
He has collected the tillers for many years, but finding some of the parts he needs to fix the machines, which have two-cycle engines and spring tines for “teeth” rather than blades, can be difficult because they are no longer made.
He was able to purchase some extra parts when the Hanlon implement dealership in Perry closed.
Roberts often needs to make his own parts, such as the mufflers on the Rototiller engines. He pointed out one of the mufflers he had recently made and mounted on a Rototiller.
Another problem are the pull-starters on the engines and finding the springs to fix them. He’s still working on finding a place that will fashion the springs for him, and he says he might have found one.
One of the best moments in his Rototiller collecting years happened when a man called him a few years ago and asked him if he was interested in buying a Rototiller he had. When Roberts went to look at the tiller, he discovered it was the original Rototiller his father had first bought. His father had only had it for two or three years before he sold it after buying another one, Wilford explained.
In addition to being practical for garden tilling, the machines bring back a lot of memories.
“Every penny counted back then, but we never went hungry because we always had the food we grew,” he says.
Contact Darren at 953-4822 ext. 304 or email@example.com to recommend someone for an upcoming issue of “What’s In Your Garage?”