We decided to buy a tiller this year in the hopes that we can spend less time preparing garden beds by hand and more time working on the house. Yes, this goes against my enthusiasm for digging hoes, but time vs. money trade-offs are a fact of life on a homestead. Last summer we were definitely short on time.
After reviewing the usual big box store tillers, I was kind of disillusioned with the available machines. I’m always a fan of buying quality equipment once, and most of the products out there doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. I’m also prejudiced by having grown up around an old cast iron Troy Bilt Horse.
I started researching tillers online and I discovered that what I was really looking for is a called a two wheel tractor. Two wheel tractors were once extremely common in the U.S. and sold by many companies including Gravley, David Bradley, Bolens, Wizard, and Troy Bilt. Two wheel tractors are not just tillers. They are basically a mobile PTO shaft and can mount many implements just like a full sized tractor. They are still widely used in Europe and Asia, working the soil in market gardens, haying small fields, and towing carts. This Dutch site has some great pictures of two wheel tractors and implements in use.
Unfortunately, here in the U.S. our taxpayer-subsidized agricultural system favored larger and larger farms while home gardens got smaller and smaller. The market for a heavy-duty two wheel tractor basically disappeared, and all U.S. brands have either gone bankrupt or sold out to conglomerates producing inferior products.
Although the U.S. brands are gone, you can still buy a rugged agricultural grade tiller by turning to an Italian import. BCS (which owns Ferrari) has been producing farming equipment for about 60 years, and importing them into the U.S. for about 35 years. Their designs rarely change. A new BCS tiller can mount any implement built in the last 15 years, and even older ones with an adapter. They are pretty amazing pieces of engineering and have only one downside: price! A basic model with a tiller implement starts at around $2500 and prices run up to $4300. Obviously, that was a little more than I wanted to spends, so we started watching CraigsList. BCS tractors are fairly popular in our area and we have a local dealer. About two weeks after I started looking, I found one for sale an hour away. I should have talked the guy down a little more I suppose, but I got carried away in my enthusiasm and bought it. I’m now the proud owner of a fine piece of Italian engineering. Kind of like a Ferrari … only practical … and reliable.
This particular tiller is a BCS 830. It was built in the early 2000s, and has similar features to their current 853. It was used on a market garden here in Oregon, and then locked in a metal shed for a few years and forgotten. It’s in pretty good shape overall. The motor is a Briggs, which is bad, and it’s seized, which is unsurprising. BCS has since switched to Honda across their whole lineup, and I plan to swap out this one for a Honda too. I’ve ordered a new motor, cables, and other replacement parts from Earth Tools, which is an importer of BCS tractors and implements based in Kentucky. A series of posts to follow this one will provide pictures and tips for the benefit of anyone else who happens upon one of these amazing machines and wants to restore it.