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On the Edge of Common Sense: The roto-tiller saga

Baxter Black Published on 22 August 2014

It all started because Jo wanted a small lawn behind the house. Tom encouraged her. Tom’s friend offered to lend them his heavy-duty, magnum, Humvee version of a tiller.

Jo borrowed my Ram diesel to pick it up in Sierra Vista, 30 miles away. I received the call at sundown. She was broke down. “It won’t start.”



“Try to jump it; the cables are in the tool bag.” It worked.

During the week, they manhandled the monster tiller around in the close-quartered backyard. Sometimes it took both of them to control the raging beast.

It was Saturday morning when Jo heard the screaming. She raced out to find Tom pinned sideways against the wall. He had tried to till and turn in a small, three-sided brick cul-de-sac and got stuck. Jo flailed at the machine that was attacking her man.

He had somehow hooked the throttle on the handlebar with the OFF switch, under his overall strap. Jo tried to push it, and it reared up and growled. The spinning rotary blades jumped back, bit into the earth and slammed Tom against the wall – and was climbing up his bib!

Jo jerked the spark plug wire off. The dead machine crashed to a halt. It sat there ticking, like Stephen King’s 1958 Plymouth Fury in the movie “Christine.”


To return the killer tiller, Jo borrowed my ’76 GMC. “Should I put gas in it?” she asked.

I said, “It should have half a tank … but the gas gauge is broken.”

They drove the malevolent tiller back to the lender and started home. They passed two gas stations. “Shouldn’t we top it off?” asked Tom.

“No,” said Jo, “Baxter said it was half-full.”

Ten minutes later, Jo was on the phone to her son asking him to meet her on Highway 90 alongside the road with a can of gas. He did. It was getting darker. Tom was feeling like the can in “kick the can.” Four miles later, they saw the lights of the Circle K. “Hallelujah,” sighed Tom.

That was just before he saw the red lights flashing in the rearview mirror … “Oh, no.”


The officer pulled them over because of no tail lights.

“Could it get any worse?” Ever-ready Tom found a piece of wire in the pickup bed and attempted to hot-wire the fuse. Jo saw the sparks and heard the sizzle. Tom raised his smoking index finger, which smelled like barbecueing a goat with the hair still on it.

Tom started to cry (no, he didn’t, but it sounds good). The sympathetic officer allowed them to drive home with their emergency lights on. Tom got a mile down the road. He took a deep breath. “Well, we got lucky. At least he didn’t see that the license plate expired 10 months ago.” PD