Chuck Zuck Digs Old Iron

Reader Contribution by Andrew Weidman
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Chuck Zuck (his last name rhymes with ‘book’) has a passion for acquiring and resurrecting old garden tillers, especially Rototillers. He loves the challenge of restoring a ‘basket case’ tiller to its former glory. One project was so far gone, the piston required a five-year oil bath and 6 tons of force to free it from the seized engine block, after the cylinder broke. That heartbreaker was a rare WWII era tiller, and, believe it or not, the story has a happy ending. A New Jersey friend supplied the parts needed to get the tiller back up and digging in the garden once again. You can see it run here.

Chuck has worked on tillers since at least 1977, when he found a ‘for sale’ notice on a bulletin board at work, for a 450-pound monster of a tiller. The beast was huge, but the price was right, and Chuck loved its looks and its history. I suppose you could say the rest is history, as well. That monster tilled his garden for the next ten years, all 5,000 square feet of it.

That might be what got Chuck started on tillers, but not on wrenching on things. That started much earlier. One of his earliest projects was the old 1947 Harley Davidson he bought after school. It wasn’t too long after that when he tore the thing down, rebuilt it, and gave it a new paint and chrome job.

Chuck has been repairing equipment all his life, most of it much larger than a garden tiller. I met him a few years ago, when I hired on as a maintenance mechanic at a large aluminum mill. Chuck had been on the maintenance crew for over 30 years, and many of our Standard Operating Procedures have been either written or reviewed by him. He has since retired from the mill, glad to have the opportunity to spend more time on his personal machines.

Since that first monster of a tiller, Chuck has tracked down and restored many pieces, including Frazer Rototillers, SIMAR, and Tryobilt tillers, along with various attachments. Some of his machines spent time sitting quietly in back corners of garages or tobacco barns. A few came to him torn down and bagged in plastic. He has one found hanging from the ceiling of a shop; that one belongs to a friend of his.

He’s still looking for new challenges, too. One of the things he hopes to find one day is a Model 2 or 3 Rototiller equipped with reverse, or with a tiller disengage. According to Chuck, they’re rare, maybe because the features didn’t work very well.

Chuck shows his treasures at various events, as well as writing about tiller history and restoration for Lawn And Garden Collector magazine. He also maintains his own web page, Zucks Rototillers. There, you can read some of the history behind Rototiller, Troybilt, and SIMAR, as well as finding, technical information, and opportunities for networking contacts for parts, projects and shows. What began as a way to save a little money has become a fascinating hobby and passion for Chuck.

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