When you rent a large, gasoline-engine-powered piece of equipment for outdoor chores, a couple of things are probably assumed: a. You have a way to get it home, and b. You know how to use it.

So, asking the nice folks at the rental store: a. “Will it fit in a van?” and b. “How do you start it?” might not be a confidence-booster for the rental store owners.

But a. That lawn tiller did fit in my van (barely) and b. I did get it started.

Turning me loose with this thing was a dangerous proposition. You see, I’m a cat juggler, not a user of heavy equipment like backhoes, train locomotives and tillers. You just can’t predict what might happen when you let me around inanimate objects with moving parts. Their loud noises frighten and confuse me, and I rarely accomplish what I set out to.

Oncet, I climbed up a ladder to get on the roof of my house (I don’t remember why) and then couldn’t figger out how to get down. I thought Wife was going to have to call the fire department. Well, they rescue cats in trees don’t they? Surely they’d come rescue a cat juggler on a roof.

I digress.

“Are you doing the garden, digging the weeds?” a co-worker, Johnson, axed me when I revealed my plans to rent a tiller.

Wife, you see, had declared that the big bare spot in our back yard had to go, and grass had to grow.

“You’re going to be sore,” Johnson warned me.

That statement frightened and confused me. I thought the whole purpose of the tiller was to allow a cat juggler to avoid doing any actual work.

Actually it almost didn’t fit in the van, and it went in only after the two nice employees removed some hardware from the handle and folded it in half. As they wrestled it into my van, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, Johnson, drove up behind us in a big pickup and axed me how I ever expected to get the tiller home without a pickup. Darn good question, Johnson, and it’s probably un-Texan to not have one.

Once I got it home, I faced the challenge of unloading this rather heavy and ungainly bad boy.

“It’s rather heavy,” I told Wife. “Be careful.”

OK, start-up: now, was this lever the choke and this other lever for the fuel, or is it the other way around? But one quick pull on the starter, and whaddya know? Why, it just hummed right along.

I discovered there was an art to using this self-propelled bad boy. If you let it go too fast, it kind of walks across the ground, carried along on its whirling blades like some kind of out-of-control robot. If you let it go too slow, it digs a whole to China and gets stuck in its own hole.

So I learned how to manipulate its forward speed (and consequently, the depth of the tilling) by lifting up or pressing down on the handle.

The trick was when I needed to change directions. The reverse and the power steering didn’t seem to work, so I had to maneuver the bad boy into a wide, awkward and ungainly U-turn. It just doesn’t have a tight turning radius.

But whaddya know?

There I was, expertly using this tiller, loud noises and all. I found out that I can, so, use one of these and have the time of my life while doing so — doing the garden, digging the weeds — who could axe for more?

I had an epiphany: Why, farm livin’ is the life for me! Land spreadin’ out so far and wide … keep Manhattan, just give me that Campa Drive.

OK, its work was done, time to take it back to its owners. Careful getting it back into the van, Wife. Here, let me fold that handle for you …

Back at the rental store, two nice employees wrestled it out of the van. Well, one of them was nice. I’d done nothing to provoke any kind of confrontation when he just up and says:

“I’m sorry, but Harry Marlin is funnier than you.”


But can Harry run a tiller? And more importantly, can he juggle cats?

Steve Nash writes his column for the Brownwood Bulletin on Thursdays. He may be reached by e-mail at steve.nash@brownwoodbulletin.com.