As the song goes: ‘If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise.’ Well, in this case it wasn’t a teddy bears’ picnic that was spotted, but a 1922 Burrell on lockdown duties. The 7nhp compound traction engine, called Surprise, was doing exactly what it was bought new for, nearly 100 years ago.
You see, in a woodland clearing in Northchapel, West Sussex, Peter Mellersh set up his vintage saw bench and Burrell traction engine, named Surprise (No 3935), so that he could cut some timber for local jobs. He needed some gate posts for his own use, and decided to use the outfit to cut them out.
A neighbour, who is rebuilding an old Sussex barn on his farm, heard about this and approached Peter. Due to the situation prevailing at the time, he was unable to get hold of the materials he needed for the renovation work. However, he did happen to have a fallen oak tree that was perfect for conversion into the necessary timbers.
Peter was only too pleased to help, so the oak butts were brought to the saw bench and, thanks to Surprise – driven by Kevin Lockyer – the timber was sawn into the required sizes.
The scene could have been set at any time in the past 100 years; a traction engine powering a saw bench cutting up oak tree trunks in a Sussex wood, accompanied by the sounds of cuckoos, woodpeckers and nightingales, only interrupted by the sharp exhaust of the engine.
Social-distancing wasn’t hard to achieve, with Peter operating the saw bench and Kevin driving the engine and, as you might imagine, a good day was had by all.
• On a more solemn note, Peter was asked to take the engine to the funeral of a great family friend, Pat Currell, on May 1st. He and the engine headed the cortege to the church, and sounded the whistle as Pat’s coffin was being lowered into the grave. He was a wonderful man and served on the fondly-remembered Woodlarks Ploughing Match committee for many years. Pat used to drive a Foden wagon, owned by J Britten, during the 1970s.
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