Pictorial history of the Sharp family in Forestry

This page is dedicated to my late grandfather, George Alick Sharp, Head Forester.

In the early 1950's, Grandad transferred from Kershope forest on the Scottish borders to the York area. At Wheldrake nursery he began the development of a lining out plough to mechanize the  labour intensive job of replanting young trees. The photo above was taken by the official photographer of the Forestry Commission in 1955. In 1958, a crew of 14 achieved the incredible figure of planting 132,000 trees in one day using this plough. The foreman was George Bielby and the tractor driver was Norman Daniels - driving a Ferguson tractor. My father Alick Miles, at 16 years old, was part of that crew.


Westtec's owner/operator, James Allen Sharp - the first venture into felling and extraction circa 1994. The experience gained using quad extraction was the catalyst for the modern operation of hand felling and extraction with Botex trailer allowing for small to medium estates to be serviced. Good road mobility allows small parcels to be taken on and light weight machinery means less damage to sensitive terrains.


The Great Yorkshire Show - mid 1970's

The show consisted of a Forestry section where a chainsaw skill competition was held to determine who was the most skilled operator. 

The picture above shows George Alick (Grandfather); George Raymond (uncle) and Dennis Allen (Uncle) attending the show in readiness for the competition. Early Husqvarna chainsaws can also be seen in the picture.

Raymond has just completed the tree felling discipline. A regulation size gob had to be cut into the front of the tree and a back cut made. Measurement were taken to determine gob size, backcut height in relation to the gob and also how level the backcut was.

When Grandad retired from the Forestry Commission he joined the family business of Sharp Brothers (Timber). Here he can be seen participating in the event. This discipline required the operator to bore through the centre of the log, make a cut from the bottom to the centre bore and then make a third cut from the top to the centre bore. Measurements were then taken to determine any discrepancies in the three cuts. I believe that Grandad got best newcomer award at his first attempt.

The highlight of the competition was the speed cutting and was usually won by either Uncle Raymond or Allen - as indeed the whole competition itself was won by one or the other and became known as the Sharps Benefit competition. One year, Raymond felt the competition was maybe a bit stiffer in the speed cutting so he quietly remove the silencer to give his saw that extra punch - it drew in the crowds!!! Another year he especially prepared a huge Dolmar and kept it hidden under a blanket until the very last moment. He won it!

Notice that  although a helmet and ear protectors were obligatory, there was no requirement for gloves nor were there any protective, chain retardant trousers available at this time. Chainsaws still did not have a 'kickback brake'. Uncle Raymond was the first person to develop anti-vibration handles for chainsaws (see below) and he was also the first person to develop a heated chainsaw handle using the exhaust gases of the saw - a great benefit in winter and still not fitted to modern chainsaws.


My brother, Matthew Alick. A skilled chainsaw operator but more skillful operating hydraulic cranes and machinery. This picture probably taken in the late 1980's at Sharp's sawmill, Melbourne nr York. Matthew and his wife now run their own business felling with a harvester and forwarding with an 8 wheel drive forwarder.


The Miner's strike and aftermath for small business in Yorkshire area.


Sharp Bros (Timber) finally settled in Melbourne, York after many years moving from site to site ranging from the Scottish Borders down to Nottinghamshire. They had purchased a Forestor 150 horizontal bandmill which was soon converted from a mobile unit to a static at the new location. Uncle Raymond's daughter, Susan is shown above. She spent quite a few years operating the 150 at this new site.

This photo shows Uncle Raymond and his eldest son, Richard with the 150. The machine was originally powered with a 4 cylinder Deutz diesel. Elevation was achieved with worm drive screw jacks. The failing with this system was the long delay while the headrig was raised and lowered  when cutting through and through. The machine was thus converted to a hydraulic elevation system by Raymond which proved to be very successful. Raymond also experimented with a vacuum flitch remover (seen as the long ram above the machine in the picture). The vacuum was created using one of the cylinders of the Deutz engine. It came about that Deutz were asked if they would guarantee the engine when used like this - they replied they would, but only 3 of the four cylinders :-) . The system was later changed to a flitch remover feeding a rise and fall powered roller table when the 150 was converted to electric drive.

Christmas 1984

Malcolm's unenviable task was to keep the grandchildren in line and hard at it! Mainly thanks to him they all 'cut their teeth' safely in the business of sawmilling. Malcolm was a black belt in Judo and a finer person would be hard to meet.


The predecessor to the 150 was this rack bench driven through a PTO by a Ford 5000 tractor. It started as a push bench and was later converted to a hydraulic feed and was designed and built specifically by Uncle Raymond to cut 4 foot lengths of mining timber. This and the double slabber he built were the keystones to the mining timber operation during these mobile years. The operators in the above photo are Robin Matthews (brother in law of my father) and Derek Rawnsley, a long time friend and colleague of Uncle Allen.

The main operator of the saw was Malcolm Flintoft who would stay with Sharps until his retirement. As I remember it, the blade was an 8 gauge, 48 inch diameter, inserted tooth, Pacific Ho. This American made blade proved to be the most reliable blade for the job. Uncle Raymond had to good fortune to get in contact with A.E.Coles of Bridgewater, Somerset who told him that these Pacific Ho blades were made from ore containing a very high sulphur content and were ideal for the purpose. Coles told him that they knew of a Pacific Ho blade that was used daily and had been used continuously for the LAST 30 YEARS. Some testament!  It was sharpened twice a day, mainly by my Uncle Allen.


The Bunging Machine

None of the family seems to have any photographs of this incredible machine - but it certainly merits a mention here. "Bungs" were a product made from mainly Sycamore and Birch for the British Bung Factory in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. Basically a round log was crosscut into a disc, 1 and 7/8" thick. In the early years, a single blade saw was used, with the fence set to 1 and 7/8" and the log had to be pushed against the fence after each cut. This was a painfully slow task and was also quite risky as the log, being circular, had the habit of spinning especially if the log was wet! Uncle Raymond decided that he had had enough of this and made a machine especially for the job. It was driven by two Ford 5000 tractors through two PTO shafts. One of the tractors supplied the hydraulics for the ram that would slide the bed into the blades and then reverse and bring the bed back again. There were 11 in number, 30", 9 gauge blades set 1 and 7/8" apart running on a single shaft. A 24" log would be placed on the serrated bed and, as the feed was started, 10 serrated fingers would drop onto the log between each blade holding it firmly in place until the bed was returned to the starting position after each cut, when the log would be released and the operator could take the finished "bungs" off. Initially, the inserted tooth blades had every tooth present but as the feed speed was a lot lower than normal (crosscutting instead of ripping), Uncle Raymond  put blanks in 2 out of every three. The machine then started to produce wood chips instead of dust! Because the blades were crosscutting, the teeth had no hook on them whatsoever. Forks were fitted on the rear three point linkage of a tractor to move the machine - the tractor had to be revved quite hard to get the machine in the air  as it was so heavy and two of the lads would have to sit on the bonnet of the tractor to keep the front end down. The tractor could only be driven in reverse - and anyone foolish enough to try forwards would find the machine dragged off the forks and two well shaken lads clinging to the bonnet as the front end thumped down on the ground! The air could turn a little blue at this point!!!!! 

4 men would regularly saw and load 10 tons of bungs directly onto a lorry in a morning!


The rack bench was kept supplied by a Ford based forwarder, again designed and built by Uncle Raymond. The rear wheels were "on demand" drive by a small, two cylinder Petter engine mounted just in front of the load area. The output of this engine was reduced through two lorry gearboxes (200:1 ratio, I believe) and gave tremendous torque to the rear wheels. The Ford 5000 tractor had the front wheels and axle removed and the outfit was frame steered by "push/pull" hydraulic rams and rotated on the main joint about a lorry stub axle giving great articulation in all terrains. This was a tremendously successful machine and survived for many years in it's original form


An addition to the mobile setup was this Drott. It had limited use and did not prove to be as successful as the rest of the machines.


Howsham - circa 1982. Ford Roadless tractors were fitted with wood carriers on the rear three point linkage. 2 foot lengths, cut by chainsaw, were gathered and stacked in the wood carriers and extracted to a suitable point to make a heap. This heap was graded by hand to make either 4, 5 or 6 inch square mining chocks. When the going got sticky, Grandad would appear driving his favourite "toy" - a crawler with heavy duty winch and blade (BTD6) and assist as in the picture above. Driving the tractor is my brother Matthew.

Double slabber or "Chocking Machine" as it was affectionately known. This was driven by a Ford 5000 tractor and usually took 4 men to operate. 1 man feeding, 2 men carrying the wood to the feeder and a man taking the wood and slabs off the end. This machine took Raymond many weeks to perfect as it had a nasty habit of picking the wood up as it exited the blades and throwing it back at the feeder! This was caused by the blades heating. The problem was eventually fixed and this machine regularly produced 500 cubic feet of sawn timber from a 4 hour sawing session.

The rear of the Timber Trades Journal and prior to the Highland Show in which Sharp's would do live demonstrations for Forestor. Unfortunately, Forestor were not aware that the machine had had a facelift of blue paint and there was a mild panic on just before the 150 went to the show to get it back into Forestor colours! The picture shows Uncle Raymond and his son, Richard operating the 150. Richard would eventually take over all engineering from his father. 

One of the drawbacks to the 150 was the removal of slabs. Raymond would develop a vacuum lift under the mainframe of the 150 which picked the slab and brought it to the rear when the 150 was returning for a second cut. Initially the vacuum was drawn from one cylinder of the Deutz diesel powering the 150 - Deutz told Raymond they would guarantee the other three cylinder but not the one used for the vacuum! When the 150 was converted to electric, a separate vacuum pump was used.


Uncle Raymond's second son, Michael, also took to engineering after "serving his time" at the sawmill. He spent a short time in forestry, felling and extracting, but returned back to his engineering roots. 


Bill Mitchell of Elvington did most of the haulage for Sharps. Ron, the driver, was quite a character but knew how to get on with people if he faced any difficulties at the many pits he delivered to.


Grandad and Uncle Allen. Location unknown but this picture was probably taken by Grandad himself using the self timer on his camera.


The"Lads"!  Left to right are Mike Davidson, Malcolm Fintoft, Christopher Sharp, Derek Rawnsley,  Paul Gee and Robin Matthews. The blue "bin" behind was made completely of metal. It was used for safe overnight storage of tools and sometimes during the day at meal times if the weather was wet. There were a few attempted break ins but no-one managed to breach it!

Picture taken at Birdsall Estate, shown below - JULY 1986


Birdsall Estate and Grandad doing a "poser" for the camera! Picture taken by my father.


A  photo of my brother Matthew and I circa 1994


My County which I upgraded to from the quad bike. Purchased from JAS Wilsons and fitted with a Boughton winch. This picture was taken in Sutton Wood, nr Sutton Upon Derwent late 1994 and coincidentally Sutton Wood was my Uncle Allen's first planting job when he joined the Forestry Commission in the late 1950's.


My father setting up one of the many, live exhibitions he did whilst working for Forestor. This picture taken in Poznan, Poland in 1991. Looks like he's carving himself another chair!

AND FINALLY,

Grandad and my Father began doing tree surgery jobs on a weekend. Grandad was a very keen photographer and wanted to save up enough cash to buy a Hasselblad 500CM - state of the art in those days. Grandad was the climber and Dad was the rope man although later roles would reverse and Dad became the climber. Grandad got his camera which was passed down to Dad when he died. The camera is still working and has just been given to Grandad's great grandson Danny, who is also a very keen photographer.


My Grandparent's  final resting place

The ashes of George Alick Sharp and Isobel Carrick Sharp were finally united in 2008 when their three sons and daughter obtained permission to place a memorial seat over their ashes in one of the first woods Grandad managed when he moved from the Scottish border down to York. The seat was designed and constructed by my Uncle, Grandad's eldest son, George Raymond Sharp.

This site was built and is maintained by my father, Alick Miles Sharp