Sod antics

Huge construction projects like building a power reactor seem to require ceremonies when construction first begins. Dignitaries assemble and make speeches before some earth is excavated to signify commencement. This is sometimes called “sod-turning” or “sod-cutting.” I’ve noted that such ceremonies can involve unexpected tensions and humor, and in my book I use a couple of such instances. But there are plenty left over, such as this one on January 21, 1957 in Bradwell-On-Sea in the United Kingdom. A brand new private sector consortium assembled to begin building one of the first private sector nuclear power plants. Walter Citrine, a somewhat hapless character who headed up the monopoly electricity utility recounts the following in his retirement memoir (the photo of him I use below is taken off a cover of a book I don’t even have, it’s not easy to get a pic of him):

I was invited to perform the ceremony of cutting the first sod at Bradwell. I found, to my dismay, that this was not to be per­formed with a spade but with a bulldozer. The night before, I had a rehearsal at the Hayes Depot of Sir Robert McAlpine, the well-known building and civil engineering company. It was the first time that I had ever driven such a machine, and I had to maneuver it solo, down alleyways between stacks of timber and building materials. When I arrived at Bradwell next morning, I was disconcerted to find that the bulldozer allocated to me, which stood in a secluded field, was quite different and considerably larger than the one on which I had practised. It was a bitterly cold morning, and I was muffled up in a heavy coat and scarf. I climbed up to the high seat rather awkwardly and fumbled about with the levers, to the accompanying shouted instructions of the experts. There was no time for me to become really familiar with the machine, as the ceremony was due to be performed in about a quarter of an hour. One of the officials undertook to work the shovel so that I could concentrate on the driving and steering. So we sailed across to the ceremonial area, where a series of tall poles had been erected to indicate the passage through which I was to drive, cutting the earth. I started off smoothly, to the plaudits of the crowd, and was just about to make a turn when my companion, who seemed to know just as much as I did about a bulldozer, lowered the shovel so rapidly and deeply that we nearly stopped the machine dead. He must have fancied that our job was to excavate for the foundations. Fortunately, he was a quick-witted chap and we recovered our equilibrium with­out loss of dignity, and completed the ceremony.

Citrine, Lord. 1967. Two Careers. Hutchinson, London, pp. 303-304.
Picture of Walter Citrine