Battling Gravity

A lot had happened in only a few days.  Like a Normandy invasion, months – no, years – of talk had quite suddenly turned to action as men, trucks, and tools swarmed under and around our little (little?  Try moving it!) summer dacha.  Day one saw digging and the building of the first timber cribs.  Day two, the punching of holes through the old cellar walls, more digging, and more work on the cribs that would support great steel beams.  When day three had gone the steel beams lay under the house, resting on the timber cribs with hydraulic jacks.  Day four had arrived, the day for setting final I-beams and jacking the house.

The pace of these workers is steady and assured.  Moving heavy objects is a dangerous business.   The crew leader, the overall engineer for the project, keeps an eye on his men as they work at the assigned tasks.  Four teams are at work building four principle cribbings that will be the support footings for jacking the house.  Hydraulic pistons are positioned on the top of each cribbing, directly under a steel I-beam.

Setting hydraulic Jacks. Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

Setting hydraulic Jacks.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

The jacks are then connected to a main pump that can control the pressure for each jack and raise the house at an equal rate.  With a final check with each crew stationed at each cribbing, the chief engineer gives the signal to the master hydraulic operator to start, for lack of a better expression, raising the roof.   These jacks lift this 50 ton schoolhouse with the ease of a child lifting a toy.  Without a groan, a creak, or a sigh, the house silently begins to rise.

“What about the windows?”  I ask.

“Windows”?  The chief looks at me with a look of mild surprise.

“Yeah, don’t they have to be open?   They’ll break won’t they?”

He gives me the same response as before, when I asked about taking granddaddy’s picture off the wall and wrapping up the whiskey glasses.  “Never broke a window yet.  You can if it’ll make you feel better, but you don’t need to.”   The chief doesn’t just give a feeling of confidence, he defines it.  Calm, with no unnecessary words, he directs the operation like, well, as I imagine Eisenhower at Normandy.   I decide to stop asking silly questions.

The Chief Engineer, right, consults with one of his crew just prior to jacking. Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

The Chief Engineer, right, consults with one of his crew just prior to jacking.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

 

The reach of the hydraulic jack pistons runs 8″.  The house will have to be raised a full three feet off the old foundation for the next stage, wheels.  Five times the house goes up, five times the jacks are reset under added timber cribbing.   Gravity is a constant in this world.  Anything we do must take it into consideration.  In the end, gravity always wins out.  But today, gravity has met its match in a battle that temporarily gives the edge to the riggers.  With badly needed light and air sweeping under the schoolhouse I can take full stock of the old bones underneath.  Some rotted joists here, a couple of bad sill timbers there.  Drat.  More work, yes, but a heck of a lot easier to do now than with gravity holding the house hard against the ground.

“How does it look, Jimmy?”  the chief inquires at the end of the day.  I get such a kick out of people calling me Jimmy.  It’s  such an Upstate thing.  It makes me feel like I’m in a 1950s tv show, like Jimmy Olson in the Superman series.

“It looks like I’ve got more work to do on the place.”

“Want to put it back down?”

“Oh, no!  We’ve come this far, we stay with it.”

“Good.  Because you’ve got a nice house here.  You’re doing the right thing.”

That was the right thing to say.

All jacked up with somewhere to go.  Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

All jacked up with somewhere to go.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015