“I” Is For I-Beam

The party is over.  In and around the blasted foundation walls crowbars have been cast aside, skid steers idled, and sledgehammers retired.  Fun while it lasted, yet not so much that it brought down the house.  When the dust cleared everyone stood back and admired the ruins.  It was one of the best wrecking parties they’d ever had.  Now it’s time to get on with it.

Sliding I-Beams. Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

Sliding I-Beams.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

Watching these men work at preparing to move a house is much like being in a mine and a steel mill all at once. With the underworld of our house dug out over a couple days, and lumber cribbing built up in several places like civil war railroad trestle footings, the place really did begin to resemble a turn of the century industrial site.  Clean, burly workmen, workmen perfect for a woolx ad, arrive at  seven o’clock in the morning to become nearly indistinguishable from the dirt around them by nine.  They don’t work at the earth, they tear into it  – and the house foundation – with a determination and danger one only vaguely senses in poetry and ballad.  As they went about the tasks, steady with  a confidence born of experience, I could only think of the folk songs of another century that attempt to capture the same spirit, songs like The Hard Working Miner and Drill Ye Tarriers Drill.

I-Beam upon I-Beam. Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

I-Beam upon I-Beam.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

There was method to all this madness, of course.  The steel I-beams, beams that would bear the brunt of the weight once the house was jacked, needed a proper place upon which to do their work.  With holes knocked through walls and cribbing built to set rollers upon, the hour of steel arrivers.   On a great flatbed they come, I-beams measuring 40 and 50 feet, running in various heights of 12 – 18″.  This is the stuff skyscrapers are made of.  A separate crane arrives as well, raising the beams into the air, gently, slowly, and then easing them down and into the punched foundation walls, onto the cribbing with mounted rollers where strong-armed men push, guide, and coax them through.  Each beam is calculated to be placed in the right position to carry, ultimately, a balanced load – no easy task to figure in a one-room schoolhouse that had two additional wings added to it.  The greatest weight is in the wing, the least in the back extension, a room so lacking in mass that iron weights are added to the steel I-beam under it.  This house will move as one complete unit, rather than breaking it apart.  The setting of steel is tricky, requiring a full day.  When it is done, hydraulic jacks are placed in four locations, ready to begin lifting a schoolhouse that hasn’t been off its feet in 178 years.

Piston set, ready for jacking. Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

Piston set, ready for jacking.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015