The House That Didn’t Get Away


How does a house get moved?  The answer became clear over the course of the five days it took get our summer dacha, that old, still under renovation, one-room schoolhouse placed on steel beams and raised up by strategically placed hydraulic jacks.   “It ‘s a question of balance,” the chief engineer said.  “Everything’s got to be balanced or your whole project is going nowhere.”    Our summer dacha was balanced, all right.  I may not be, but that schoolhouse was balanced.  The chief saw to it.  He said it would take five days to prep the place for the roll across the field.  As with so many other statements he made about the project, I could’ve banked on it.

Though the weather looked dicey for the Friday scamper, the day dawned clear and warm.  Once again, as with so many things that had gone into preparing for the move weeks in advance, the timing was perfect.  We’d dodged another rain bullet.  At precisely eight in the morning, the heavy cable line to the towing truck, fifty yards ahead, was pulled up tight.  Hydraulics on the wheels under the house now carried its full weight at fifty tons plus 15 tons of steel.  The towing rig driver, poised above the cable reel, got the go-ahead from the chief.  Releasing the clutch on the reel he pulled the cable up tight.  Then, with the power of the rigging truck behind it, the cable began reeling in the house, like a slow motion fishing line suddenly caught in the mouth of a great undersea creature.  With a creak and a groan from tires beginning to move on top of timber cribbing, the house began its journey across the field and up the slight incline, finally taking a dog-leg to the left before perching at its new address – a completely different road.

“What’s the travel time?” I asked.  The chief didn’t miss a beat.

“Three hours.  You can sit on your porch and have lunch at the new location.”

I did some quick numbers.  “That’s about two feet a minute.”

“Yep,” the chief replied.  “Pedal to the floor.”

Take-off at two feet a minute. Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

Take-off at two feet a minute.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

Word of the move, the first in many years in the community, spread quickly.  Cars began jostling for a place to park as neighbours emerged to stand, talk in groups, and watch the wonders of man and machine roll a house like magic, right before their eyes.   To keep a constant eye on the house is to play a trick on the mind.  The mind expects to see a house rolling along.  At two feet a minute there is no roll of any such kind.  The house appears to be standing still.  A few words with neighbours, a back turned for a few minutes, a distraction, and then back to the house.  Now the mind captures the change.

For the next three hours the rigging truck would reset its position several times in its quest to pull in the old place, inching it closer and closer, never letting it “get away.”  This was the big one, the one akin to the Marlin hooked by the Old Man in Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea.    The Old Man fought with his quarry on the line for days; comparatively, three hours is hardly a battle.  Then again, land fishing is a different kind of sport entirely.

Crowds gather as a house walks by. Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

Crowds gather as the house is reeled in.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

The schoolhouse was landed before noon.  Though we didn’t eat lunch “on the porch at the new location,” we could have if we wanted.   Somehow the idea of clambering up the steel beams didn’t seem like the thing to do.  We were much more at home working the crowd and fully documenting the event for future generations.  A difficult task lay ahead for the riggers; not in setting it down – that would come later – but the exact positioning of the house over the concrete footers already poured.  These footers would support the foundation walls not yet built.  The positioning of the house had to be exact so its final drop would be dead-on with the tops of the future foundation walls.  For now, the excitement was over.  As multiple measurements, consultations and house tweaking took place the crowds began to dissipate.  After all, it was lunchtime anyway.  Today a rare event had occurred.   The idea of moving into a new house had been stood on its head.  Rather than going to it, we simply waited at the new address for the house to arrive.  What a fish.  What a story.

In time for lunch.  New location with a new address. Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

In time for lunch. New location with a new address.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015