Heavy Lifting: A Housemover's Journal,
Up We Go
Cribbing supports the four ends of the two main beams and must
be installed completely level for stability. It's retrofitted
under the beams, crossing 6x7 members two on two in a box
configuration (Figure 7).
Figure 7.Four-foot lengths of 6x7-inch timbers are
stacked to support the main steel H-beams. To ensure stability,
the cribbing must be shimmed or shoveled dead level (top left).
One layer is blocked solid to support the jack (top right). The
unified jacking system manifold also provides an instant
readout on the weight each jack lifts (bottom).
The remotely controlled, unified system jacks are placed on a
solid layer of timbers placed within the cribbing. Once the
cribbing is built as high as possible under the beams, the
jacks are individually activated at the central manifold while
lookouts call out local conditions at the jacking stations. Any
telltale creak or shifting is cause for a halt and possible
correction before proceeding. The jacks raise the building in
14-inch lifts, allowing the cribbing to be stacked
progressively higher, up to the point where the building can be
rolled off the foundation and placed on the dollies (or, if
it's going right back onto a replacement foundation, more
cribbing). Gauges for each hydraulic line provide feedback on
the jacks' lifting force, telling me how much weight each is
picking up. All told, this building weighed 35 tons, a
relatively light load in moving terms.
To roll the building off (or on) the foundation requires
another set of track beams, set perpendicular to the main beams
and supported at intervals on cribbing and the foundation
itself. The main beams ride on the track beams on heavy-duty
bidirectional "skates" (Figure 8).
Figure 8.Two-way Hevi-Haul skates (top), are used
to roll a building on or off the foundation as well as for
alignment above a new foundation before lowering the house into
place. Here, the house is winched forward on one axis (bottom
left) and nudged into position with a derrick arm on the other
axis (bottom right).
On the Road Again
It's getting more difficult all the time to take a building
over the roads. Local regulations and permits are one hurdle to
overcome. Cooperation from power and cable utilities is a whole
other process with little predictability except for the
aggravation involved. Those considerations aside, on reviewing
the prospective route for this move, it became obvious that
there would be no practical way to move the building intact
through the tight turns and narrow restrictions along the way.
However, an alternative route presented itself in the
surrounding inland waterways and a 6-mile stretch of open
ocean. Provided with a little cooperation from wind and sea, we
could close the gap between the two accessible road links by
floating the house on a barge (see
12/03). There's actually plenty of precedent for taking
buildings over water — it's been done for centuries
— but it's still not business as usual.
On the appointed day, we attached the towing vehicle to the
house apparatus and headed slowly down the road to the harbor
bulkhead, where a 130-ton crane lifted the house onto the
barge. We then had to wait for high tide — a
difference of about 3 feet — on the following day to
ensure enough water under the hull to clear the shallow bottom
along the passage. Once in the open ocean, a second towing
vessel hitched alongside the barge and added another knot to
our speed (Figure 9).
Figure 9.To stay ahead of powerful outgoing tidal
currents, a backup vessel tied up alongside the barge, adding
another knot to the speedometer and shaving 25 minutes off the
Even though the ocean was almost unbelievably calm and flat on
this day, we needed to beat the powerful currents created by
the outgoing tide at the ocean inlet. Otherwise, the tow could
be brought to a standstill at full power. All things
considered, I think someone up there was watching our backs on
this move. The chimney survived intact, and only minor cracking
of the wall plaster at the gable ends resulted from flexing of
the main beam ends.
At the far harbor, the crane again stood by to lift the house
back onto the dollies for the final, short leg up the road to
the new site. There, we set her down on cribbing to rest while
the new poured concrete foundation and masonry chimney base
were prepared. A stepped ledge in the foundation allowed for an
antique brick veneer to approximate the original appearance
above grade (Figure 10).
Figure 10.Sufficient brick was salvaged from the
original foundation to veneer two-and-a-half sides of the new
foundation above grade. A closely matched modern brick blends
in behind the front step and ends at a rear
Although the framing was still sound and the house had been
safely occupied for many years prior to the move, following
restoration it would be opened to the public as a functional
historical home. This meant, among other things, that the
ancient floor system would have to be reinforced to a
commercial rating. The owners hired an engineer to design a
retrofit forest of posts and braces in the basement (Figure
11). With only a 6-foot-high ceiling and no wheelchair access,
the basement is off-limits to tourists anyway.
Figure 11.The building inspector called for
engineered reinforcement to the old, chamfered floor joists.
Although the home was safely occupied until 2000, it will now
be a public museum and the floor subject to commercial design
Robert Haydenowns and operates Hayden Building Movers
in Cotuit, Mass.