Halfway House

So far, so good. The rain held off nicely and the house has been wheeled down to the new foundation and tomorrow the crane comes to lift it into place. McKernon says they hope to have it in the air by mid-morning and barring any surprises the scary part should be over and done with by the end of the day.

The trip took about two hours and most of the day was spent cleaning out everything under the house (rocks and debris and all the cribs, which are the 6×6 “lincoln logs” used for supporting the house and chocking the wheels under the steel). The two excavators spent the morning/early afternoon smoothing and grading the runway, which meant going back and forth endless times, using their weight to pack the earth and also getting rid of any rocks bigger than a softball. Guys with shovels filled in any small divots and also scraped away at any uneven ground under the house itself, where the excavators couldn’t reach. Three dumptrucks of fill were also brought in and smoothed in place next to the foundation, as a platform for the crane. The smoothing also involved backfilling against the foundation’s W and S walls (the two walls facing the runway).

Around 3.00 pm they were ready; the only thing left under the house was the wheeled steel chocked with cribs. The smaller excavator was moved aside and the big Komatsu was moved into place against the hitch on the fifth wheel (under the back of the house). Vertical braces were nailed in place on the outside back wall and the bucket was swung up to the hitch and fixed with a loop of chain.

House Move - 3

The plan was to first back the house up against the front yard as much as they could (a few feet) then initially pull the house backward in the “wrong” direction, which would allow them to then rotate the fifth wheel nearly 180 degrees and pull for the foundation, pivoting the house on the downslope back wheels to get it pointed downhill.

House Move - 2

After the wheels were unchocked and the first short push back (first time we saw the house actually moving), followed by the short pull back in the off-direction, McKernon decided they weren’t happy with the way the fifth wheel was locked into the I-beam frame. The wheels were rechocked, the front of the frame (at the back of the house) was re-cribbed and jacked, and they went to work on the fifth wheel.

House Move - 1

It took about half an hour of flashlights, prybars, greasy fingers, plus some real finesse work with the bucket before the state of the primary lock was satisfactory. A few minutes of manpower on the much smaller secondary lock got it all where they wanted. The jacks and cribs were pulled one last time, the excavator took the strain, and the chocks came out. None of these wheels are braked, it was up to the bulk of the excavator both to pull the house and to keep it from moving downhill faster than it should.

The move begins:

House Move - 4

At this point it’s being pivoted, again on the back wheelset facing the camera. Anyone familiar with the house could tell in this view that the move has really begun, as before you couldn’t have seen the back of the house at all from this camera location. The purpose of the pivot was to miss as much of the maple tree as possible and get the frame and house pointed downhill early.

The excavator would get set in place and the frame/house pulled verrry slowwwly two or three feet toward it. The excavator would then back up, paying the arm out forward at the same time so that the bucket would remain in the same place relative to the hitch/frame/house. Stop the excavator, pull toward the excavator, and repeat: back the excavator up while paying out the arm, stop, pull. Repeat. A few feet every few minutes.

House Move - 5

Here she comes. It’s worth saying that overall it went very smoothly, with very few lateral sags (which were momentarily alarming but over before you knew it) and in the whole move there were only a few fore-and-aft (downhill) jolts, and of those few there was only one that got people shaking their heads and grinning, with a presumably more than half-joking shout of “You’re scaring me!” (and no that wasn’t from us).

The house acquitted itself very well, with few audible creaks and no real groans. Here she is under weigh, from the other direction, headed for/around the maple, the sky is even clearing a bit. She still, at this point, looks too close to the road:

House Move - 6

Past the presumably freaked-out maple:

House Move - 7

It was a pretty tight fit. This is looking E, so the house has been rotated 90 degrees CCW and is headed down the runway. Note that the bottom of the bucket is touching the runway, it was consciously kept that way the whole trip, to minimize vertical jolt.

Past the maple and now it’s nearly a straight shot, really the worst is over. Since like all Vermont soil ours is full of innumerable rocks (everything from fist sized “taters” to significant boulders) you can tell from this and the next shot how serious McKernon was about smoothing the runway beforehand, it looks like pure flat dirt, and it was. During the prep any kid would have whooped with delight to see the excavator get its teeth under a three-foot boulder and then gently (it’s the only word) flip it a few inches in the air in order to get the bucket underneath to catch it, rather than simply push it aside. No sense of Cowboy involved either, just efficiency and operator skill.

House Move - 8

Coming down the runway (funny that Hyla called that level area “the airport” and the guys call it The Runway):

House Move - 9

Getting closer to level, and the home stretch:

House Move - 10

House Move - 11

House Move - 12

Which is where they stopped. The original plan was to take it somewhat farther but the offside (left) wheels hit some soft earth. Since no one knows precisely where the crane operator wants the house to be for the lift, they decided to leave it where it was– it’ll be easier to pull it forward a bit farther tomorrow if need be, rather than have to push it back at all.

The stubborn wheels on the left sank a few inches into the soil so they dug out in front of them and laid some cribs (and in the process ran into an inconveniently backfilled boulder, which resulted in the only swearing we heard all day) then pulled the frame part way up onto the cribs before back-chocking with more cribs. The tires were pretty well deflected against the cribs both fore and aft, so to avoid the possibility of them losing air overnight McKernon lincoln-logged the aft end of the off I-beam, taking some of the strain off the tires, and called it a day. 5.00 pm.

Summing up the very odd feeling at this point? Vermont boys returning from Antietam or Gettysburg — and their parents — and even some aged one-time subjects of George III — might have been more or less familiar with:

House Front - Before

Well, no more. Presumptuously perhaps, and creepily like a lost tooth:

House Move - 13

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