Catching up

Ok, so we took a little break from blogging after Monday. Can you blame us?

Even though we took a break, McKernon didn’t. The very next day, they began to dig up that beautiful, smooth runway so that they could install the new septic tanks:


and dig the trenches for water, power, and phone lines.

We missed getting a shot of the entire yard made into trenches (or “badger tunnels” as Hyla called them), but this one shows one dug between the old driveway and the barn foundation, which will bring power and phone lines underground from the new pole the power company will erect in 4-6 weeks.


This morning, when we arrived, Mark and Bob were putting the final touches on the cap for the pump station vent, which has been diverted from sticking up in the middle of the new yard.


We think we’ll plant a shrubbery in front of it.

A bit more exciting is the new floor going on to the ell part of the house, shown partially constructed here:


It’s nice to see things being built rather than disassembled for a change.

Honey, I’m Home!

Well, well. The house has now been properly craned onto the new foundation and the move portion of the project is over. We had beautiful weather, clear skies and temps in the 80’s, and only a few scares.

With the Harvest Moon sinking into the Pacific and “National Talk Like A Pirate Day” in full swing (both good omens as far as Hyla might be concerned), the “100-ton crane” and the flatbed with the counterweights and spreader chugged around the bend at 8.45. These shots, taken later in the day, show the size of the thing.



Note how it has six turning wheels (front three on each side), and note also how the back of it, when traveling, is naked and red. That spot at the back is where the counterweights go.

Once they’ve parked it, the four traveling hydraulic arms are extended, and the crane is lifted completely off its wheels, becoming a stationary object.

up,Up,UP in the morning mist, goes the crane arm:


First step is to crane the counterweights off the flatbed and onto retractable pillars mounted on the crane itself. Click on the picture below (as with any of the pictures) to see a bigger view. You can see the black stacking pillars fairly well, also the word “grove”, which is where the counterweights go:


After the counterweights are stacked, the crane swings 180 and the stack is attached to the crane itself, the pillars are lowered, and the now-weighted crane is ready to go. You can also see the hydraulic support arms, with the candystripe stickers:


ditto in this view:


McKernon’s steel didn’t have holes for the crane-cable shacklebolts so Matthew went to work with the torch, cutting two holes on each end of the outside I-beams:


Two cables attached the spreader to the crane hook. This was the longest spreader they had and it turned out to be long enough. Just.

Three cables got hung from each end of the spreader; the outsides ones were steel and the middle ones were tubular webbing and looked pretty much like firehose:


Up over the house with the whole contraption:


At this point, the four outside cable ends got shacklebolted onto the steel, and the ‘firehoses’ were chained onto the ends of the center I-beam, C-clamps in place to make sure the chains didn’t slip off the end of the steel.


This shot, before the load came on, shows how tight the fit was, with the spreader. The cables on the front had plenty of clearance but on the backside there was an issue.


This part of the roof is going to be replaced but you had to wonder if the pinch was going to force the roofline right into the part of the house that’s supposed to stick around. A good photo to have for insurance reasons if the whole thing had collapsed inward like a stepped-on Coke can on the way up.

Once everything was ready, the crane took the load, very slowly. When things got hairy a while later someone asked the operator if this was the heaviest thing he’d ever lifted, and he said no. But none of us knew this during the initial lift, as the operator, staring at his scale, shouted out at intervals the weight he was carrying as the each corner of the house came off the steel in turn:


“45,000 lbs!” “50,000 lbs.” “55!” “60!” “65!” and Mark, Stewart, or someone shouted out “What’re you rated for?” and the reply of “55,000!” wasn’t very reassuring since there was still one corner at least to lift. Lift and lift, and still more weight with the house still partially on the steel, but finally it was airborne, having max’d out at 80,000 lbs, or nearly 50% beyond the rated capacity of the crane. At this point all the smokers were lit up and puffing. There was some discussion later as to whether the operator was milking things just a bit for drama’s sake, but by 70,000 lbs he was puffing away at his cigarette just as hard as anyone else.

We don’t remember the house ever seeming as askew as it looks here, but maybe it did. It was at this point that we wondered if our being aware all along that something might go horribly wrong had prepared us for that actually happening, if that in fact occured.

But she’s up:


and you can see how much clearance the ‘firehose’ had on the good (to be preserved) left/front side of the house, as opposed to the roofline on the right, which again will be replaced when they add height to accomodate 2nd floor (bedroom) of the reconstruction.

Up and level:


with guys on the offside hauling on ropes to pivot the thing (the crane hook is a swivel). You can see the spread of the cables on either side, each of which had some flimsy-looking 2×2 sections carved at the last minute by Mark with the chainsaw and nailed to the sills on the inside of each outer I-beam, as a precaution against the outer beams rolling inward, which would have been Bad News.

40 tons of farmhouse, moving toward the foundation:


Over the first half of the foundation, still a ways to go:


It was at this point that the crane’s hydraulic footing nearest the house began to sink, lifting one of the aft footings off the ground. Quickly enough, everyone grabbed a corner and rotated the house


so that the operator could set it down


with the steel athwart the foundation and slack the crane so the foot could be shored up.

We were a little concerned at how much the hook was diverged at this point from the center of the house, but they knew what they were doing. This resting shot shows how far (or unfar) the house had moved from the steel, in a couple hours:


At this point we rightly figured the worst of it was over. The house was resting, nearly in place, and what they’d lifted once they could lift again. Whew. Or as Hyla would say, “Sheesh!”

Resetting the sinking foot:


To be honest, this shot was taken after the foot had been shored up once, the house picked up again, the foot sinking some more, the house being set down again and the foot shored up yet again this time for good.

Up she went one last time, and got swung in place. It was still a good foot and a half off the slots cut in the foundation for the I-beams to drop into, but that last 18 inches was a job for manhandling, swinging, rotating the whole thing as it was slowly lowered over where it was supposed to go:


Nearly there, with some last swinging and tugging to get the overhang of the vertical brace outside the ecoblock:


down, down, down


The back corner is set, the front yet to be seated. The last real hassle involved trying to settle a not-square structure onto a square foundation. With the front of the house lined up to the foundation, the back was still obviously a bit off:


Pushing and shoving to split the difference between front and back, and down. Disconnect the cables. No whoops or champagne, but a collective lowering of blood pressure, for sure.

The house didn’t make a lot of noise throughout. There was some snapping and groaning as it was lifted, and the guys underneath said it was making a lot of noise as it came down, but nothing alarming. They said we lost a fair bit of plaster in the upstairs big bedroom, but that’s not surprising given the fact that the right sill on the ell wall, when the house was up, was tugged a good 8-12 inches higher than the left side of the same wall, which meant that when the left rear corner was down the right rear corner still had nearly a foot to go before it was in place, and that movement had to be absorbed by the frame. So we lost some plaster but that’s nothing really, and we sure didn’t expect to escape unscathed.

Done Deal. It’s down and the cables are coming off:


Stewart congratulates Hyla:


The crane, free. They still had three sections of extension to spare, though I bet they wouldn’t go Full with a house on the hook.


The crane boys putting it away, shown for scale. Beyond amazing that the swivel on that hook would allow five or six guys to rotate a 40-ton structure, under load, by hand:


Everyone’s basement should look this good:


The crane packed up and left, leaving only us and McKernon to pass the afternoon backfilling and talking about tomorrow (septic system), eventual grade, construction (rather than destruction or move) issues, and if it wasn’t a holiday feeling exactly there were at least a lot of relieved smiles and after-the-fact admission of concerns and worries, now past.

With some time left in the work day, why not pull some steel and make it official?

Hooking the Komatsu up to the center I-beam:


Click this one to enlarge it and you can just make Hyla out, way-away in the background under the excavator arm, imitating the Statue of Liberty:


And note also that our splintery old wooden farmhouse stepladder has been pulling its weight alongside giant excavators and 100-ton cranes. (“Why do they call it a 100-ton crane,” Matthew asked later, “if it’s only rated to 55,000 lbs?” Good question.)

Mark pulls the center I-beam:


Labatt’s Blue, Unoffical Beer of The McKernon Group, Inc:

Home And Dry. Safe as Houses. Choose your own metaphor.


This is the new view, and this is the new yard, which unlike the old one will finally be simple to mow. A vegetable garden as it should be, some fine sledding come winter and who knows maybe eventually a bocce court. In any event the house’s indignity is mostly over, and from now on her appearance should only improve.

Apologies for the length of this post, today’s and last thursday’s will probably be the worst before the Grand Tour once the renovation’s done, so thanks for your patience.

“God save the foundation”
— William Shakespeare, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Crane delay

For some as yet unknown reason, the crane company did not have a trailer available today to move the crane to the site this morning, so the final move of the house has been delayed until Monday morning (the 19th).

Needless to say, no one is particularly pleased about this last-minute change, but the house is secure where it is and we hope things will move ahead as planned on Monday.

Meanwhile, the crew is continuing to work on the site, smoothing out the area where the house once stood, installing drainage pipe around the new foundation, etc.

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

A one foundation family

Yikes! It looks like a crazy magic trick…

Just about all of the old foundation is now gone. As of Wednesday around 6:00 pm, only the bit in the front left corner of the house was left, as you can see here:

Foundation Gone - North

Here’s a view from the back corner of the house:

Foundation Gone - Back Corner

And here’s a view of the back corner on the ell side:

Foundation Gone - Ell Corner

Today, we woke up to pouring rain, but it’s stopped now and if the rain stays away (or is light) they will roll the house from its current spot to near the new foundation sometime early this afternoon.

If that happens, we will, of course, post descriptions and pictures this evening…

Off the ground

As of Wednesday, the house is off the ground, though still hovering over the original foundation.

Here’s the view at the front door:

Mind the gap

and from the back of the house:

House jacked up - rear

And here are some view of the steel I-beams that are supporting the house, from various angles:

Steel under house - kitchen side

Steel closeup

Steel under house - ell side

House with three holes

These are some more steel beams, but these are special because these have wheels! Somehow, our house will be put onto these beams, too, and rolled ever so gently down the hill.

Steel on wheels

And, of course, progress continues on the new foundation:

Foundation with gangplank


This morning, the basement slab is being poured. After that, the focus will be entirely on the house move through the end of the the week.

Slight change of plans

Yes, we’re still moving the house! But the method and schedule have changed slightly.

As of yesterday, the house was jacked up off the current foundation (stunning photos to come later today).

Later today or tomorrow (more likely, tomorrow, Thursday the 14th), the guys will roll the house down the hill to the new foundation by putting it on wheels and towing it with a giant excavator.

(Note from Michael: The hill from the old location to the new foundation is, at this point, nearly flat, so the rolling will only be “downhill” in the broadest sense.)

First thing Friday morning, the crane will pick up the house and set it down on the new foundation.

So, a two-day process and only one crane lift. They guys said they’ve seen this whole thing done once on TV, so not to worry… 🙂

Walls coming down and going up

As of today, there’s nothing left standing of the original ell except for the foundation rocks.

House without ell

The pieces we’re saving are all in a pile, ready to move to the new site for reassembly:

The ell pieces

When they removed the floor of the ell, they discovered (to no one’s surprise) that a part of the house’s sill was rotted away. To repair this, they’ve decided to use a piece of one of the ell floor support beams. We think this is a great idea!

Here’s a view of where they cut the ell beam. The cut exposes some very old wood that’s never seen the light of day:

Wood exposed

The cut section must not weigh that much:

Light wood

Here’s the cut section, being put into place under the house:

Replacing the sill

Just above that spot, notice the post in the wall that’s actually just a log:

Log post

Taking the wider view, here’s the house (with beautiful dumpster in front), which shows the actual size of the house we’ve been living in all these years:

Scenic front yard - 3

The house foundation now has three holes (soon to be four). This is a view into the basement via one of those holes. The picture after that shows a closeup of one of the beams in the basement, still with its bark on.

Basement view

Beam with bark

Over at the new site, the Eco-block walls are rising.

Eco-block walls - 2

Eco-block walls - 3

These will be finished today or Monday. On Monday, they’ll pour concrete into the gaps in these blocks to form the foundation. As of today, we’re still on schedule for the move taking place on the 15th.