The question was: how to move a building from point A to point B in the bush with only one or two men?
In 2006 longtime Meyers Chuck residents Ed and Marian Glenz sold their property and moved to Wrangell. Marian had been the village post mistress for many years, going from one building to the next, until an official post office was built on the end of their false island. ("False" because it's reachable by foot when the tide's out.)
After the Glenzs left, the couple who bought the property didn't want the post office building on their land so another resident, Al Manning, acquired the building from them. My dad had built his summer home, so when it came time to move the building, Al approached him. Rather than disassemble it and then reassemble it on Al's property, my dad proposed moving the building intact.
But how? Especially since there was a shortage of manpower and it would just be my dad and my oldest brother Jamie doing the work.
First, with Jamie's help, he took everything moveable out of the post office, including an old, very heavy glass and wood counter that had been salvaged from the Bay of Pillars cannery decades before, and a pool table that the locals had played at while waiting for their mail to be sorted.
I asked him how he knew what it would take to move it and he said he had an approximate idea of how much it weighed, which was more than it looked. "It's well-made," he said appreciatively, then added meaningfully: "Ed Glenz built it." He noted that, "When we lifted one corner, the opposite corner lifted. That's how well made it was."
Next, my dad pulled the sway bracing off the two outside rows of the pilings that the building was pinned to. He left the two inside ones for stability. After that, using a cumalong, he pulled two 50 foot long, eight-inch in diameter logs under the building.
To make sure the house slid on the logs, he oiled the logs and fitted homemade plastic sleeves around the four-by-eight timbers that the floor joists sat on. To stop them from falling over as they were slid down the logs, he put stiffeners between the four-by-eights. On the outside of each log he nailed two-by-sixes to keep the building tracking. To stop the logs from pulling together he put 2 four-by-six spreaders between them at the top and bottom.
He jacked up the logs until they lifted the post office just off the pilings. He had to cut off all the steel pins, that attached the building to the pilings, with a sawzall. Next he tipped the pilings in their holes and dragged them out. He did all of this prep work on his own over a couple of weeks.
Now, ready to move the building, he called in my brother Jamie again.
Together they put rollers (smaller logs) on the ground and then dropped the logs the post office was sitting on, down onto the rollers, and then moved everything until the support logs were hanging out over a sheer drop off above the water.
When the tide was right they floated the logs underneath the support logs. They secured the support logs to trees behind where the building had originally stood and then pulled the post office farther onto the supports. As neat as can be, the building (on its support logs) sat down on the float logs that were tied together with ropes so they wouldn't separate.
With Jamie on one side at the back of the float in his 13 foot Boston Whaler, and our dad on the other side in his 16 foot Whaler, they pushed the building across the harbor toward Al Manning's property. As they turned the float, ropes hanging off the logs got caught in my dad's propeller. Pausing to free the prop, the breeze took them where it willed and the tide began running out.
"There's always something," my dad says. No matter how much you think things through, nothing ever goes as smoothly as it could.
They got the float into position and let it "go dry" as the tide receded. Then they jacked up the support logs to the height of where it was going to be by putting blocks under it--six cedar blocks two feet in diameter and six inches thick--two at a time, using double jacks. They got it to the height they wanted it to be and floated the float logs out from under the two long support logs.
They dug holes to put the pilings in and leveled them by setting one of the pool table balls on the floor. "When it quit rolling," my dad says with a grin, "we knew we were getting close."
They put the pilings under the timbers, took the blocking out, and pulled out the support logs. After that, all they had to do was put the sway bracing in and they were done. The old post office had a new home.
Archimedes once said: "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum upon which to place it and I shall move the world." I think my dad and Archimedes would have had lots to talk about.
I love the way little kids think. One fall evening we had a huge bonfire on the beach built from drift logs with a lot of family members sitting around shooting the breeze and poking the logs to make the embers spark and glow, reflecting a golden glow on familiar faces. The forest was a black silhouette of jagged points all around us, with a full moon rising like a ghostly galleon just above them on the far side of the beach.
Left: My nephew Sterling. Right: Moon above the forest, totem pole in the foreground.
I did my best to explain the earthbound facts to him, but in the end I knew I'd failed his faith in me. Instead, I did my best and got him a glow-in-the-dark moon decal to put on the wall near his bed so he could look at it when he went to sleep. And I wrote him a poem that was one of the first things I had published:
A MOON FOR ME
I see you
wherever I go.
I see you
hiding behind the trees
playing with me.
I see you
as I reach out
to make you my own moon.
Recently a friend told me her own story of the moon and an older family member...one who came much closer to giving her the moon than I did for Sterling. Here's her story:
When I was about five, I would stay at my grandparents' house for a while. That was supreme ecstasy anyway...but my grandfather had been flying since the 1920s, and had a hangar with a few planes. I adored flying, even then, and was even allowed to take the stick sometimes.
I would be in my pajamas, ready to eat, but a brilliant idea occurred to me (as it seemed to me--anyway). I refused to eat. Grandpa asked if I thought that I might have a better appetite if we flew up and kissed the moon good-night. A brilliant idea, indeed!
He had planes in his blood anyway, so this was no great sacrifice to him. He called the hangar, had the guy get the plane of choice fueled-up, and off we went. Me in my airplane pajamas and little house shoes with wings and a prop on them.
We carefully inspected the plane and climbed in.
And taxied out, lifting off to see Mr. Moon.
In 1995 I had an article published in a national publication with an international circulation. In it I described living and writing out here in the bush and it seemed to strike a chord. Hundreds of people wrote to me from all over the world. One woman, a lovely older lady named Donne, wrote to me from where she lived in Johannesburg, South Africa. We wrote back and forth for years and then, on a visit to family in Canada, she made a side trip out here.
We were supposed to pick her up at the dock in Meyers Chuck, but we couldn't due to the weather. (Because we live on the tip of a high, forested peninsula it can be screaming a gale on one side and calm on the other side.) We contacted the airlines and their pilot agreed to drop her off in a bay close to us. She told me later that they were already in flight, late in the day, and the pilot turned to her and said, "Keep an eye our for a cabin in the woods, that's where I'm taking you."
He had only a general idea of where we were but managed to find us. We pulled our skiff up to the pontoon of the floatplane and I met Donne (and her grandson) in the skiff. She said she'd been on some great adventures in her life (including being treed by a rhinoceros), but that her floatplane ride in the Alaskan bush was the greatest.
My cousin, Mark Morse, told me he wanted to write about his first experience of flying into the remote community of Meyers Chuck, where I lived as a child. He said it was something he'd never forgotten.
I don't think anyone forgets that first floatplane splashdown in the Chuck, and, in fact, airlines regularly schedule pickups in the Chuck after they've dropped off their other passengers elsewhere to avoid scaring them. You'll see why that is in Mark's guest blog below.
As the son of divorced parents I spent the school years in Atlanta and the summers with mom in Michigan. In 1977 as a third grader we learned that Mom had moved to Meyers Chuck, Alaska. Living with a father who was successful in the city, my younger brother Alex and I had no clue what it meant to live in an Alaskan bush village.
My first memory was the excruciatingly long flight from Atlanta to Seattle which ended in the flight attendants cutting gum out of Alex's and my hair. Mom met us in Seattle and we took the Alaska ferry system from Seattle to Ketchikan. We didn't get rooms or berths, instead we slept on the top deck under the Solarium in sleeping bags with lots of 1977 hippies also ready to check out Alaska.
The ferry was great and I remember it like yesterday, but the real thrill of Alaska bush living was still ahead of us.
We arrived in Ketchikan and made our way to Tongass Airlines. For the first time ever I saw a plane floating on water and was then instructed to get on it. Your first time taking off on water seems impossible, but soon you're airborne and in the hands of some of the best pilots in the country.
For some reason I always sat in the copilot seat and mom and my brother sat in back. Invariably the pilot would let me take the controls and push the yoke up and down, actually moving the plane. What had been so scary was now kind of cool.
First Time Landing in Meyers Chuck:
As we closed in on our new home, we saw some really tall trees surrounding a tiny bay, guarded by rock reefs on both entry and exit. The pilot flies around the tall trees and cuts the engine too quickly loses altitude, then, just before crashing, re-fires the Cessna engines, floats over the rocks and short bay and slams on the brakes.
Alex and I had ridden every rollercoaster in Georgia. But this was insane.
It's probably a five second maneuver but it's a five minute five seconds as you see every ripple of water, feel the crosswinds, and see the quickly approaching reef. The plane calmly turns toward the float dock, you unload your luggage and meet 10-15 people all willing to help you get to your new log cabin home in the sticks.
It's hard to describe the joy of that first summer, but getting there is something I will always remember minute by minute.
Most people boat into Meyers Chuck, which is around four to five hours from Ketchikan--or a 40 minute flight. But shortcuts in the bush always come at a price!
NOTE: Photos 1, 3, 4, and 5 are by Jo Wendel who lives aboard a boat with her husband in a small community on Prince of Wales Island. She blogs at www.alaskafloatsmyboat.com where you can see, in my opinion, the best photos of rural SE Alaska.