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.
The one good thing about this horrible, stormy winter has been the lack of snow. I congratulated myself on it almost daily. Surely, the sheer power of my dislike of snow was keeping it at bay? And with spring just around the corner it looked like we'd squeeze by without having to deal with all the hassles that snow brings when you're a floathouse dweller.
And then it started snowing. And snowing. And, then, guess what? More snowing.
My dad, who had just turned seventy, had to saw and chop wood in a blizzard. High winds tossed the thick snow over him and coated him even as he swung his sledgehammer to break up particularly stubborn spruce rounds. My mom bundled up and did almost all the stacking and hauling into their house, despite dealing with debilitating osteoarthritis in her knees and hands. (I'd had a bad fall and she valiantly took up the slack.)
Our mail came in days late, the floatplanes unable to fly in the blizzard conditions. When it finally got here, my dad, after shoveling a foot of snow out of the skiff, couldn't get the outboard engine to start--the fuel was frozen in the line and the carburetor.
My brother Jamie stepped in and brought our groceries and mail out in his skiff in snow so thick that he had to hug the shoreline with almost zero visibility in pretty good size seas. Thankfully he knows the area extremely well and didn't wreck, or hit his propellor on anything.
The real problem with snow and floathouses is the weight, which can sink a float. My column this week at www.capitalcityweekly.com, appearing on Wednesday, March 15th, is about how we deal with this issue.
In order to get the column off I had to cross through the woods to get to the beach where there's a stronger signal than I can get at my house. I bundled up and like every other danger-defying columnist out there, braved deep snow in high winds with a brutal wind chill that froze my fingers as soon as I took them out of my gloves to hit send.
Here's hoping spring is just around the corner.
This has easily been the worst winter for violent storms that we've ever seen in all the years we've lived here. The weather forecasters have obviously not figured out whatever has changed because they consistently under forecast. When it's forecasted to blow thirty mph we will invariably get seventy mph or higher. I'm going on three nights without sleep because of the back-to-back gale-to-hurricane force winds we've been getting battered by.
My dad and I just went woodlogging in a big swell when there was a slight break in the weather and as we rounded the rocks that protect our home we counted no less than four wind-broken trees just since the last time we'd rounded the point. Last night I kept thinking about that as I heard debris constantly hitting my roof and my house being shook by one powerful gust after another. I just hoped and prayed none of the trees that surround us would come down on us.
I'm having a hard time keeping up with my emails with all the physical work involved here and the lack of sleep, so I wanted to put this up to explain and apologize to everyone I owe emails to. These storms can't last forever...I hope. And when they finally moderate into something more reasonable, I hope to get back to a better routine of keeping in touch with people. In the meantime, thank you all for being so patient.
I have a new column coming out at www.capitalcityweekly.com, Wednesday, March 15th, about tricks we've learned for coping with coldsnaps in the bush, when there's no running water. Thank you, Laura, for the idea!