Making Big Moves

by | May 1, 2012 | Features

Moving is stressful for most people. From packing and unpacking to the decisions in between, relocating one’s possessions takes physical labor and hard work.
Now, imagine the planning, precision and heavy lifting needed to move a building!
House moving takes expertise, specialized equipment, careful planning, heavy physical labor, a lot of paperwork and a little bit of luck, said Shane Cantrell of Combs Homes Builders and House Moving in Ratcliff, Ark.
Cantrell described a house he moved in Pottsville. “We moved a brick house in Pottsville for the widening of hwy 247. The house was a two story with a chimney in the middle, 48 feet wide by 92 feet long. The two main beams were 100 foot long and 30,000 lb alone and the house weighed 425,000 lb. loaded with truck and steel. We had 50 tires on the ground.”
“We did not travel on any highways, but we went cross fields to the new location. We had a large excavator and two winch trucks to help with the pull, but we still had to be careful to keep the house on firm ground. With that kind of weight, we had to lay boards we call tracking to make a surface to drive on. The way you lay the tracking is by hand under the house in front of the wheels so you end up laying a 100 foot of tracking, pulling up, resetting the tracking over and over.”

“On top of everything else it rained an inch during the move. We traveled a quarter of a mile in three days with five extremely tired crew members,” said Cantrell.

Combs has been moving structures in Arkansas since 1936, when Paul Combs, a cap board hauler for the (what name?) coal mine until it closed, built three custom trailers to move the custom houses he constructed on his property to sell. When Paul Combs died in 1969, his wife Marie took over the home building operation and Lindell Hill, Marie’s brother, continued the house moving.

“My grandmother was a woman working in a man’s business but she made it work,” said Cantrell fondly.
After Marie Combs died, Marie’s daughter, Ann took charge of the home building operation and Lindell continued to move houses up until around 2000 when he became ill. Shane, who is Ann’s son and Paul and Marie Combs’ grandson, started working with Lindell in 1993, took over the moving operations. Shane grew up around the home building and house moving business.
“We still use those trailers occasionally but 90 percent of moves today are on steel beams. Beams are much more universal with use and can be left under house while foundation is built,” said Cantrell.
“Today, house moving is the same but different. The old methods of moving houses will always be used, but with ever rising overhead costs, you have to become more efficient.
For years, we would use only winch trucks and hand railroad jacks to load houses but with so much concrete demolition around houses today, we use skid steers and excavators, which help make jobs easier and faster. While it used to take a whole day to tunnel under a house by hand, with skid steers, etc, it can take 30 minutes to dig the trench.

Despite the new equipment, house moving is a still a stressful, labor intensive job,” said Cantrell. “Unified jacking machines, steerable dollies, and equipment make the job safer, but there is still plenty of hard physical labor involved. This equipment costs a lot of money to buy and maintain and rising fuel costs only add to the overhead and drive everything up,” he said.
“Every year it gets a little harder to move houses. Rising insurance costs are the biggest obstacle today followed by permitting requirements. Getting moving permits with state Highway Department, city, county, electric, phone, cable, stop lights can be very trying.”
“House moving is not a 9-to-5 job. You work weekends, weekdays, in water, mud, snow, and heat. When the weather man says its 8 degrees temperature outside and you want to stay inside, that means the ground should be frozen enough to move a house. The weather also makes scheduling sometimes impossible,” said Cantrell.
Timing the move is also critical.
“With increases in road traffic, a lot of the moves today are done at daylight on Sunday mornings because that is the best time with the least amount of traffic on the highways. In two hours on a Sunday at daylight, you can move a house. During the week could take eight hours,” said Cantrell. Weather can also be a problem, he added.

Even with the obstacles, moving a structure is an attractive alternative to new construction because many people simply can’t afford to purchase a new home, said Cantrell. Although it is not cheap to move a building, it is much less expensive than new construction today, he added.
“A lot of people do not realize that a house can be moved. Any house or building can be moved. Besides houses and public buildings, we’ve moved steel buildings with no floor in them, garages with no floor, train cars, bridges for county and city road department, large tanks, about anything that will fit down road.”
Every year good houses are torn down to make way for new construction. Usually no one considers that instead of adding to landfill space, that house could be moved and recycled to a new owner.
For example, when the tornado hit Etna and Denning, some of the people lost everything and could not afford to have new homes built. So, they found older homes that others either did not want or were to be demolished.
“We moved the houses for them and after the move they fixed the houses to like new condition at a fraction of the cost.”
Some homes need to be demolished and that will always hold true. But if you stop and think about it, when you tear a house down you still have to pay a teardown fee and only help add to landfill space.
But, when you recycle and move a house, it provides more of a chance for jobs to be made because of new foundations being built, remodeling, upgraded electrical, plumbing, siding, future taxes, etc. so it’s a win-win situation,” said Cantrell.

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