GALVA — Buildings sometimes need to be moved to preserve the past or plan for the future. When they do, Unruh House Moving goes to work.
"We pick up buildings — houses, sheds, barns — and set them back down on a new foundation," said Dwayne Mastre, co-owner of Unruh House Moving.
On Friday, Mastre and his crew were busy transporting a two-story farmhouse to a new location a few miles from its original spot. According to research done by a neighbor, the house was built around 1910. The new owners of the land the house was on are building a new house and are donating the old one to an individual living a few miles away.
Geri Schmidt, who was watching the move, said the house was the first one she and her husband, Clint, lived in after they were married in 1959. They built on an addition to the house as their family grew.
Moving buildings that have been around for a century or more is not a novelty for Unruh House Moving, which was started in 1979.
"We're a four-man partnership," Mastre said.
The company recently undertook moving its first brick building — the original Pizza Hut building at Wichita State University.
“A lot of thought went into that; a lot of planning,” Mastre said. “It was nice that it was on the campus there. The campus police took care of us. They escorted us, helped us out.”
Moving a brick structure is very different from moving a wooden house, Mastre noted.
“On this house here, we put a crossbeam every 16 feet. On that building, we had to put one every four feet all the way around,” Mastre said. “The bigger the building, a lot more beams go into it and you’ve got to shim them a lot more carefully, too.”
It is important to keep a brick building level so as not to crack the walls.
“A house is a lot more forgiving,” Mastre said. “You have a little bit of give in them. Even if the beams on a house sag a half inch, that’s not a problem. On a brick building, you can’t have any deflection whatsoever. It’s all got to be rock solid.”
Unruh House Moving has the process of moving a building down to a science.
"Everything's got to be disconnected, but usually the homeowner does that for us. They have to disconnect the air conditioner, water, gas and electric," Mastre said. "We start by excavating around the outside and getting the foundation exposed really good."
As they poke around underneath a structure, the Unruh House Moving crew often finds animals like snakes and skunks have made a home.
"Once we do all our excavating and break all those holes, usually anything that's in there is gone," Mastre said.
A jack hammer mounted on a skid steer is used to punch holes into the building's foundation. Wooden beams are placed underneath the floor and jacks are used to raise the building up.
"Once we're up high, then we can put in another set of beams at 90 degrees to the beams that we've put in under the house," Mastre said. "We set rollers on those and roll it off."
The building is then put on the dollies attached to a semi truck.
"That house is just sitting on the beams. It's not tied on — it's gravity, only," Mastre said.
Some structures, such as double-wide trailers or sheds, do require extra stabilization.
"They're a big building with not a lot of weight," Mastre said. "The wind will take them, so we tie them down. But we've had houses sitting on our beams, not tied down, in 50 to 60 mph winds in a storm that sat right there."
The crew makes sure any wires, signs or mailboxes along their route are moved out of the way.
"We do have hydraulic cylinders on the truck and dollies so we can go up 16 inches to get over a lot of stuff," Mastre said. "Generally, we try to keep them as low as possible going down the road just to get underneath all the high-line wires."
When the building reaches its destination, the process that got it on the truck is reversed.
"We will drive or back alongside the new foundation, put those roll beams back in, build all the cribs in the basement, set it on that, scoot it back on, let it down, get it down close to the foundation, do the final alignment and then set it," Mastre said.
Unruh House Moving has taken homes in Kansas to locations near and far.
"We moved a house 587 miles one time — from Inman to Fort Collins, Colorado," Mastre said.
A year-round business, it is not unusual for Unruh House Moving to transport a structure each week.
"We end up moving between 50 and 60 buildings a year," Mastre said.
For more information about Unruh House Moving, visit http://www.unruhhousemoving.com or call 620-654-8253.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.