Moving a 127,000-pound house 70 miles down back country roads can be a little nerve-racking, even for optimists like Larissa and Kris Munsch.
“I’ll be honest, when we popped over the hill and saw Hays, I had to fight back tears,” Kris Munsch said. “I haven’t slept since Friday.”
Friday was the start of the actual move, with big bucket trucks and crews from three different area power companies lending a hand to lift and cut power lines as needed along the route.
The couple has been trying to move the 1908 house from its location in Ness City for more than a year but have been stymied by bad weather, ranging from heavy rains last spring and summer, to snow, frigid cold and wind this winter.
“It would have been a lot easier to build a new house,” said Munsch, an assistant professor in the Center for Applied Technology at Fort Hays State University, who with his wife has restored half a dozen old homes in Hays.
“But this house has history, it has stories, it has Christmases, good times, bad times,” Munsch said. “I think the walls of old houses do talk, but you have to listen. Larissa and I, we’re old-house whisperers.”
Probably in the next week the couple will get sleeping bags and go stay all night at their old house, he said.
Late Wednesday afternoon the house was set to be rolled onto its basement foundation on five acres of land at the western edge of Hays off 27th Street. Trees line the road, no curb and gutter, and two red barns and a limestone fence are home for goats.
At 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Unruh House Movers, Medicine Lodge, had parked the two-story, 2,500 square foot house at the busy intersection of 230th Avenue and U.S. Highway 183 Bypass.
With friends watching through Facebook and Instagram, the Munsches were posting regular updates since Friday when the house was lifted and put on wheels in Ness City.
The caravan of house and trucks started at 9 a.m. Tuesday, taking Kansas Highway 96 east to Bazine, Cemetery Road north to Kansas Highway 4, then east to Liebenthal Road, and finally zig-zagging to Hays. By Wednesday morning they were within 15 miles of Hays.
More than an hour ahead of schedule, the caravan parked and waited to proceed since Midwest Energy had notified customers that the power outage on lines over 27th would occur at 2 p.m.
Hays residents Shannon Larsen and Sara Brown were amongst the cars parked near the Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex to watch the house roll by.
“I’m Facebook friends with Kris,” said Larsen, “We’ve been watching this for over a year. I've been waiting for this day so I could come watch it.”
Leon Staab, another friend of Kris’, was following the caravan and taking photos.
In yet another car, Elise Houseman, and her mom, Amy Grabbe, both of Hays, were also watching.
“I’ve known Kris for years,” Grabbe said. “It’s just cool, it’s just neat. We saw they were on Golf Course Road and I saw them come over the hill, so we’re just taking the afternoon and watching.”
Unruh House Movers moves about 50 houses a year, said Larissa, who along with Kris was following the caravan on Wednesday afternoon.
“This is our first time moving a house, so we’re learning a lot here,” she said. Depending on the territory, Midwest Energy Inc., Lane Scott Electric Cooperative Inc. and Western Co-Op Electric Association were raising electric lines or cutting them, all of that arranged with the power companies in advance.
“The roads surprisingly have been good,” she said, noting they saw a window of opportunity when the weather broke and turned nice. “So we jumped on this.”
The Munsches will renovate the house from top to bottom, while staying at their current residence, a Victorian home across from the Ellis County Courthouse that they’ve been restoring the past two years.
While the new house is a Craftsman style home, the Munsches have seen no evidence of it being a kit home from Sears or any of the other suppliers at that time. Instead, Kris said, their research found that it was built by Ness City businessman J.C. Hopper, a man who dreamed big, including his vision, never realized, of a Great Interstate Canal artificial river from the Dakotas to Oklahoma.
“He started out with nothing and became wealthy from cattle, land and banking,” Kris said.
While the house is in rough condition, Larissa said, it is an example of fine homebuilding from the era. The original woodwork has never been painted over, it has solid wood doors, and there’s oak flooring throughout. The Munsches prepped the house a little for the move, removing carpet, and layers and layers of laminate and vinyl in the kitchen.
“One thing we were a little sad about, we had to take down the original chimney,” Larissa said. “Most likely it would have broken off and fallen in the move, so it wasn’t safe. Kris and I took a sledge hammer to it and sledge hammered it all out. We’ll reconstruct it with new brick.”
A four-bedroom one-bath house now, it’ll be five bedrooms and four baths when they’re done, she said. They’ll update the electrical wiring and the plumbing, as well as add HVAC.
“We are going back with old radiators, they are actually more energy efficient,” Larissa said. They do as much of the work as they can, but also hire some out.
The Munsches were given the house by brothers Monty and Mike Pfannenstiel, Ness City, who are redeveloping the lot and needed the house moved.
“I’m from Ness City,” Kris said. “So I knew it was Mr. Oberle’s house, Mr. Oberle the librarian. I’d seen the outside but never the inside.”
The couple decided it was a house worth saving.
“We’re both very open with our stories and with our lives,” Kris said. “The more excited we are about saving old houses, old cars, old sinks, old hardware, the more other people may get the same idea. So absolutely we hope this is something other people will do too.”