Structural movers play several interesting and valuable roles. By moving buildings out of flood zones or back from eroding coastlines, they forestall climate-induced damage. By relocating structures situated in the path of new development, they act as recyclers. And sometimes they manage to preserve precious elements of a country's cultural heritage.
Hollis Kennedy House Movers, a five-man crew based in Huntsville, Ala., has been operating since 1973. "We do anything: house-moving, heavy hauls, on-site transformer moves," says Keith Kennedy, a third-generation mover and the current company president. "If crane and rigging companies can't swing some structure because of too-tight quarters, they call us."
"Our bread and butter is still moving houses 10 to 30 miles because they are in the way of highway expansions or a residential development. Usually, I buy houses from the developer and move them to a holding lot." Passersby who see the move become potential buyers. "Most times we don't advertise. We probably buy and sell 10 houses a year. For the new buyer, we put in footings and foundations on the new site, and when the masons are finished, we bring the house in and set it down on top."
International Chimney Corp., Buffalo, N.Y., founded in 1926, is probably the oldest structural moving firm in the U.S. "The main part of our business is design-build repair or demolition of industrial smokestacks," said Rick Lohr, president. "We 90% self-perform on chimneys, and we use subcontractors for moving equipment." The firm is currently working on projects in Pittsburgh, Brazil and Thailand.
The firm's most high-profile job, in partnership with Expert House Movers, was moving the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina in 1999. The 4,400-ton, 199-ft-tall masonry structure, the tallest lighthouse in the U.S., was moved 2,900 ft to protect it from advancing beach erosion. "It was one of the most challenging jobs we've done," says Lohr. "We had restored it 10 years before we moved it."
In the transport phase of any moving project, the structure is either carried on a rubber-tired vehicle (dolly or transporter) or slid on rails. Eight of the moves in the accompanying slide show were accomplished with rails, and two were on self-propelled modular transporters.
Hollis Kennedy House Movers, which typically moves average-size houses, relies on Holland Dollies, hydraulically steerable pieces of equipment with 400-hp auxiliary power units. "Dollies are more compact, reliable, and safer, but are not good for long hauls; they're very slow," says Kennedy.
The Historic Preservation Market
Historic preservation is a significant market driver for the structural moving industry. "The relocating of houses, offices and monuments related to the preservation of cultural heritage is growing as society becomes more aware of the possibilities and decision-makers become more aware of the opportunities and are getting less obstructed by the fear of risks," says Taco Bresser, general director of Bresser Groep B.V., a Netherlands-based firm that has worked in 10 countries across Europe and the Middle East.
Such preservation projects are complex undertakings that usually involve approvals and support from many parties. "In terms of new trends, we execute more and more relocation projects in which the historical or monumental objects are integrated in structures which provide stakeholders with new use," adds Bresser. "Of course, these processes take a long time and need a careful decision-making process in which heritage committees, government, architects, urban developers, civil stakeholders and engineers play their highly appreciated roles. Giving monumental objects a new future by integration in new structures also means the addition of earthquake-resistant foundation solutions or connection to energy storage (as an alternative to the traditional energy supply: gas or oil)."
Moving industrial components and large infrastructure segments represents another large sector of the structural moving market. "The infrastructural segment (railroad bridges, overpasses and industrial works) is changing, since more and bigger prefab elements are assembled next to the final position in a conditioned environment," comments Bresser. For example, Holland Kennedy moved a large steel floodgate from the plant where it was fabricated to a port facility, where it was placed on a barge to be carried to its destination hundreds of miles away. But industrial jobs are much less attention-getting than historical structure moves. "We do much more difficult industrial jobs that people don't give a rat's a** about," says Lohr.
Structural moving techniques tend to change incrementally. "Fifteen or 20 years ago most movers would use a wood mat or hand planks to support the dollies, which was very labor intensive," explains Kennedy. "Now we build roadways out of 5/8-in. steel plates. And we've used unified hydraulic jacking systems since the 1950s. The majority of these jacks are not electronic. Our machine has a main ram with 20 individual cylinders and a 6,000-lb pressure limit. There are hoses running to each jack. The jacks will lift at the same rate regardless of the weight on them."
Within the engineering and construction community, structural moving does not get much attention. "We face a lack of education at polytechnical universities regarding relocation itself," comments Bresser. "We guess it is because relocation is based on a combination of mechanical, civil and geotechnical engineering. Therefore it requires a lot of creativity—out-of-the-box thinking—to think of it as a solution, and a lot of experience to execute."
Editor's note: all weight measurements in article and captions are presented in US tons.