Oversize Load

Old buildings are on the move in northern Vermont. Last Sunday, a 19th-century house was transported 2 miles by truck, on flatbed trailers, from Winooski to Burlington. The following day, during an unrelated project in the Northeast Kingdom, a similar feat was performed using oxen.

Bridport-based New England Building Movers managed the job in Burlington. They moved the private home basically in one piece; only the dormer window was removed. The route included crossing the Route 7 Winooski Bridge (I envy the engineer who got to analyze this load case), and power lines and traffic lights were swung out of the way as necessary. Compared to the self-propelled modular transporters used for rapid bridge replacements, this convoy traveled at a surprisingly quick walking speed of about 3 mph. I guarantee the Burlington Free Press video of a house rolling down the street will make you giggle.

Developer Nate Dagesse plans to build housing and offices on the now-vacant site in Winooski. He gave away the structure for free; the new homeowner, Chris Khamnei, needed only to pay the cost of moving it. I wonder if the $100,000 price tag includes construction of a new foundation… although even if the foundation cost another $100K, it’s a bargain compared to building a similar-size house from scratch. Add a hefty savings in embodied energy – new construction materials were minimized, and old ones didn’t go to a landfill – and moving a house looks like a very smart thing to do.

Vermont+House+on+Move2

Oxen move a historic Brownington structure the old-fashioned way.

Not to be outdone, East Montpelier-based Messier House Moving & Construction moved a Brownington schoolhouse a third of a mile using 44 oxen. The choice of power was historically driven: draft animals moved structures frequently in 19th-century Vermont, including this very schoolhouse. (Town officials say this building, formerly the Orleans County Grammar School, was simply returned to its original location.) Messier began the project by excavating around the schoolhouse and inserting steel support beams under the structure, then using jacks to lift it. That’s exactly how the same company lifted a house I worked on last summer. Working with beasts of burden was new to them, however.

Thanks to Laura Schutz for both stories!

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