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The question was: how to move a building from point A to point B in the bush with only one or two men?
Alaska for Real: Archimedes in the wilderness 060717 AE 1 Tara Neilson, For the Capital City Weekly The question was: how to move a building from point A to point B in the bush with only one or two men?

Gary and Jamie Neilson (Tara's dad and brother), move the old post office off its pilings onto support logs. Photo by Tara Neilson.


The old Meyers Chuck Post Office in its new location. Photo by Tara Neilson.


The old Meyers Chuck Post Office in its original location. Photo by Tara Neilson.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Story last updated at 6/6/2017 - 4:39 pm

Alaska for Real: Archimedes in the wilderness

The question was: how to move a building from point A to point B in the bush with only one or two men?

In 2006 longtime Meyers Chuck residents Ed and Marian Glenz sold their property and moved to Wrangell. Marian had been the village post mistress for many years, going from one building to the next, until an official post office was built on the end of their false island. (“False” because it’s reachable by foot when the tide’s out.)

After the Glenzs left, the couple who bought the property didn’t want the post office building on their land so another resident, Al Manning, bought the building from them. My dad had built his summer home, so when it came time to move the building Al approached him. Rather than disassemble it and then reassemble it on Al’s property, my dad proposed moving the building intact.

But how? Especially since there was a shortage of manpower and it would just be my dad and my oldest brother Jamie.

First, with Jamie’s help, he took everything moveable out of the post office, including an old, very heavy glass and wood counter that had been salvaged from the Bay of Pillars cannery decades before, and a pool table that the locals had played at while waiting for their mail to be sorted.

I asked him how he knew what it would take to move it and he said he had an approximate idea of how much it weighed, which was more than it looked. “It’s well-made,” he said appreciatively, and then added meaningfully: “Ed Glenz built it.” He noted that, “When we lifted one corner, the opposite corner lifted. That’s how well made it was.”

Next my dad pulled the sway bracing off the two outside rows of the pilings that the building was pinned to. He left the two inside ones for stability. After that, using a cumalong he pulled two 50 foot long, eight-inch in diameter logs under the building.

To make sure the house slid on the logs, he oiled the logs and fitted homemade plastic sleeves around the four-by-eight timbers that the floor joists sat on. To stop them from falling over as they were slid down the logs, he put stiffeners between the four-by-eights. On the outside of each log he nailed two-by-sixes to keep the building tracking.

He jacked up the logs until they lifted the post office just off the pilings. He had to cut off all the steel pins, that attached the building to the pilings, with a sawzall. Next he tipped the pilings in their holes and dragged them out. He did all of this prep work on his own over a couple of weeks.

Now, ready to move the building, he called in my brother Jamie again.

Together they put rollers (smaller logs) on the ground and then dropped the logs the post office was sitting on, down onto the rollers, and then moved everything until the support logs were hanging out over a sheer drop off.

When the tide was right they floated float logs underneath the support logs. They secured the support logs to trees behind where the building had originally stood and then pulled the post office farther onto the supports. As neat as can be, the building (on its support logs) sat down on the float logs that were tied together with ropes so they wouldn’t separate.

With Jamie on one side at the back of the float in his thirteen foot Boston Whaler, and our dad on the other side in his 16-foot Whaler, they pushed the building toward Al Manning’s property. As they turned the float, ropes hanging off the logs got caught in my dad’s propeller. Pausing to free the prop, the breeze took them where it willed and the tide began running out.

“There’s always something,” my dad said. No matter how much you think things through, nothing ever goes as smoothly as it could.

They got the float into position and let it go dry. Then they jacked up the support logs to the height of where it was going to be by putting blocks under it — six cedar blocks two feet in diameter and six inches thick — two at a time, using double jacks. They got it to the height they wanted it to be and floated the float logs out from under the two long support logs.

They dug holes to put the pilings in and leveled them by setting one of the pool table balls on the floor. “When it quit rolling,” my dad says with a grin, “we knew we were getting close.”

They put the pilings under the timbers, took the blocking out, and pulled out the support logs. After that, all they had to do was put the sway bracing in and they were done. The old post office had a new home.

Archimedes once said: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum upon which to place it and I shall move the world.” I think my dad and Archimedes would have had lots to talk about.

Tara Neilson blogs at www.alaskaforreal.com.