Photo by Marcy Stamper

Marian Webster and her brother opted to move the 60-ton house back from an eroding riverbank to preserve a family-gathering place.

Slow and steady is the way you move a 60-ton house

By Marcy Stamper

They weren’t exactly moving heaven and earth, but it may have seemed that way.

After more than a month of severing the foundation and utility hook-ups, a 60-ton log house and 41 tons of steel supports — 101 tons in all — were plucked from an eroding riverbank to a more-secure spot higher on the property.

For almost three decades, the 2,800-square-foot log house sat squarely on the high bank above the Chewuch River. But one year ago, over Memorial Day weekend, surging water dramatically altered the landscape.

The fast-moving river had already caused the bank to slide slightly, said Marian Webster, who co-owns the property with her brother, Jess. Their father, Ed Webster, had the house built around 1990. While the house was being built, Ed met Anne Joslin. The two got married and lived in the log house for 17 years.

“I called my brother to say I’d never seen the river so high,” said Marian. After Jess arrived that night, he called her, stunned by the changes. “Did you see the bank? It’s all gone,” Marian recalls him saying. A major surge of water had uprooted two dozen Ponderosa pines and cottonwoods that had anchored the several-story-high bank.

Photo by Marcy Stamper

Marian Webster and her brother opted to move the cabin rather than dismantle it.

Over the decades they’ve been coming to the property, Marian has noticed changes in the river. “It’s the fires up above us and all the scouring in the river. It increased the velocity, and the river has been faster and higher,” she said as she watched the final preparations for the move last Wednesday (May 23).

The family considered several solutions before deciding to move the house, including disassembling it and selling it as a log-house kit, donating it to the fire department for a practice burn, or just trashing it, said Marian.

For the kids

“It’s crazy-expensive, but we decided to do it for the kids,” she said. Marian and Jess, who both live in the Seattle area, share a smaller house on the property, but their extended family often gathers in their father’s old place. They had 40 people there for Thanksgiving dinner, said Marian.

“Dismantling it wouldn’t be cheap, and it would be an enormous waste. Moving it is a magnitude cheaper than demolishing it,” said Andy Davidson, owner of Davidson’s Building Moving of Cashmere, who handled the move.

Because the logs were so heavy, the house was designed to sit on the concrete foundation instead of the floor joists, said Howard Cherrington, who designed the house.

Cherrington stopped by last week to watch the relocation. “I can’t believe they got this off the ground” he said.

Davidson and his crew spent a month severing the house from the old foundation and jacking it up to get it ready for moving day. “The positive part is, you don’t need a gym membership anymore,” said a crew member as he hoisted 50-pound beams two at a time.

The new site should be secure, since workers with Palm Construction Inc. had to hammer out solid rock to accommodate the new foundation, said owner Jerry Palm. The house will be suspended almost 12 feet in the air while the new foundation is poured and sets. It’ll be several months before it’s ready for occupancy, he said.

Davidson’s firm has moved other houses in the area, including the hut perched atop Flagg Mountain that was the subject of the “Move the Hut” campaign several years ago. Davidson bought the company six years ago, but the first owner relied on a team of mules and a Model A when he started the company in 1937.

By contrast, this move entailed a six-wheel-drive army truck, an excavator, a front loader, and a winch truck to pull and push the house around a sharp turn and up a short hill to its new location.

“I’m just in awe, because I know what it takes to build this stuff. They’re picking it up and moving it like another Lincoln Log building,” said Cherrington.

“It’s like a big, giant game of Jenga,” said Davidson.