From American Magazine, April 1925, by Sherman Gwinn.
Eichleays, of Pittsburgh, have moved thousands of buildings without
damage--Once they lifted a large brick house up an embankment 168 feet
high; and another time they carried off an eight-story office building
while business went on as usual inside
One morning several years ago, folks who were going about their work in the down-town section of Pittsburgh stopped abruptly and incredulously rubbed their eyes as they approached the eight-story Woodwell Building, at Second Avenue and Wood Street. "Did you see that?" said a startled pedestrian, seizing his companion by the arm. "That building across the way moved!"
As if the street suddenly had parted in front of them, the two men stood stock-still and gaped. The big stone building on the opposite corner was moving!
Excited crowds gathered. Policemen had to be summoned to hold them back. And slowly, steadily, the structure proceeded on its way, foot by foot.
Inside the moving building there was less commotion than on the street. In fact, there was no commotion at all! The place was occupied by the hardware department of the Joseph Woodwell Company. Executives were at their desks, bookkeepers labored over ledgers, adding machines and typewriters clicked, the electric lights burned serenely, telephones buzzed. In brief, the day's routine went on as usual!
To make way for the widening of Second Avenue, the entire structure was literally carried, in one and a half days, from its old location to another site forty feet back, where a new foundation had been built for it. And the trick was turned without so much as the cracking of a single window pane, or the upsetting of an inkwell.
Throughout the operation, sewer, water, gas, light, and telephone services were maintained. The elevators ran, and steam warmed the building's radiators Even the concrete sidewalks were moved simultaneously with the building itself.
"Is that a fairy tale or
did it really happen?" I exclaimed when John P. Eichleay, seated in his
Pittsburgh office, calmly related to me this Arabian Nights story of the
feat performed by the John Eichleay, Jr, Company, of which he is head, and
his three brothers, Harry, Roy, and Walter, are members.
Mr. Eichleay is a squarely built, jovial-faced man with shrewd, twinkling blue eyes, and hair that is entirely white. He pushed back into his swivel chair comfortably.
"Certainly it happened," he said, his eyes twinkling more than ever." It was a little spectacular, I'll admit, because it took place right in the center of the city, where thousands of people could see it. But it was far from being the most difficult job we have undertaken. Indeed, it wasn't very different from the moving jobs we handle every day."
"What would you call an extraordinary job?" I demanded.
"Let's see, now," Mr. Eichleay said: "We've moved a house over the tops of trees, and occasionally we move entire blocks of houses at one time. Some years ago we lifted a building to the top of a bank one hundred and sixty-eight feet high, and--well, I'd say that to raise and move a twenty-story skyscraper might be considered an extraordinary job. Nobody has done it yet, so far as I know; but it can be done!"
"Would you tackle it?" I asked.
"Certainly," he answered. "Why not?"
For almost fifty years, since 1876, the Eichleays of Pittsburgh have been achieving the impossible in house moving, simply by following their belief that "it can be done," and then going ahead, without fuss or hurrah, and finding a way to do it. They move from 200 to 300 buildings annually. Altogether they have moved more than 10,000 structures, including oil tanks, high chimneys, stranded ships, and a bridge or two. This work has been done in all parts of the United States.
The business was founded by their father, a practical, imperturbable
Yankee contractor of the old school, who, in connection with his other
interests, always had done house moving in a limited way. In his day, of
course, nobody thought of moving a large building--especially one of stone
or brick, or even of moving a small house any great distance. It just
"couldn't be done," folks said, and let it go at that.
The elder Eichleay, however, was a man who had ideas of his own, and courage. Among other things, he believed that he was as good a teacher for his boys as anybody. When they weren't busy over their schoolbooks, he took them along with him to work--not merely to stand by and watch him work, but to pitch in and lend a hand.
"If you can learn to do the little jobs right," he would tell them, "you won't find much trouble in doing the big jobs later on The same principle holds good for both--provided you don't let the bigness of the job frighten you."
It was in 1890 that one of the railroads entering Pittsburgh decided to extend its right of way along the banks of the Allegheny River, a decision which made necessary the removal of two adjoining houses. A friend of the Eichleays purchased the condemned dwellings, which were nearly new. It was his intention to tear them down and reconstruct them on lots he owned on the opposite side of the river.
"What you should do," advised the elder Eichleay, "is to pick these houses up and move 'em across the river as they are. No sense at all in tearing them down."
"Yeh, that's what I should do," jeered the friend; "but those are twelve-room houses, not chicken coops."
"Call off your wrecking crew, and we'll move those houses for you!" said Eichleay.
The present head of the Eichleay interests--the father died a number of years ago laughed when he told me of this incident.
"People thought we had gone plumb crazy," he
said. "No houses so large had been moved, even on land; and when folks
found we intended to move those over water there were all sorts of dire
predictions as to what would happen. Some insisted such big buildings
would collapse. Others, granting that we might be able to keep the
buildings from falling to pieces, declared that we could never get them
onto the barges, and that, even if we did, the barges would sink under the
"But we knew what a flat-bottomed barge would carry, and we knew about what the weight of the house was something which the 'can't-do-it' folks hadn't bothered to find out. So we went right ahead and applied exactly the same methods we had employed over and over in the moving of smaller houses.
"When everything was ready, we drew up six barges, and gave the spectators another surprise. Everyone thought we would ferry the houses over one at a time. Instead, we put both of them on the barges, a dead weight of about six hundred tons. The local press had kept the public informed, and both banks of the river were lined with people. On schedule time two tugs hooked fast. With whistles tooting, we pulled out and finished the job in a single trip. Altogether, the work took about six weeks, though to-day we would do a similar job in half of that time."
"Well, it does sound simple," I admitted, "but tell me, how did you do it?"
"I'll try to make it clear just how simple such a thing is," smiled Mr. Eichleay. "It is essentially the same for all structures. The methods, too, have changed but little since we moved those houses, though we used only wooden beams in those days, while now we often utilize steel girders.
"The main secret of the work lies in giving proper support to the building, to replace that of the foundation on which it stood. It isn't feasible, of course, to move the old foundation. Therefore, a new, temporary foundation must be provided, on which the structure may rest while it is in motion. When slipped horizontally under the building, the beams or girders provide the walls with this needed temporary support. Properly placed, they make it impossible for the building to sag at any place.
In the instance of the two dwellings moved
across the river, the first step was that of getting these beams under the
houses. This we accomplished simply by cutting a number of holes through
the old foundation, in which to insert the girders tight up against the
sills and joists of the floor.
"Next we had to raise the buildings. This was done by going into the cellars and placing a number of jacks under our beams. The jacks were worked simultaneously so that the up