LARAMIE, Wyo. — An apartment building recently sat empty in the middle of 12th Street during the hubbub of activity preparing space for the University of Wyoming Engineering Education and Research Building. But instead of facing destruction, one man was bent on giving it a new home.
“We moved seven buildings from that block,” said Dan Smith, owner of Summit Trucking & House Moving.
Smith is a third-generation house mover — his grandfather started the business in 1954 after moving a couple buildings, reported the Laramie Boomerang (http://bit.ly/2cpSOL3). And after moving scores of houses, apartments and warehouses, Smith said he understands the business pretty well. Josh Decker, manager of UW real estate operations, also took note of Smith’s unique business.
“I started here in 2003 when construction on the Anthropology Building was just starting,” Decker said. “(Dan Smith) and his dad were out there moving some buildings even then.”
One of Smith’s larger projects was the removal of an apartment building near 12th Street on the UW construction block. It took Smith and his crew — his two children, Tanner, 14, and Tucker, 9 — two weeks to prepare and move the building.
“The first thing we do is start breaking holes in the walls to get the beams underneath,” he said. “When we get all the crossbeams across, we start to raise it up. For (the apartment building), it happened to be on concrete and 3 feet of wood walls, so once we get it up a ways, we can take it away from those connections.”
After it was separated, wheels were placed under the beams and it was rolled into the street. This particular building had some unique problems, however.
“All the kitchens and bathrooms are on one side, so it made it disproportionately heavy on one side,” Smith said.
The building is bound for Lusk, about 150 miles away. Smith purchased the apartments and immediately sold it to a property owner in Lusk. The new owner will pay for the delivery of the building and the many complications it entails, Smith explained.
“We take up the whole road,” he said. “We require flag cars front and back. Then they block the lanes. This (apartment building) is about 28 feet wide, so (traffic) can still get around us. The problem with this one is the height.”
The previous two apartment structures Smith moved to Lusk were shorter and didn’t cause as much trouble as the current building.
“This one is 20-foot-8 inches, so we’ll have to lift probably every line to Lusk,” he said.
Raising a line is quite a drawn-out process involving many moving parts. On the highway, phone lines are the main trouble, Smith explained — power lines are set higher. To raise a line, there has to be good coordination with the phone company to get personnel to the site, take the time to stop services and raise it for the large building to pass under.
There are at least 25 lines from Laramie to Lusk, Smith estimated, making the move a two-day affair. The logistics of a move, such as organizing all of the line raises, is the most difficult part of the job.
“The houses do what you tell them, everything else is depending on people,” he said.
Because of the long setup, Smith said there are normally two or three projects going at one time.
He’s preparing to move a modular building to Elk Mountain and he has another building on site and ready to install.
“I try to have one started while we’re working on another and finishing one because it takes so long to prep for them,” Smith said. “We’ve had one in Cheyenne we started in November just to figure out the route, get the utilities on board and the city of Cheyenne on board. We can’t just stop and say, ‘We’re done with this one, let’s start another one.’ We would sit for six months trying to get all the logistics set.”
UW regularly provides Smith and other building movers — there are only four in the region — the opportunity to remove and reuse buildings from its property, Decker said.
“Prior to the (Engineering Building), we bid out the buildings for the (Michael B. Enzi STEM Facility),” he said. “Sometimes, we only get a dollar. We’re not making money. The point is to get someone interested and reuse the building and reduce waste.”
Smith normally buys numerous buildings from such university bids, he said.
“If they’re really nice houses, I’ll buy them,” he said. “I think the most expensive one sold up there was $5,000. One, it’s better for them, because it would have cost them $60,000-$80,000 after the abatement just because of landfill fees, trucking and contractor fees,” he said.
Smith estimated the abatement for the apartment building, such as removing asbestos ceiling tiles, would cost about $200,000.
After working with the utilities companies to raise wires in the city, the building is now on North Third Street waiting for its final move to Lusk.
Sometimes, the university demolishes buildings instead of putting them out to bid.
“They can go in with an excavator and have it down in a day, but they have to spend a week clearing it out,” Smith said. “But to most people who drive by, it’s gone. Those little houses, we can load that in 2-3 days if we plan properly.”
However, UW doesn’t have large building sales every year, making for an up-and-down business cycle, Smith said.
“Some years, we move 35 buildings — some years, two,” he said.
Smith has experienced many different oddities during his time in the business. The largest building Smith moved was a 50-feet-by-100-feet warehouse from North Third Street down to its current home off Skyline Road.
“We had to lock down Third Street to do that one,” he said.
There has only been one crash during Smith’s time as a building mover.
“We had a drunk driver hit the corner of the house,” he said. “That’s the only time we’ve ever been hit. He was all upset because there was a house in the middle of the road, but (Wyoming Highway Patrol) was right there and knew we were doing everything right.”
Information from: Laramie Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com