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Kammerer house moving cost: $100,000

January 15, 1999

It took a long time for Jerry Matyiko to return my call, but I understood. He and his company, Expert House Movers of Maryland, have been busy, moving the historic Shubert Theater in Minneapolis. The six-million-pound building, supported by another half-million pounds of steel, took a week to shift to its new site, at the rate of 150 feet a day.

I sought out Matyiko because the $250,000 to $500,000 estimate I'd heard for moving the relatively small Ludwig Kammerer house seemed a bit out of line, like a price you'd give to someone you really didn't want to work for anyway. The 1774 house, located on land on land owned by CHIEF, the Washington County Industrial Foundation, Inc., is due to be demolished this year, unless someone can find an affordable way to shift it from its present location, on the edge of the Citicorp parking lot north of Hagerstown.

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The last local house move I could find records of occurred in 1987, and the company that did it is out of business. And so I called the American Movers' Conference, which sent me to the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association. They referred me to Matyiko, whose business is headquartered in Sharptown, not far from Salisbury, Md.

The town itself may be small, but there's nothing small-town about the firm itself, which holds the Guinness Book's world record for the heaviest building ever moved - another historic theater, the Gem in Detroit. And Matyiko's next job won't be a suburban rancher either. He and his crews are headed down the coast to move the Cape Hatteras historic lighthouse away from the Atlantic's encroaching surf.

It would cost about $100,000 to move the Kammerer House to a lot about a quarter of a mile away, Matyiko said, adding that he'd stopped by to look at it about a year ago, as part of a feasibility study.

"What's different about that building is that the stones aren't put together with mortar. It's just clay," he said.

As Matyiko described it, the first step in moving such a house would be to dig out enough stone and clay to insert a series of steel beams to support its weight. Then hydraulic jacks would be brought in and connected to a pressure regulator that ensures that all of them raise the building at the same time.

Once the building is up, then what Matyiko called "dolly wheels" are inserted to move the structure.

Matyiko has moved plenty of houses in his his time. His father started a house-moving business in Virginia in 1956 or '57. When he came out of the service in 1972, he began a Maryland company to do the same thing.

The process follows a formula honed by years of experience, including weeding out customers who'd like a house moved, but who don't have any idea of how costly (or tricky) it's going to be.

"Then we look at what we have to do to make it structurally sound, and how much it's going to be to do that. And then you go in and see how particular they're going to be," he said.

Some people don't realize, Matyiko said, that when you're talking about moving a very heavy building, it's tough to follow a rigid timetable. And with old buildings there are always surprises that no one anticipated.

"You can't do it quickly with these old houses. I keep telling the people that you've got to be flexible. You can't rush an old building like that one that you've got up there," he said.

Once the structure is evaluated, then the mover has to look at where it's going and what obstacles it might face, Matyiko said.

"You have to look at heights and obstacles on the route and whether it's on a hillside," he said.

And there are also trees, overpasses and power lines to worry about, Matyiko said. I asked him what happens if the route is blocked by one or more of those. Sometimes you can go around or handle it another way, he said, but if you don't handle it, you don't go.

Asked if he ever found himself in a tight spot with a big house on the open road, Matyiko said, yes, but said it was "nothing that couldn't be worked out."

And the toughest thing about the job?

"Finding some good help. Nobody wants to work anymore."

For those who would preserve the Kammerer House, the reality is that even if Matyiko or someone like him were available, the $100,000 price tag might as well be $1 million. Had the house not been such a well-kept secret for so many years, the money might have been raised, or the structure itself might have been valued more by the community at large. It didn't work out that way, and the home of the man who shared the Atlantic crossing with Jonathan Hager will soon be another pile of rubble, headed for the dump.




Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

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