Emily Chetkowski is a children's book author living in New Ipswich, where her shed row horse barn is now safely installed.
A Man, A Machine, and a 48ft Barn
It was 2:30 pm when the call came in, earlier than expected. “We’re in Leominster,” the woman said. “Do we take 13 north or south?”
What? They’re here already? Panicked we left New Ipswich on a tear, towards Fitchburg, to get to our planned meeting spot before they did. Stressed already, I pictured them driving their delivery truck lost in busy Fitchburg.
In constant cell phone contact, we set chase and met up near the Ashby line. My eyes popped out of my head when I saw what they were driving - a full size tractor-trailer with living quarters and a 48 foot trailer hauling an escort vehicle.
“George, how are they going to get that within a mile of the old house? The roads are so narrow!”
“Relax,” he said, always the calm one, a pleasant side effect from 30 years of police work. “I’m sure they know what they’re doing; they do this all the time.”
Yes, this Mennonite husband and wife team, were very experienced. They worked for Horizon Structures, the Amish barn company I bought my 12 x 48 shed row horse barn from years before, and deliver sheds and barns all around the country. The portable barns are assembled in Pennsylvania and delivered to your site within a few weeks. It was a great choice.
I loved the barn so much that I asked the company’s owner, Dave Zook, if they would move it again for me, to our new farm in New Hampshire. He said "yes." And now here we were, looking at a monstrous rig, wondering how this couple would accomplish the feat.
I explained how the original crew came in a day cab, drove across my fields and up the hill with difficulty to place the barn as I wanted it.
“No problem,” Will said, “let’s take a look.” His wife Cheryl stayed with the rig as we drove off in our car. Will was pleasant and calm, as he carefully surveyed the situation. We stopped at the house and walked the fields. There was a wet area he didn’t like but he wasn’t worried.
“Ok,” he said,”let’s do this.”
It was now 4pm. We had until dark to get the portable barn delivered, when oversized loads must be off the road, and we were certainly oversized!
Carefully, he drove the rig into the fields, and swung it around when suddenly his trailer brakes seized up. Just when I thought the move was grounded for the day, Will said “I’m a farmer; you learn how to fix everything.”
He tinkered with the brakes but needed tools. They took their escort vehicle and set off to buy them.
I spoke to Cheryl while Will fixed the trailer. “Sorry this is so complicated; it must be exhausting for you.”
“Every delivery presents a challenge,” she said with a soft smile. “We expect it, then it never upsets us, and we get the job done.” I was impressed with her serene confidence. Watching them work together as well as apart, each having shared and separate jobs, I saw how skilled they were and resourceful, and my stress level lowered.
Still, we had a 12 x 48 foot barn to move, and it was getting late.
Will off-loaded an aptly named Mule, an 18 hp glorified forklift, not much bigger than Will himself. As he stepped onto the Mule’s platform to ride it up the steep hill the barn was nestled on, and where I had ridden my horses up so many times before, I thought to myself, "Yah right, he’s going to move the barn with that?" This I had to see to believe, as did a small crowd that gathered on the road.
Skillfully, Will jacked up the far end of the barn with the Mule. The portable barn groaned a bit but flexed as if designed to do so. He slipped a set of wheels under the sill on each side of that end. Then he set the Mule under the other end and lifted the barn, adjusting the level carefully and meticulously.
I held my breath as Will backed the mule down the hill with the barn towering over him, navigating out of the trees, and into the open pasture. At one point they hit mud. Will talked to the Mule like a draft horse teamster would. “Come on Mule, come on! Get up Mule!” Having logged wood with my Clydesdale before, the surreal scene struck me; tradition and modern mechanics melded, and the Mule hauled its wooden load.
Soon the barn was in the road, ready for loading.
Tirelessly, Will secured the barn, and hauled it onto the trailer with its remote-controlled conveyor belt. The amazed crowd, mostly passersby who elected to stay and watch, grew bigger.
With barely an hour of light left, we set off.
We led, followed by Cheryl in the escort vehicle deftly moving approaching cars way over, and the behemoth portable barn-bearing rig bringing up the rear. Since Fitchburg’s tree branches and electric wires were not at the proper height, and would have damaged the barn, we were forced to travel circuitous, narrow roads that seriously cut our chances of beating darkness.
Relief set in when we reached the wide, easily passable New Hampshire roads. And just as darkness befell us, we were safely home, barn and all.
Once again, Will unloaded his trusty steel steed, and then the barn. He drove the barn to its new spot, and set it down, perfectly butted up to our old chicken barn, just as I wanted. It was now 11pm. Cheryl was right; getting upset serves no purpose. There was a challenge and they met it.
Still mesmerized by an experience we won’t soon forget, we watched as they drove off, undaunted, to meet their next challenge.
Emily Chetkowski New Ipswich, New Hampshire