Moving Big Stuff

If you can move a lighthouse, you can move anything

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You would think that a 198-foot-tall, 4,830-ton, 129-year-old lighthouse, perched upon a fleet of hydraulic jacks and squat dollies conveying it gently along a steel-track runway, would at least have the decency to groan a little. Wouldn't you? This is being called "the move of the millennium," but what does the movee — the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse — have to say about all the hoopla while being pushed 2,900 feet to its new home safely back from the eroding North Carolina beach? Zip. Nada. Nothing. Welcome to the world of big moves, where the question, "Can it be done?" is answered with meticulous hours of engineering, months of planning, gobs of money, frequent all-nighters, saintly patience, no lack of Maalox moments and no small dose of ego.

Whether the "superload" is a historic lighthouse or hotel or theater, a paddle wheeler, a chunk of rocket, Howard Hughes' huge HK-1 Flying Boat, better known as the Spruce Goose, a 200-ton autoclave, a nuclear reactor, a 180,000-pound houseboat (transported from Wisconsin to Utah!) or the torch for the Statue of Liberty, it can be moved. The logistics are mind-boggling. Only about six companies in the entire country are capable of handling colossal moves like these, and the more complicated and challenging they are, the more these guys like it.

Baseball fans have nothing on them when it comes to statistics. Any mover can rattle off his or her biggest move by engineering hours, fabrication hours, routing hours, permitting hours, man-hours, gross vehicle weight, length, width, height, distance traveled and, most important, whether it snagged any records. Or snagged something worse. The top of one superload rolling through Waxahatchie, Texas, pulled down all the Christmas lights that the Jaycees had stretched back and forth across the street. Whoops.

About Wendy Mitman Clarke
Wendy Mitman Clarke

Wendy Mitman Clarke is director of media relations for Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland and a lifelong sailor obsessed with the ocean and all the wonder and weirdness that lives within it. Besides Smithsonian, her non-fiction stories have appeared in Preservation, and Chesapeake Bay Magazine. She's also a published poet.

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