| July 21, 2009
The Expert Movers
By IRENE NOLAN
day last May, Jerry Matyiko was sitting in a booth at Angelo's in
Buxton, talking about the job he was about to begin.
article is republished from an August, 1999, special section of The
Island Breeze on the move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.)
He was dressed in denim overalls and a plaid shirt, as befits a
man who grew up in the countryside of southeastern Virginia and now
lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Plates of lasagna, salad,
and garlic bread were lined up in front of him, and he punctuated his
remarks with bites of each.
In answer to a question about "when THEY finish moving the lighthouse,"
Matyiko looked sharply over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses.
"Do you mean when I finish moving the lighthouse?" he asked pointedly and then grinned -- slightly.
Matyiko is a man with a delightful sense of humor, but one definitely
had the feeling that day that maybe there was just a little jockeying
for position going on over at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Relocation
International Chimney Corp. is the general contractor on the lighthouse
move, and Jerry Matyiko has worked with the company on all of its major
relocation projects since 1993, including the moving of three New
He likes International Chimney and they obviously like him. Jerry
Matyiko and his brothers -- Jim, John, and Joe -- are part of the
International Chimney Team for the move.
But make no mistake about it, the Matyikos are THE moving men.
They had already finished moving the keeper's quarters, the
doublekeepers’ quarters, the brick oil house, and three
cisterns. Their company, Expert House Movers, took the lead on
the move project in late May after International Chimney workers
finished removing the granite and mortar foundation, and it was the
Matyikos who took the lighthouse on its historic trip.
Earlier on that same May day, Jerry Matyiko had called the Cape
Hatteras Lighthouse relocation the "move of the century" at one of the
regular bi-weekly media conferences on the move. Over lunch he
explained why he thought so.
"It's the tallest masonry structure that I know of that’s been
moved," he said. "It's the tallest and the heaviest with the most
concentrated load on the smallest footprint. There's also the
distance. It's much farther than you usually move anything quite
And, of course, there is the public interest in the move.
"It's the most photographed lighthouse in the country. And if it
wasn't, it will be after this," said Matyiko, who added that he would
rather have the money that was spent on film to document the move than
he would the money his company got to move the light.
Matyiko said that there is an association of house movers and that
moving the lighthouse has been a hot topic of discussion among the
movers for at least a decade. He said he thought movers would
come from all over the country to help out in the move. And he was
"These guys come to the gate and say, 'I'm a house mover,'" said
Skellie Hunt, International Chimney's site superintendent, several
weeks into the move. "Normally, I'd say, 'So what?' But now
I take them to (Jerry) Matyiko. The next thing I know, the guy's
got a hardhat and is swinging a sledge hammer."
House movers came to the lighthouse relocation from Texas, Florida,
Virginia, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, and Missouri.
They came, for the most part, to volunteer their time, just to say they
helped move the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
Kell Jones of Beaumont, Tex., was one of them. He came with six
other Texas house movers, all of whom had special red T-shirts and red
cowboy hard hats for the visit.
Jones says the group knows the Matyikos through the house movers' association.
"We were with them first off when they moved the Southeast Lighthouse
at Block Island," Jones said. "And there was no question that
when they moved the Hatteras Lighthouse, we were going to be there."
The Texas movers did real work -- a little bit of everything -- but
Jones said they spent a lot of time getting quarters from the visitors
behind the construction fence and getting them flattened under the
Jones said he thought the men who built the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse did an "amazing" job.
"Here's this thing," he said. "It was miles from nowhere. This
was in the 1860s. It would be no problem today with cranes and
electricity and stuff like that. We have the tools today.
But these guys were building this lighthouse without any of that.
You just look at what those guys did without anything to work with, and
it's just amazing."
Expert House Movers hired a dozen or so men as regulars for the
relocation. Matyiko put out a call for movers under 135 pounds
and hired several men whose job was be to crawl into tight spaces
underneath the lighthouse's temporary foundation to set and service
One of the regulars on the Expert House Movers team was Michael Landen
of Farmville, N.C. He's a part-time house mover, who rigs diesel
cranes when he's not moving something. He’d been working
with the Matyikos on and off since 1977 and worked on "all the big
moves," including the three New England lighthouses.
"Once you catch it, you can't cure it," he said about the "house moving bug."
Landen handled the hydraulics on the Hatteras move, including all the plumbing on the hydraulic jacks.
"This is the one I've waited 15 years for," he said. "This is about saving things for future generations."
Jerry Matyiko and his crew moved the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 23
days, about twice as fast as had been estimated earlier in the year by
the contractors. They worked from early morning until dusk seven
days a week.
At first, they worked that hard to get the lighthouse past the first
800 feet, the area where it was closest to the ocean and most
vulnerable to damage from overwash in a storm. Though there were
contingency plans for a hurricane and the movers were not worried about
wind, storm tides were a large concern.
After the most dangerous area was behind them, the movers, it was
obvious, worked hard because of their passion for the project.
But they were also helped by advances in moving technology.
"In the house moving industry, we improved an awful lot of things in this move," Matyiko says.
An improvement in the beam grabs -- the method in which the
hydraulic jacks are attached to the move beams -- was a major step
forward. Instead of having to loosen 12 bolts by hand after each
five-foot push, the movers had only to deal with one clamp. And
Matyiko says there were also advances in the roll beams, the unified
jacking machine, and the valves on the machine.
The movers moved the lighthouse only 10 feet or so the first day and
then got up to 100 and 200. The single longest daily move was 355
"We really had to slow them down," Matyiko says. "We didn't want anyone to get hurt."
Jerry Matyiko says that one of the highpoints of the project for him was the move of just a few inches on the first day.
"When you first see it come up, and you know you got it and you see if
your calculations are right -- or if they are off -- that was a great
And what did he feel on the day of the final push of the lighthouse onto its new foundation?
He thought that it was "one of the biggest, most exciting jobs we'll ever have, and it's over."
Jerry Matyiko and his brothers are no strangers to the Outer
Banks. Their homeplace in Blackwater in southeastern Virginia is
just five miles from the North Carolina border.
Their father, John, made his living clearing land. Back in
1957, he bid on a job clearing land that had houses on it. He got
a bid from a house mover and then got the clearing job. The house
mover charged him twice as much as he said he would, so John Matyiko
decided that in the future he could move the buildings
That was the beginning of Expert House Movers. The four brothers
followed their father into the family business. However, the
southeastern Virginia business would support only so many family
John and Jim stayed in Virginia Beach. Jerry moved to the Eastern
Shore, and Joe and his sons headed for St. Louis. Today, in
addition to the brothers, six of their sons are involved in the
The Matyikos have moved numerous buildings on the Outer Banks,
including moving or jacking up a number of homes on Hatteras Island
after Hurricane Emily in 1993.