July 21, 2009

The Expert Movers


(This article is republished from an August, 1999, special section of The Island Breeze on the move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.)

One day last May, Jerry Matyiko was sitting in a booth at Angelo's in Buxton, talking about the job he was about to begin. 

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 Project.

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 England lighthouses.

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 that heavy."

 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 right.

"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 rollers.
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 hydraulic jacks.

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 feet.  

"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 feeling."

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 himself.  

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 members.

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 business.  

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.

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