Monday, March 29, 2010

The Big Move: Another Crazy Project I Dreamt Up Comes to a Close

It all came together unexpectedly. I sent a message to Ben (my "wood guy") a message to order my fire wood for next year, and I mentioned in passing that I was looking to move my garden shed and wondered if he would rent me his flatbed trailer for a weekend. I was surprised to find his generous response. I could borrow it for free if he could drop it off this weekend (March 12th) with my second load of firewood and that he'd happily pick it up the following Monday.

A sudden rush of calculations whiz through my mind, I've been planning to do this for more than a year, the thought of being able to wrap it all up in one day got my adrenaline flowing. I go over the plan in my head several times. I still had to finish clearing the new space, buy some concrete mix, get the posts in the ground. I had everything I needed aside from the concrete, more lists burned through my head, tools, beams, blocks, floor jack... As if a light goes off I decide that I can actually make this work. I respond to Ben with an affirmative, still in moderate disbelief that I had a free day on a weekend and that all of these plans could come together so quickly.

The pace of the project would not be my style at all, I tend to try for a patchwork plan of implementation, piecing things together at a slow and steady pace. I can easily adapt to rapid demands like this, but it was certainly not what I expected. The lack of time I have to dedicate to projects like these make a slower approach almost a given. Even now, being done, it's hard to believe that the whole project was completed like this.

The shed itself was situated in the North East corner of my yard, right on the edge of the hill, the veritable border where my level upper yard descends sharply into a creek filled ravine. The picture below doesn't make it look like much, but the floors were made with 2x6 studs and the structure is water tight, it has been a great garden shed but it has always been located in a very inconvenient spot. The whole reason for this move is that I want to build a large open woodshed (about 25' x 8') where I can store my firewood, lawn tractor, garden tools and everything else. This blue garden shed has been in that location and I need it to use as a place to store all my gardening implements until the new shed is made.

My first iteration of plans basically included dismantling the shed in place and storing everything on my covered patio while the new building was constructed, but after a lot of deliberation, I realized that the shed was not attached and could simply be moved instead. My first impulse was to rent a forklift; the shed (by my calculations it can't weigh more than 1200lbs at the most) was well within the capacity of a forklift, but I would have to overcome the obstacles of strapping it in place and having enough traction for the forklift to get across the yard. The problem with renting a forklift is that the cheapest forklift seemed to be about $140 for four hours, and the rental company had to drop it off and pick it up for you. Which meant that if this didn't work, I would be out the cost of forklift rental with nothing to show for it.

Someone I spoke to suggested building skids out of 4x6 beams and dragging the shed across the yard, and also suggested trying to roll it with drain pipe. As I thought these over, I realized that skids or rolling it on pipe would both require me to jack the shed up, at which point I realized that if I could raise it a few inches for skids or pipes, I could raise it high enough to put it on a flatbed trailer and tow it into place. This would be a lot cheaper than renting a forklift and it would cause minimal damage to my both my yard and shed at the same time. That settled it, months of thinking things over in my mind and I finally had a flatbed and it wasn't going to cost me anything to use, I just had to do the work in one day.

Here is a picture of the shed before the move. It needs to be painted, and the door that was installed was an interior door (just veneer) so it's falling apart, but if you were to inspect the studs and plywood of this structure, you would agree about how solid and move-worthy this shed truly is.

I got up around 6:30 on Saturday and started work immediately. The first step would have to be digging post holes and setting the posts in concrete. I went out on Friday night to buy the concrete and I already had some short cedar posts which I had purchased as part of the lumber for my larger and future-planned woodshed project.

I measured out my area, cleared out a few bits of brush and put two green fence posts in the ground where I expected the rear corners of the shed to align. I used my digging spade to dig the rear post holes, going much larger than I thought was necessary to make sure that I had a very firm footing in the otherwise soft soil at the edge of my hill. The first two holes I dug were too close together, but it only took a few minutes to move both over a few inches each.

I went 16" into the ground on each hole, then picked out a short post and used soil to level it. When I was ready for the concrete, I hooked up my garden tractor's small trailer and used it to haul the 80lb bags of concrete as well as the tools I would need.

My dad loaned me a concrete mixing container which he's had around and has not used for a very long time. It basically amounts to an over-sized kitty litter box, but it works very well for mixing up concrete, I was able to fit one 80lb bag at a time and mix it fairly effectively.

Before pouring in the concrete, I used my large level to re-affirm the placement of my posts. Since the trailer was about 90" wide, I made the posts a little more than 8' apart on the inside edges. Since each post was also about 10" wide, this meant that the posts would come within about 6 inches of the outside edge of the shed when it was in place.

Here is a picture of the first post after dropping concrete in. Behind the post you can see the green steel fence-post I was using as a marker for the rear corner of the shed.

Partially because my rear post-holes were oversize due to the relocation of them, I used two full 80lb bags of concrete in each. When I got to the front post-holes I was able to get away with about 50lbs of concrete in each since I did not have to move them and I had a better idea of the size I would actually need. I only bought four 80lb bags of concrete, so after putting in the two rear posts I was all out of concrete.

Since my Dad was coming over to help me out I called him to see if he could bring four more bags with him, which he agreed to do. I still had several other tasks to complete before my Dad arrived, so I got started on them after a short lunch. The first task I took on was digging the two front post-holes. As mentioned before, I was much more effective in making these appropriately sized by using my post-hole digger more than my digging spade. I selected some appropriately sized posts and made sure everything was ready for the concrete to arrive. All of the posts, front and rear, were buried 16" in the ground, leaving about 16" above ground. My plan was to make these all level by using a 2x4 and fencing level to mark them and my chainsaw to cut off the excess after the concrete was well set.

Having secured the future of the posts, I moved on to the trailer. Since Ben mostly uses this trailer to haul rounds of wood, he has mounted 2x4's and plywood around the outside edges. All of this would have to come off before the shed could go on. I carefully removed every bolt and washer, numbering all the parts of the frame with pencil and drawing arrows to show the upward and forward directions. Ben had warned me in advance that the trailer would only go together one way, so I made a concerted effort to note all of the details that I could.

After getting all of the bolts out, the side panels came out fairly easily, though the OSD board that they were made of was definitely not light. I set all of the parts near my patio in a place where I would not inadvertently run over them, and where they could easily be put back on the trailer the next day.

Having finished that, I moved a few of the telephone poles which were in place to separate my garden from the rest of my yard (after I till my garden this year it will become a retaining wall separating my higher level lawn from my lower garden). I rolled the poles well out of the way and made sure that the invisible fence wire underneath would be safe to back over.

The next task was to take the tractor back to the garage to collect some heavy things like a couple of blocks, jack stands (which I didn't end up using at all) and my 3-ton floor jack. I parked in the front so that I could load up the concrete as soon as my dad arrived, which he did as soon as I pulled the tractor around. We loaded up the concrete and all the tools I would need and headed around to the back yard again (talking a little about my new truck that I hadn't yet told him about).

I dropped the jack and stands off at the shed as I drove by and then headed over to the posts. We mixed up the concrete (a lot faster with two people), poured it in for both posts, ensured that they were level and then went up to move some things out of the shed while they set.

Since I was operating on short notice, I didn't have much time to move everything out of the shed. I had taken a few things to the patio already after getting home from work on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but I still had a lot of garden tools, two air conditioners (which I moved with the tractor's trailer) and some other things. We moved everything except for the air conditioners right outside the door and stacked them near my fence line to the left of the shed (out of the way but still saving time). There was also a considerable amount of scrap lumber (a lot of which the former owners left) under the shed which we had to move out of the way.

I pulled out two 4x6 beams from my pile of lumber next to the shed, set the jack on the ground and after double and triple checking everything, we started raising the shed on the right side. I initially tried to just use one of the floor joists, which was a 2x6's, but after raising it about half an inch, I could see that it was bending more than I wanted, so I lowered it again and then started over using one of the 4x6 beams directly under the floor joist. I don't have a picture of this since I wasn't rolling around in the dirt and didn't want my camera to be smashed, but to describe it the best way I can, the 4x6 was running directly under the floor joist the whole depth of the shed on the right side, and was sticking out 2 to 3 feet on either side of the shed. This allowed the weight to spread enough that the shed held steadily.

Once we had the shed high enough, we pulled out the cinder blocks which it had been resting on (most of them were thoroughly filled with dirt and grass), then put them them back in place, along with a few pieces of scrap lumber to raise it up. We started to raise the other side by using the same process on the left, except that we accessed it from the rear of the shed where there was more room to get the jack and beam in place (the ground at the left front was much higher).

One of my chief complaints about this shed in it's original location was that it was never leveled properly after the county finished their drain field behind it. The short version of the story is that the county has a storm drain that releases into a small drain field in our back yard. The original owners back filled the original and it was apparently causing problems with clogging on the other end. So while the house was up for sale and nobody was there to object, the county came in and rebuilt the drain field. When they did so, they dismantled a fence which used to border the property and apparently had to move the shed, at least that is what I assume since we weren't there to see it all. It was never a serious problem, but it was just un-level enough that the door would not stay open and tools could only be stacked against the back wall since they would just fall down if you leaned them against the front.

This problem was causing stability issues after we raised the left side of the shed and moved back to the right. Just before we started jacking up the right again, the shed shifted about 6 inches to the left, moving it's weight onto three of the temporary posts (one now at a 45 degree angle) and the fourth being unused entirely. The first step in correcting this was to shift a little more weight back onto the temporary post which was completely unused. We carefully placed the temporary post back in place and used more blocks of wood to raise it's height. After getting it as tight as we could without jacking it up any further, we moved back to the left side and started raising it off of the temporary posts which had fallen over.

We made a more secure footing for the temporary posts and reset the shed's weight, that was basically the only excitement we had in the process of raising the shed up. We progressed in the same manner, doing a few inches at a time on each side and gradually making the temporary posts higher and higher. After the first two rotations of this process, we started using large firewood rounds which were delivered to me the day before, at every resting point, I would re-measure to see how much higher we would have to go. I also took measurements to ensure that we left enough space on either side to fit the trailer underneath when the time came. In the end, each temporary post consisted of one 18" wood round, a cinder block and a 4x6 block. On the back posts we had to use a couple of additional 2x4's to level it out.

I used my 8lb sledge to break up the concrete ramp which used to go to the door (the poorly made concrete came apart easily) and we dug out a little bit of the dirt as well. There were all sorts of treasures left below the shed in addition to these things, I had to remove shards of glass from a broken window pain and a wide variety of other interesting wood and metal scraps.

I took my final measurements, checking for the 23 inches of clearance we would need in the front for the trailer to clear. We only had half an inch to spare, so I decided that we would back the trailer up to the shed with the truck, then disconnect it and walk it the remainder of the distance. This gave us a little more room to play with since the height of the hitch on the truck made the trailer raised slightly. Once underneath, we would back the truck up and reconnect, then lower the shed onto the trailer.

This all went very well, the trailer was pretty heavy, but it slid under the shed without a problem and we reconnected the truck with ease once the trailer was in place. I raised the shed just enough to remove the blocks and carefully lowered it down to the trailer deck, once the weight was resting fully, we quickly checked the tire clearance to make sure we weren't rubbing the deck. Having plenty of clearance to spare, we lowered the other side and checked again, everything was clear and well balanced.

Here is the truck in front of the shed just after it was lowered onto the trailer.

You can see the firewood rounds we used to prop it up. under the bottom right corner.

Here is a picture of the shed itself on the trailer. We used the ladder to put a 4x6 across the top to make it at least a little bit more secured on the trailer. I was going to use two of them, but one of them was not quite long enough to cross the whole roof and we were starting to run out of daylight.

While my dad used the 4x6 beam and ladder to secure the trailer, I started up my chainsaw and moved over to the posts to level them out.

Since the ground was not level, there was no way to measure the posts out for a perfectly level cut. The method I used was fairly simple and can be applied in any construction project where you are using posts on un-level ground. The problem is that you'll only be able to control how far your lowest point will be from the ground, the others portions will vary in distance depending on the change in slope.

In order to do this, all you need is a pencil, a long, straight board and a good level, the size of the level does not matter. All that you do is place your level in the center of the board, put one end of the board on your shortest post, then hold the board up to the post you intend to cut. Use the level to find out when you are level, then make your mark along the bottom of the board. Do the same for every other post, once you are done cutting, you can verify your accuracy by laying the board across each post. No matter which two posts you choose, the level bubble should always be floating in the middle. If there are any mistakes, trimming or using a shim should be fairly easy.

In my case I was using a chainsaw, which is unsatisfactorily sloppy for accurate cutting, but was the fastest way to make a cut where perfection didn't matter. In the end the cuts were a little slanted and uneven, but once the beam was laid over the top, it wasn't going to make a difference. My first cut was the biggest reduction of them all, I cut off about 12 inches of the post to bring it down to the right level, it was for the right front post. The two rear posts only had to shave off about 3 inches each.

When I was done, all of the cuts I made were about 1.25" taller than the post I started with as the lowest point. I assume that I inadvertently made my first mark across the top of the 2x4 and not the bottom, then measured the rest based on that inaccurate cut. In any case, instead of redoing all of the cuts, I simply used a 2x6 to bring the shortest post up to par (the perfect fit of the 2x6 is what makes me think I was measuring across the top of my board and not the bottom).

After getting the shed onto the trailer, I was feeling rather giddy. I had been laughing to myself for most of the afternoon at certain points when my ideas would actually come together. I was so tired and rushed that the entire jacking process seemed somewhat unreal as I went on a roller coaster of feelings, thinking that it was actually going to work and that the task was impossible. One of the key points in our eventual success was when we discovered that the stability of the shed required you to use the outermost joist of the shed as your fulcrum. The 36" difference in using the next joist in changed the pivot of the shed drastically, even though the majority of the weight was still secured on the opposite side, it was simply not stable. I believe that a denser or heavier item would probably never have the same problem in this case, but it was an interesting lesson. The most interesting part being that it was easiest to use the jack to raise the shed from one joist in from the end, even though the pivot points worked better from the outermost joist.

Having leveled the posts and cleared the way, I was ready to start moving. I was still in a general state of disbelief when I started. I told my dad that if for some reason the trailer pulled my truck and myself down the ravine and I died in a fiery ball of flames to tell everyone that I died doing what I love, which would have been true had it happened that way.

I put the truck in 4 wheel drive low in anticipation of the damp ground and heavy load and began to roll forward. The trailer jerked a lot at first, I went as slowly as I possibly could since the ground of my yard has a lot of dips. and the trailer was rocking quite a bit. I pulled as close to the far fence as I could, then got into reverse and began to turn slightly. The shed and trailer were facing the wrong direction in the beginning. Even though the final position in the direction it would be facing was just a few degrees off of the direction it was facing to start with, I would have to do a complete 180 degree switch in order to get the truck and trailer going on the right direction to get into place. The house, wood pile, cedar tree and hot tub (another project) were in the place I needed to be in order to make this a simple job. I had to pull forward and back up several times in order to get the trailer going in the right direction down the slope.

It took a seven point turn to get everything on the right path. As the trailer got towards the bottom of the upper slope, it went through the ruts which I made for my telephone pole retaining wall. It took several iterations of going through these ruts until we felt we had the right angle, during one of the attempts I pulled forward a tiny bit too fast and one side of the shed lifted off the trailer then fell back in place. At this point I wasn't worried much about the safety of the shed, I had always calculated in the complete destruction of the shed ad a possibility in my plan. I accepted before starting any work on this project that something might go wrong and my shed may end up in splintered pieces or wrong side up in the middle of my yard. At that point, I wouldn't have been at any real loss since I would just use my posts for a new shed's foundation and I would have needed to take my old shed out eventually anyway, so I really had nothing to lose by trying.

The biggest difficulty in backing up in this case was that I was completely unable to see the trailer itself from the cab of the truck. I was also completely unable to see around the monstrous shed which was on top of the trailer, so I was relying entirely upon direction from my dad to guide me into place. Since there was a juvenile western red cedar (pictured later) directly in front of the shed's new home, I was going to have to back in at an angle towards the posts and then turn at just the right moment. It would not be the most complex backing maneuver I've ever accomplished, but it was certainly the hardest because I had no visibility around or beyond the shed.

It took two or three tries to get into the space before we got the right angle so that the trailer even went into the space between the four posts. Once we got in, my dad had me pull forward and back to wiggle all the way back into the space. He said "I think that's it" so I stepped out and began to investigate, the two front posts looked good, but when I got around to the back, I saw that the far post in the rear was not under the shed at all. Just six inches from victory over a minor angle adjustment. I didn't have any more room to adjust, I would have to pull out and try again. We talked it over for a minute and then pulled out carefully to adjust and try again.

This time we tried a different approach, I pulled up as close to the cedar tree as I could and tried to slide into the space, but being that the angle was shallow, we didn't have enough control or room to get it into the space. I got out and told my dad that we'd have to back at a steeper angle so that I had room to turn and maneuver, the way we were trying to come in would require me to get the truck into a place right where the cedar tree was, and there length of the truck and trailer combined was too much for that space.

We pulled out and tried again, Brandy came out to see how things were going and let me know what time it was, my dad was on one side and Brandy on the other. My dad guided me back and Brandy, standing next to the passenger window began to say "You'll have to stop because at this angle you are going to hit the post" while at the same time my dad was saying "Keep coming everything is clear." It was too late, I felt a soft lurch as the trailer wheel hit the post.

Brandy was angry that I didn't stop, I explained that she couldn't hear my dad talking at the same time on the other side, so I didn't register what she said. I also encouraged her to simply yell "Stop!" in situations like that to get my attention, then explain the problem to me after I stopped. She was mad, but we laughed about it on the way to dinner later.

I pulled forward and got out, the post had been pushed over so it was leaning, but the damage was minimal. We were able to shove the post back into a perfect upright position and repack the still-wet concrete. If the concrete around the posts was fully set by this time, it probably wouldn't have moved with how slow I was going, but the combined weight of the truck and trailer made a barely noticeable nudge.

After it was reset I pulled forward again, we increased the steepness of the angle again, moving another telephone pole out of the way to make room. Everything went well, we were fairly good at getting into the space at this point. My dad told me to turn to start to slide into the space and I did so, I could see the wheel of the trailer clear the post through my mirror this time. As we continued back I heard a loud cracking of wood, I stopped and my dad checked, it turned out to be an old fence-post and nothing important, so we proceeded.

A few inches more and I felt a little resistance, I stopped and asked if I was against one of the posts, my dad checked and said we were clear, so I continued, but he couldn't see that the drivers side trailer tire was against the rear post, I pushed further and the resistance grew, and my dad eventually said to stop. I pulled forward and walked back to assess the damage. The post was pushed over, similar to the first one we backed over.

I pushed it upright again and packed in the concrete with my boots, I pulled the truck all the way out and parked. I went back to investigate again, and decided that it was simply over. I got back in the truck, thoughts of backing the trailer down the ravine and letting the shed fall to it's doom ran through my mind, but instead I just straightened out, pulled the shed onto the level ground and turned the truck off. I thanked my dad for all the help and explained that I would have to figure everything out the next morning. After 13 hours of hard labor I knew I was in no condition to be making decisions, but my options seemed clear. The next morning I would need to take the shed off of the trailer so that it could be dismantled and it's parts could be used for a new shed.

After my dad left, I took a quick shower and changed so that we could go out to pick up my grandma, we were taking her to dinner to celebrate her birthday from a few days before. Brandy drove for this event because I was already so sore. The dinner was pleasant and the food was good, we went home and had a quiet evening with a relatively early bedtime for a Saturday night.

The whole time my mind was still racing with the possibilities of what I was going to do next, I felt as though the task would not be completed due to our lack of time and I was dreading the weeks ahead where I would need to go through long weekends of dismantling the shed. The stress of incomplete projects really eats away at me, so between that and my sore body, I slept sufficiently, but kept waking up throughout the night.

When morning finally came I felt a lot more clear-minded, no longer depressed, I had regained the majority of my normal confident and nonchalant stature. Since our only plans for the day included going to Hurricane Ridge to show Coughlin snow for the first time, I realized that I had plenty of time to get the shed off of the trailer and subsequently put the trailer back together. I made myself breakfast and then collected my thoughts while drinking my coffee. I went out with coffee in hand and started to asses the situation. The first stop was the posts, I found that each of them, even the two which were displaced the night before, were all completely secure now, the concrete had completely dried and all of the posts were now securely set. I walked along the paths we tried to take and verified in my mind that the angles of approach all seemed attainable. I walked around the yard finding a location to drop the shed so that I could dismantle it later.

I got in the truck and backed the shed into the location where I was considering unloading it, but I couldn't bring myself to accept defeat yet, I decided that I should try to get it into place again, and if I failed, I would dismantle the shed closer to the new foundation.

I moved the truck forward all the way across the yard, then began to back up again. I took an approach which brought the shed very close to the cedar tree, I went very slowly and got out every few inches to make sure I was on the right course. After getting the shed past the tree (breaking a couple of branches as I brushed by) I got to a point where the truck wasn't going to be able to continue without hitting the tree or one of the posts. I turned off the truck for a few minutes while I thought this out. I could either cut the tree down so I could back straight into the space, or I could take on a shallower angle, which would require me to run over my apple tree seedling (which I guessed it would escape from unharmed). After a few minutes of deliberation, I decided to go over the seedling, I really like my cedar tree and I didn't have enough time to play around with cutting it down and clearing it away.

I pulled the truck and trailer forward, more or less at a 90 degree angle to the posts, I got the shed as close to the post side of the cedar tree as I pulled out, and I made sure that my apple tree seedling went between the tires and not under them. As before, I got out every few inches to make sure I was still on track. When I got to the pivot point I turned hard to the left, pushing the sharply to the right. Continuing on at the pace of one or two inches at a time, with minor adjustments to the right or left as needed, I moved the trailer slowly into position. When I finally stopped, the angle of the trailer was slightly off, but it would be more than good enough to drop in place.

Here is my truck right after I finished backing the shed into it's space. If I could have picked up a shot from the sky it would show the extreme angle difference between the direction of the shed and trailer and the truck.

This picture shows the trailer with shed on top, parked neatly between the two posts.

It is no optical illusion, I am definitely about three inches closer to the post on the left than the post on the right.

Now that it was in place, I moved my jack and my blocks over and raised the shed up off the trailer. I only gave myself about six inches of clearance since I wouldn't need much space to pull the trailer out.

Here is the shed just before removing the trailer.

Since the ground was un-level, there were about 12 inches of clearance in the back.

Here is a picture of my jack and the very sophisticated jack assistance tools.

I used various pieces of scrap lumber to spread the weight while I was raising and lowering the shed. In the end I didn't cause any damage to the shed's structure or cosmetic damage (not that you could tell if I had).

Here is the shed standing on the blocks after I pulled the trailer away. You can see the tiny, short posts way down below.

I laid my 4x6 beams across the posts as squarely as possible, I used some 4d nails to secure the beams to the posts and lowered the shed down. It came down quickly, it only took one turn to get the shed onto it's new foundation.

Here is the picture of the shed after completion, you can see that it is just a little off center and slightly angled, but still securely in place.

This picture shows one of the steel fence posts that I put in place as a marker for where I wanted the shed corners to be. You can see the bottom of the other one just behind the shed close to the ground.

I was pretty happy that in the end I was only about 2 inches off from my intended mark, well within tolerable margins of error for this project. Just to the right of the end of the shed you can see my grapevine which I cut back entirely this year so that I can change it's direction to run along the side of the shed between the shed and the garden. I'm hoping that this directional change will help produce more grapes since the vine will get more sunlight.

We took our trip to hurricane ridge and my mood had changed entirely. I was completely relieved to have another finished project, especially one which I felt was doomed just a few hours before.

In all, if anyone is thinking of moving a large shed this way, I would tell them that it's a completely insane idea, but that I have proof that the concept can work.

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