It’s always been a surprise to me to pull up to a stop sign, diligently look both ways, and see a house coming down the street at me. That always wakes me up. Houses are supposed to remain fixed, and not be coming at you. That kind of thing isn’t seen much anymore, but years ago was quite common. When towns were formed, the businessmen built their homes within walking distance of the main street. Later, as the towns grew, the citizens moved a little further out. The original homes, now much older, were torn down or, if in good condition, moved to a new location. The land had value though the homes themselves may have lost theirs. Sometimes the homes were sold and then moved, or if someone just wanted to develop the property, they might give the house away rather than suffer the expense of tearing it down. This is how house moving developed into a business, and it became quite popular after the 1930’s. I don’t know much about moving houses, but I can tell you a couple of stories.
My cousin, George P. Sicks, graduated from high school in Iola, Kansas during the days of the dust bowl and the Great Depression. There wasn’t much work in farming country for a young man at that time, so George looked for greener pastures. He hitchhiked to Los Angeles and walked the streets looking for work there. Finally, in the city of Long Beach, he hooked up with a man who moved houses. There was enough work to keep George busy most of the time. However, George wanted to do better for himself, so he continued to look for work. He finally found the perfect solution. He found an evening job building movie sets for one of the movie production companies. So, when there were houses to move, he did that during the daylight hours, and in the evenings, worked on the movie sets. He finally was making enough money to live comfortably without wondering where his next meal was coming from.
When I was growing up in Augusta, Kansas, we had one man who specialized in moving houses. His name was Boler Wilson. Boler was a quiet man with a set of shoulders that gave the impression that he could pull a house down the street by himself. Boler and Mrs. Wilson lived in the eleven hundred block of School Street, I think, the last house before 12th Street. Every now and then, as kids, we would spot Boler towing some house down the street. Aside from the trucks pulling the house, there were usually men on foot with long polls to push tree branches and telephone lines out of the way.
My dad, Al Thomas, was a brick layer and concrete block layer. Boler sometimes hired him to build a foundation for a home after it was moved to its new location. Normally, it was a concrete block job, and when I got older, I was able to work for Dad, mixing mud and carrying the concrete blocks.
That’s really all I know about the house-moving business. I’m still amazed by the memory of houses going down the street.
July 31, 2019