Giant crane sets house on top of Surfside house

<I>KEVIN HEIMBIGNER photo</I><BR>A large crane lowers a 49-foot modular housing unit onto the first story of a new Surfside house.

SURFSIDE - A modular home dropped from 62 feet to safely nestle on a stick-built first story as the new house became part of the ever-expanding Surfside Estates landscape Thursday.

A 48-foot by 29-foot three-bedroom, two-bathroom house built by Northwest Modular Homes in Vancouver and complete with all appliances and fixtures arrived at 10:30 a.m. and by 4:30 that afternoon was resting atop the first story built by DPR Builders. Debbie, Pat, and Rob Richards of Long Beach had constructed the first story "extra heavy" to accommodate the modular home that was set atop the structure.

"We used a beam 7 inches wide, 27 inches thick, and 48 feet across the middle of the downstairs to hold the weight," Rob explained about the construction. Oman and Son provided the lumber and Ocean Park Concrete poured the floor and foundation. The home located at 33012 "J" in Surfside will be for sale soon through Lighthouse Realty.

The star of the operation was a crane that telescopes up to 302 feet high (a football field is 300 feet) and can lift a whopping 370,000 pounds. The two halves of the house were a mere 38,000 pounds apiece and the maximum height of the lift was 62 feet.

Operator Eric Liss, of Snell Crane Service out of Olympia said, "I've done 35 houses using the crane. The first one took 12 hours, but we've put up 70-foot houses in just over three hours at Fort Lewis now that we have the system down." He added with a smile, "I've fortunately never dropped anything - we don't even use the word 'drop' around here."

Liss recently lifted a container for the Navy that held sonar equipment valued at $100 million. "The lift was an easy one onto a flat bed truck, but it did make me a little nervous when they told me how much the equipment was worth. I'm sure we have good insurance," he joked.

Liss began his day at 1 a.m. when he drove the massive crane from Olympia. The maximum speed on the highway is 47 mph, but hills can slow the vehicle to 12 mph. Counter weights of 60,000 were trucked down on a flat bed as were the platforms and other staging equipment used to anchor the crane. The vehicle is 10'6" wide and was a bit tricky to drive along Willapa Bay, he said. Permits must be obtained for each road the crane travels on.

A computer calculates the maximum weight and length of the boom that can be safely lifted. "We are exceeding what the computer recommends in height by three feet today, but we have a 15 percent margin of safety," Liss related. "This is the farthest this particular crane has traveled," Liss explained.

The house-lifting was not without delays and needless to say the rental fee was not inexpensive. The truck towing the back half of the house got stuck in the sand while trying to back into position and the truck from the front half of the house had to unhook to pull the vehicle and trailer out.

There were no knockouts for the straps that held the modular house in place during the lift so the halves had to be jacked up to remove the straps. The spreaders weren't wide enough so blocks had to be placed around the modules so the straps would fit without damaging the house.

At about 12:30 p.m. the back half was lifted from the trailer, only to be set back down when it was discovered the vapor barrier padding hadn't been put down atop the first floor. Dozens of sidewalk superintendents then had to wait as it was learned that the shingles to finish the roof were stored in the utility room at the far end of the module and had to be removed so the crane could balance the load.

By time the first module was in the air the northerly ocean breeze had kicked up to about 20 miles per hour, causing Liss to comment, "This (wind) is no good. The guys on the guide lines will have their hands full."

Fortunately, the operation went relatively well from that point on and there were no mishaps. Several other two-story modular homes are being planned for the future on the Peninsula and the big yellow crane may be visiting a neighborhood near you.

As one by-stander remarked as the second module swung into place, "This is sure a 'high-tech' building."

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