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Of Private Moves and Muddy Mountains

“It’s gonna roll!” Bertha shrieked from behind me as the little cabin teetered at the limits of its gravitational center. Despite my clenched southern regions and my sweaty palms clutching the Mule levers, I managed a swift peek behind me. 

Burt and Bertha stood there with eyes that could have passed for dinner plates while the fair lady hyperventilated between shrieks. Burt’s mouth was a perfect O, and his jeans looked as clenched as mine. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Life as a shed hauler is interesting enough that I rarely feel the need to embark on adventurous side escapades, but they inadvertently happen sometimes. 

Take an occasion a few weeks ago. I was rolling big wheels over the Rockies and loving life when my phone rang. Cellular service in the mountains of Montana can be spotty, so calls are hit or miss. Too bad the call was clear this time. A lot of grief can be avoided by not answering certain calls. The problem is, I’ve never been able to tell which calls to reject till after I’ve answered them. At times, I’ve not realized I should have rejected a call till days later. 

Enter the current interruption. 

It seemed Burt Swanson had a little cabin that needed moving. “Only a few miles up the road. It’s easy to get to,” he added. 

Now painful experience has taught me that when customers say it’s only a few miles or easy to get to, it’s probably going to be 20 miles with an obstacle course to navigate at one or both ends. 

In retrospect, the fact that he did not mention the drop-off location should have rung warning bells, but after looking at the pics he sent, I was thinking more of the quick $400 I was going to make. It was a small cabin built by a local Amish craftsman who did excellent work. The expectation of easy money lulled me to sleep. 

“Sure thing, sir, I’ll be able to do this for you after work tonight,” I said. “How about I show up at 4 p.m. and we’ll get it moved for you? Should only take an hour.” 

While I may be too trusting, and in this case a little too enamored with the “easy” money, I have learned to never give a flat rate unless I’ve looked at both locations and the building. So, buoyed by the fact that I bill by the hour, I rolled up to the pick-up location with no fear. 

To my surprise, the little cabin was sitting in the middle of a field with no other buildings nearby. Even with my limited skills, I knew this was going to be easy. However, upon closer inspection, I saw that the porch in the pictures had somehow disappeared. 

That’s when I realized that the floor and the roof of said porch actually folded up against the side of the cabin. A tiny little worry worm started niggling at the back of my brain. This would make the little cabin a bit lopsided in weight.

No worries, I told myself. The cabin would not hang over the side of my trailer. Shaking the annoying voice out of my head, I backed up, loaded it, and in 10 minutes flat, the cabin was secured and I was rolling down the road following Burt’s station wagon. Of course, he had the obligatory four-ways on. I’m not sure why every customer who leads the way feels the need to play pilot car, but they sure enough do every time. 

Just to be safe, I kept my speed down a bit when I saw the folded porch roof start to sway in the breeze whenever I went above 50 mph. After all, it was just a few miles, right? Well, it might have been a few miles as the crow flies, but as the crow walks while pulling a cabin, it was closer to 15 miles. Dusk was descending by the time we arrived at the lakeside lot in the woods. 

Parking at the road and walking up the driveway, I felt a cold dread creep over me. The driveway resembled a ski slope, and that was the easy part. To make matters worse, just then the heavens opened and the rains came tumbling down. I had my slicker along, so I wasn’t too worried about my personal comfort. However, when Mr. Swanson proudly pointed out his chosen cabin location, I started worrying a whole lot more about my tighty-whities. 

After a ski slope driveway and an even steeper lawn, the final approach to the location was a dirt bank about 20 feet long, 4 feet wide, and angled approximately 45 degrees toward the crying skies. Little rivulets of muddy water and gravel from the stone pad were squirming down the bank. Trees leaned ominously over the little bare spot as if to get a closer look at the insanity of mere mortals attempting the impossible. 

The little mud ramp was only wide enough to get half the cabin up it, but it was my only option. Any other approach to the site would have involved rappelling gear or hang gliders. 

Perhaps my feelings about this location and access route showed more than I thought because suddenly Swanson remembered another route. “Here, let me show you how I bring my firewood in!” he exclaimed. “I haul it across my neighbor’s property.” 

Now even my admirers don’t call me slim, and I was already winded from clambering up the driveway and hyperventilating over the site access. However, pride made me ignore my heaving lungs as Burt bounded over the mountaintop to the rear of his property. I followed, managing to keep my gasping to a minimum by pausing every 20 feet and surveying my surroundings like a seasoned mountain climber plotting his route. 

So far so good, I thought as I reached the crest. At least good if you’re an elk hunter. Trees and abandoned snowmobiles littered the woods, while stumps filled the empty spaces. A creative mind could actually see a path through the woods, but it would resemble a drunk butterfly’s route from flower to flower. However, my torturous climb up the original way had convinced me the cabin certainly would not make it up the driveway. 

That left only the mountain and the neighbor’s back 40 to navigate. Daylight was fading and rain was still pouring down as I brought the big rig up the back way and set the parking brakes on a muddy two-track that might have passed for a driveway. Somewhere through the trees and over yon mountaintop lay the cabin’s final destination. 

That’s when things got really tricky. To my considerable consternation, I noticed for the first time that the skids under the cabin were 6 by 6 instead of the standard 4 by 4. That little worry worm in the back of my brain turned into a python around my chest. These monstrous skids would not fit my dollies. 

Typical of any shed hauler worth his salt, I’m determined never to give up. Can’t is a four-letter word I refuse to utter while hauling sheds. If at first you don’t succeed, get a shed hauler and all that jazz. 

This is how we ended up with the lopsided cabin teetering on makeshift 4 by 4 blocks between the 6 by 6 skids. Of course, on a level lot it would be no problem, but on a hillside that would give a goat the heebie-jeebies, it was a different story. 

I maneuvered the cabin about 20 feet from my trailer before the screaming started. Shortly after the first shriek, Burt and his wife joined in. 

Snapped back to reality by the noise, I determined to shut up and be professional. Clenching against my suddenly loose bowels, I took that sneak peek behind me and saw the enormous eyes of the terrified customers. Apparently terrified was just the warmup for Burt and Bertha, because when I glanced back for a second look, they had both vanished, leaving only swaying bushes and trees in their wake. Maybe the sight of a grown man sobbing was too much for them, or maybe they needed another beer. I wasn’t sure why, but they left posthaste. 

Rigging up some makeshift outriggers with 4 by 4 pieces I found lying around, I managed to work my way up to the crest of the mountain. That’s when Burt met me again. 

Sure enough, it was beer they had gone after. Trembling hands held a brimming cup of rotgut that kept splashing over the rim as he looked around with nervous, shifty eyes. He offered me a beer as well, but I politely declined. It was clearly not helping his nerves, and I needed my faculties in tiptop shape because next came the hard part. 

It was fully dark by then, and I could only faintly see the trees outlined against the gray night sky. My headlamp was in my other truck, my flashlight had dead batteries, and my Mule is too old for lights. Burt produced a brilliant flashlight that he managed to point directly into my eyes 90 percent of the time. The other 10 percent of the time, I saw black spots everywhere I looked. It was becoming difficult to discern what the black spots in my vision were. About the time I’d conclude they were phantom spots, I’d hear the metal roofing crunch into one. 

That’s when Mrs. Swanson came rumbling through the woods on an ATV with high beams piercing the darkness 6 feet above the forest floor. In other words, right in my face. 

In a blinded panic, I ground to a halt just before I collided with a pair of trees too close together to allow passage. When I pointed out to Burt that one of them had to go, he looked at me blankly and said, “You have a saw, right?” 

By then, I was ready to take the tree out with repeated head butts if it would only end the horror show. Yes, I do carry a saw. Yes, I try to keep it hidden from clients lest they coerce me into cutting trees down. Yes, my saw was on the wrong side of the mountain. No, I didn’t have the energy to go get it. 

Don’t ask me how (it’s a long story) but I finally cut the offending tree down and got it out of the way while Burt hopped around the cabin and tree, about as helpful as a blister. 

It was too dark to be certain, but I sensed that my activities were drawing a crowd. I kept hearing voices around me and saw vague shadows slurping alcohol from open containers. Occasionally I’d hear a gasp or a muttered, “He’ll never make it,” from behind a tree. 

When I reached the fateful spot where I had to jump a 4-foot bank down to the pad, I noticed the circle of observers was tightening up. On the rare occasions when the flashlight wasn’t trained on my retinas, I could see numerous pairs of eyes above gurgling cans. 

Once I glimpsed a particularly large set of eyes, but the obligatory beverage was moving erratically over their owner’s chest as he crossed himself. I had just contemplated joining him in prayer when my temperamental mule decided to navigate the 4-foot drop-off without my guiding hands. 

To my utter shock, and probably to the deep disappointment of the Mule, the cabin did not fall on and kill me at that precise moment. It did take a swing at me, but I managed to dodge it while bashing my shins on the Mule and giving my head a goose egg on a nearby tree. 

The resulting cardiovascular workout undertaken by the bystanders was evidenced by an assortment of muffled screams and splashes of beer hitting the already soaked ground. I managed to stay professional vocally, although under my breath I vowed to sell the rebellious donkey to the first guy who would promise to burn him. 

The next few minutes passed by filled with blurry eyes and a throbbing head. It was torturous to finesse the top-heavy cabin into place with an annoying voice in the back of my head beating a brass drum and shouting, “You should have charged more! You should have charged more!” I managed to ignore it for the most part, although every time my tender shins found another stump in the dark, the voice increased in volume.  

At last it was done, and I started collecting my tools scattered over the mountain. Clearly the buildup of stress and pain had reached the breaking point when in midstride I found a snowmobile ski with my left shin. I snapped bolt upright as an anguished yell echoed off the trees before I somehow squelched it back to a whimper and limped to my truck behind the lumbering donkey. 

I was loaded and ready to head out when Burt nervously trotted over to me with his checkbook. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to be interested in a little trade, would you?” he asked hopefully. “See, I have this little army half-track that doesn’t run . . .” 

“No thanks,” I interjected as I grabbed the check and limped to my truck. “I’m allergic to rusty equipment in the woods that doesn’t run.”

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