A tailing tale…

by Maggie Magoffin

This week’s tale comes from George Nelson of Littleton as heard and transcribed by Becky Crozier of Golden.

Martin Moves the Old House

In 1872, Ignatus Gundy and his brother built a house at Queens Chair in the Quartz Valley. In the mid 1950’s, George’s father, Martin Nelson, purchased that home from the daughter of Sammy Thomas.

The property held six unpatented mines, which meant the land and mines belonged to the federal government. Therefore, Martin owned the house, but the Bureau of Land Management owned the mines and land the house sat on.

Government regulations required $100 worth of improvements to be made to the land each year in order for the house to remain where it sat. At some point in the early 1960’s, Martin was working on the old ’48 Kaiser when the little jack stand he had supporting it collapsed and the car fell on him. He nearly died and was a long time recuperating. Even though he had religiously done his assessment work on the property for the six years prior to his accident, that year he did not get the paper work in on time and the BLM said, “Move the house or we will blow it up.”

The BLM gave him two years to get it done. It took him four, but he was working on it.

In 1965, in preparation to move the house, Martin braced all four corners, wrapped it with 5/8” steel cable, low corner to high corner. Then he dug a hole under each corner of the home, placed a larger block of stone in the hole, set a 12 to 15-ton hydraulic bottle jack in each corner and started jacking the structure up a half foot at a time.

It took him about two years to decide between four spots that he’d chosen to move the old house to. He would go to each location at sunset, sunrise, mid-morning, afternoon, dark and midnight, on clear days, windy days and snowy days. He finally decided on the place in Chase Gulch.

After he got the house jacked up, he went up the hill and cut six, 30-foot long trees, trimmed them up smooth, and then with two trees on each edge and two in the center, he chained and wired them together and constructed a skid. Then Martin asked Charlie, to whom he had sold a tractor, if he could borrow said tractor. Charlie would not loan him the tractor, but he agreed to pull the house, on the skid, down the hill. Problem was, he got half way down the hill and the house was moving faster than he was. Eventually, the structure picked up enough speed to roll on past Charlie, finally coming to rest in a meadow. Obviously, Charlie had no experience moving houses.

That was in 1968. It took Martin about two more years to get the old house ready to go the last half mile to where it now sits in Chase Gulch. He went out and found two old dump trucks with no beds on the frames and then he backed the trucks up under the center of the house. He had to jack the house up until it was at least four feet in the air so he could get the two trucks side by side beneath the house clear up to the cabs. He chained the two trucks together, secured the truck beds to each other and then to the house.

Finally, one Sunday, Martin and his son, Wallace, got in the dump trucks, and with friends George and Karen driving two pickup trucks in front to help pull, they pulled the house through a fence west of the mine dump and down the road to the bridge. (Martin had widened the bridge so they could get the house across it.) In addition to the road being only two lanes wide, the house had to clear the encroaching rock face of the mountainside on one side and twenty foot drop offs on the other.

Two-thirds of the way up the hill, the moving team stalled and needed more power to make the grade. About that time, Morris Steen came along with his old four-wheel drive Army truck. He pulled his truck up against the back of the old house and started pushing.

After they got the house up by the apple tree (no longer there), Martin proceeded to dig a hole to soon be under the house for a crawl space. First, he used a crawler tractor to dig a hole, twenty feet by thirty feet, about four feet deep. Then he proceeded to fill the hole with anything strong enough to hold weight. He used planks, lumber, old doors, boards, tabletops, whatever he could find. On top of all the debris, he laid boards.

Then he began to execute his great plan – with the chassis and wheels of the dump trucks still under the house, he and his friend, Fruche, proceeded to use pickup trucks to manipulate the 30-foot house over the hole. At that time, Martin and Fruche were between sixty and sixty-five-years-old.

They used cable chain and pulleys and ran cable from the house to each vehicle thru a pulley system in two places to get the right angle to tug the house into place. Each truck pulled in a certain way to make the house go a certain direction, moving the house a fraction at a time. To say the least, it was a very time consuming project.

After getting the house in about the position Martin wanted, he then had to jack the house up enough to get the truck chassis and excess wheels out from underneath, plus all the boards, logs and other debris he’d put in the hole.

Then, Martin set out to find large rocks to build a foundation at least four to five foot high for the house to rest on. Some of the rocks weighed at least 500 lbs. These he loaded in the pickup with a come-along manual winch, using poles to skid the rocks into the truck and then putting them in place under the house. Then he used jacks to let the house down onto the rocks. It wasn’t very level.

Two weeks later, I went up to see how he was doing. He had up everything cleaned up and the house positioned just way it is now.

Please send me your tales. If you prefer to remain anonymous, I will not use your name. However, I would like to tell the readers who sent the story and share any other information you may have. Mail your handwritten or typed stories with your contact information to Maggie M, PO Box 6571, Westminster, CO 80021 or email them to me at If you prefer to tell me your story orally and have me write it for you, please feel free to call me at 303-881-3321.

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