House on the Highway was published in the 2017 summer issue of Common Ground Magazine.

     When I was four years old, I lived with my mom, dad, and brother in an old rented farmhouse.

A Big Dream  

house on the highway   I have small fragments of memory from my first home, but few of them are happy memories. The upstairs bedrooms were cold and dark with tiny windows, filling the place with shadowy dreams. I shared a room with my brother because we were so close in age. We didn’t have many furnishings in the drafty old house.

Outside, farmyard chickens chased me and pecked my skinny legs. The backyard was a steep hill, great for flying down the bank in the Red Ryder wagon, but not good for much else. My dad was a resourceful and hard-working man. He and Mom wanted a house of their own. This was a big dream for two people with less than $100 in their pockets. Even in 1966, $100 didn’t buy much of a house.

Hard Work Pays Off 

   Dad worked the fields and orchards surrounding the old farmhouse and tended the animals in the barn. By doing this, he earned an extra $1 an hour beyond his small-engine repair day job. He and Mom lived rent-free, earned farm-fresh food, and gained the favor of our landlord. Plans for the new Route 322 produced a collection of doomed houses in its pathway. My dad found a house that was slated for demolition.
     Dad mentioned his plan to go to the bank for a loan to Sam, the landlord, a board member of a competing bank. “Don’t you go there,” Sam said, “You go to my bank and tell the bank president I want him to put $5000 in an account for you.” And so, without the signing of a single sheet of paper, my parents had the funds to buy the house on the highway’s path.

Uprooting a House

     Dad purchased the two-story imitation brick house for $500. That was the inexpensive part. He bought a small plot of land in a field one mile away not far from the Juniata River for $2500. Dad installed a septic system and well. He poured footers for the foundation that would be built up to meet the little house once it arrived. He acquired permits from the electric company for moving roadside wires for $265 and from the telephone company for $150. Workers brought in poles to raise power lines to allow a 30-foot high by 26-foot wide house to pass underneath. Dad paid the $50 permit that allowed local authorities to stop traffic while a house on wheels traveled down the road.
     Dad and his friends worked late into the night that September to prepare the house for its moving day. They removed the furnace and water pump from the basement. They tore down the cellar wall to allow a flatbed trailer to maneuver into the underground space. The men constructed a framework to fit beneath each corner of the house, with four parallel I-beams to hold the weight of the structure on the trailer. Shims and wood planks helped level the house to prevent the plaster walls from cracking during the move. They enclosed the brick chimney that went through the house’s interior in a wooden frame to keep it intact.

Moving Day

house on the highway

   As the Monday moving day came closer, my mom debated whether to go watch her house arrive at its new location. Many risks were involved in moving a two-story house. Besides, she’d made daily visits to the structure, taking supper to Dad, who spent long days at the engine shop and long evenings where the highway would be built. I’m sure she’d already planned the arrangement of a Formica-topped dinette set, the brown scratchy living room suite, the crib, and nursery items for the surprise my brother and I hadn’t anticipated. Watching her dreams and the financial gamble moving along old Route 22 behind a tractor-trailer would surely put her stomach in knots.

     On the Friday before house-moving day, an inspector notified Dad that the wooden front and back porches needed to be torn off before traveling. Dad, his friends Ray, Bill, and our pastor worked through the night until Saturday noon to remove the porches. Even without Pastor Eugene’s presence, working on Sunday would not have been acceptable.

House Tipping

   On Monday, Mom and I stood in the field, far from the large hole where cellar walls grew from the ground. The house took a 30-minute ride on the old highway. We watched a lumbering form move around the corner beyond the stand of trees, fall into the dip in the road, and come to a slow stop by the empty field. As the tractor-trailer turned and pulled into the field, the house leaned precariously to the left. My mother, in a moment of panic, thought it would fall off the flatbed trailer. She didn’t know the long I-beams stretching from under both sides of the house acted as sled runners to keep the trailer from tipping too far.
     The truck pulled down the ramp onto the foundation, where my dad and his friends secured the house. Jacks raised its heavy structure a foot at a time as layers of cement blocks were laid for the seven-foot cellar walls. Inside the house, the plaster walls had survived the journey intact except for a crack near the front door.

Another Move

Late in January, we relocated to the movable house. Dad built stairs to the front, side, and back doors until he could rebuild the porches. The living room, bedroom suites, and a few wine-colored laminate end tables were loaded into a friend’s milk truck, emptied of the round metal canisters of his trade.

That May, my sister joined the family. With four upstairs bedrooms, I no longer needed to share a room with a sibling.

In time, the basement grew into a playground for hordes of children. Eventually, we sat on the front porch to wave at passing cars and chat with visitors. The backyard was sometimes used as a football field and a baseball diamond. The attic held treasures and secret Christmas gifts. My mom surrounded the house with rose bushes and flower beds.

     In December of 1967, the house moved again, only three inches this time. My brother and I were playing with our new Christmas toys on the hardwood floor in the living room. Mom was working in the kitchen and watching traffic go by on Old Route 22.  I saw her fly past our play area, up the stairs, and then down again with the baby in her arms. I had no idea what could make her run so fast until I felt a thump. A young man passing a vehicle on the icy roads lost control of his car, drove through the front yard, and kissed the side of our house at high speed. The driver survived but sprinkled our living room floor and sofa with spots of blood before he was taken to the hospital.

The Neighborhood 

   A few years later, another house moved in next door, hauled by a tractor-trailer and professional house-movers. In time, other folks built houses near ours to complete the row that still guards Route 322. Trees and flower beds now cover the bare fields.
     For a while, I dreamed of the old farmhouse and its dark shadows and pesky chickens. Now, even in my adult and seniors years, when I dream of home and closets and busy spaces, my dreams take place in the rooms of a house that moved down the old highway on the back of a tractor-trailer truck.

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