Just what is a skid house? And why would you want to move one?
Karen Johnson-Weiner explains below, complete with photos of a skid house being loaded and moved in a Swartzentruber Amish community in upstate New York.
A “skid house” is the equivalent of a mobile home for more conservative Amish. It is built—on wooden skids—so that it can be taken apart and moved.
In Swartzentruber Amish communities, for example, a newlywed couple, eager to take up work on a local dairy farm, might build a skid house that they could then move elsewhere, either to a new work site or, ideally, to their own farm. If the couple happens to buy a farm with a house already on it, then the skid house can be sold to some other young couple.
One day I was visiting an Amish woman I’ve known since she was a young girl. “Can you come out on Saturday and bring your camera?” she asked.
The request itself was not as strange as it might sound. I’m often asked to photograph a new barn roof or a new colt; my Amish friends like having the pictures, as long as I am careful not to take photos of them or their family members. I wanted to know the occasion, however. “We’ve sold the skid house, and the truck is coming to move it Saturday,” she said.
This was an event! That skid house had been in her family for many years. It had originally been built by a reclusive Amish man, who had gotten permission to live on the family property. The man was one of those who move from community to community in search of the best church. He didn’t stay with the Swartzentrubers long, and, after he had left, the skid house became a “dawdy” or “grandparents’” house, the new home of my friend’s grandmother.
Several years later, following the death of the grandmother and the marriage of my friend, the skid house became the first home of the newlyweds, who moved it to a corner of the bride’s family property, where there was room to set up the wash house and have a small garden. The new husband went to work for his father-in-law, an arrangement that lasted several years until the parents moved to a new settlement in Maine and the young couple bought a farm from a woman in her 90s.
They moved the skid house to their new property, anticipating that they’d soon be in the farm house—to which they’d guaranteed the elderly woman life occupancy.
This past fall—seven years and five children after they’d bought the place and shortly after the old woman’s death at 102, they moved into the farm house, and the skid house was vacant.
It had been sold to a newlywed couple, whose responsibility it was to move it; the groom arrived with his father, brothers and others, including the English driver and two other English helpers. Because the reclusive Amish man who built it had constructed it all in one piece, the new owners first had to saw it in half.
This was a job for English helpers because the Swartzentrubers don’t use chain saws. I missed the sawing; in fact, I missed the move of the first half of the house, which was over and done with by the time I arrived at 10: 30. “Come back in an hour or so,” said my friend, which I did.
It was cold, with temperatures in the teens and a brisk wind. I watched as three men took turns jacking up first one side and then the other. After jacking up a side a few inches, others inserted a pallet under each corner.
The waiting trailer was about 4 feet high, so the house—or, more properly, the skids underneath the foundation of the house— had to be jacked up to at least 4 feet 2 inches.
Once it was high enough, the driver backed the trailer underneath.
Then the guys with jacks came back to slowly lower the house while others removed the pallets and threw them inside the structure. (They would be needed to reverse the operation at the new site.)
Finally, the structure was lashed down, and the truck slowly moved away.
The driver didn’t take the most direct route, which would have taken him through the little village of Heuvelton. That might have attracted too much attention from the local police. Instead, he headed off on back roads.
The little wash house, detached and off to the side, was just tipped over onto a waiting flatbed trailer.
A team of horses took it to the new site.
By Monday the house was together again, home to a new couple.
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