Affiliate News
October 01, 2015

Moving Chicago

Riggers Local 136 relocated three historical Chicago buildings in the last year alone.

Moving Chicago

What happens when a historical landmark gets in the way of necessary economic expansion? Simple, the owner enlists the help of Machinery Movers, Riggers & Machinery Erectors Local Union #136 to relocate the structure.

Over the last year, Riggers Local 136 has relocated three historical structures within the city of Chicago, the three-story Harriet F. Rees House and its two-story coach house, and the caretaker’s house at Wrigley Field.

Harriet F. Rees House

For over 126 years, the Harriet F. Rees House and its two-story coach house, both historical landmarks now, stood on the 2100 block of South Prairie Avenue. It was built in 1888 for Harriet Rees, the widow of James H. Rees, a real-estate innovator who drafted one of the early maps of Chicago. Following the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, pivotal Chicago figures, including George Pullman, Philip D. Armour and Marshall Field, built mansions on Prairie Avenue, considering it to be a safe distance from the city. The house, made of limestone and wood, is three stories tall, and includes a basement and attic. In 1910 the Rees House was sold and became a boarding house under several different owners. In 1970 it was converted into a restaurant, the Prairie House Café, and in 2001, the house was sold to its current private owners.

As part of the McCormick Place’s most recent expansion, the land occupied by the Rees House was earmarked to be included in the plan. To accommodate the expansion, the Riggers helped move the house and coach home one city block, approximately 400 feet, to their new location at 2017 S. Prairie Ave. Both structures were lifted from their foundations and loaded onto massive dollies that wheeled these structures down the street. To keep the structures intact throughout their moves, angle irons were placed on all four corners of the building and secured with chains and binder chains.

The Rees House was the heaviest residential building ever moved in the United States, weighing an estimated 762 tons, and weighed more than four times as much as the coach home, which weighed around 187 tons. Moving this large of a structure proved to be a bit trickier than the coach house. “The main house was facing the wrong direction when it came out,” said Rob Fulton, Business Manager for Riggers Local 136. “This means we had to go as far north up Prairie as we could, jack it up, reverse the dollies and then bring it back to put it in place.”

The Caretaker’s House at Wrigley Field

As members of the various construction trades began working to renovate Wrigley Field in November 2014, the Riggers were hard at work outside the structure, moving the iconic caretaker’s house out of harm’s way. The move was a two-step process that relocated the structure to the Blue Lot, directly across Waveland Ave, just west of the firehouse, for several months. In June 2015, the Riggers helped place it back in its original space.

The house was built between the 1922 and 1923 seasons for the team’s former grounds superintendent, Bobby Dorr. William Wrigley Jr. offered to build the house for Dorr and his family, if Dorr agreed to watch the property. Dorr lived there with his family until his death in 1957.

A Specialized Trade

The members of Riggers Local 136 are some of the most in demand union members in the northern hemisphere. They are affiliated with the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union, but they are considered a specialized trade. The Department of Labor recognizes Riggers Local 136 as the only rigging local in the country. Members are trained specifically on machinery moving, rigging, welding and burning. They are hired out to trade shows all over the world, including shows in Orlando, Las Vegas, New York and Atlanta. They have worked on a variety of shows, moving heavy equipment across the showroom floor, including the Graph Expo, the Pack Expo, the Radiology Conference, the Motorcycle Show and the Boat Show.

“Our main concerns are to get the job done safely so that no one gets hurt and to ensure that the structure doesn’t collapse,” said Fulton. “The Machine Tool Show is the largest show in the world that is pulled together in the shortest amount of time. We move more than 38 million pounds of machinery.” Fulton stated that the recent show in Chicago went in successfully. “We had over 350 ironworker riggers on the jobsite. With that many workers, it takes a coordinated effort from everyone to get it done on time without damage to any machines.”

The last time the Riggers moved an object the size of the Rees House was the relocation of the U-505 in 2004 to the Museum of Science and Industry. They also moved the Pioneer Zephyr, a diesel-powered railroad train, to the museum in 1998, and the United Boeing 727 airplane in 1994. After the plane landed at Meigs Field, the Riggers removed the wings, loaded it on a barge, moved it down Lake Michigan and across Lake Shore Drive, and eventually hung the plane at the museum.

Fulton added, “We’ve been around for a long time. We celebrated our 100th anniversary in 2013. A lot has changed over the years, even since the time I started. When the Machine Tool Show first started coming to Chicago, it took an entire year to load it in. Now, we move it in in less than two weeks. The machinery on the show hasn’t shrunk, but the equipment we use to move it and the training we offer our members has greatly improved.”