Moving the Valley
This isn’t a formal history by
any means. I’m neither a historian, nor
particularly adept at weaving a first-person narrative that relates sufficient
detail without obscuring one’s view of the “big picture”, so please bear with
Figure 1: The Valley
School in situ, April 27,
My limited association with the Valley School
was courtesy of my mother. It began one
morning in May 1998 when I was awakened by a telephone call. Mom wanted me to videotape a volunteer crew
that was moving the school from its original location in Conneaut
Township to the campus of Northwestern School District
in Albion, Pennsylvania. Up until this moment, I had no idea that
plans were afoot to move the school; nor did I realize that I would be spending
most of the day following a diverse crew of people as they moved a 145 year old
building several miles to its new home.
In retrospect, I wasn’t
particularly happy about being awakened in this matter. Heck, I didn’t even know where the damned
video camera was located – neither was the camera charged nor a blank videotape
available. I’m sure that Jennifer was
puzzled when I got out of bed, cussing about some blank videotape and left for
the day without a coherent word of explanation.
I had to cheat a little bit to
get the video camera functional – the battery was completely discharged so I
had to “borrow” a battery from another device and create a patch-cable to
connect the non-standard battery to the camcorder. I put the actual camera battery on the
charger for later use and grabbed a used videotape that I thought could be
overwritten and reused without too much trouble. Then, I headed out for the worksite.
When I arrived on Cherry Hill Road,
the school had already been jacked up and lifted onto a dolly for
transportation. The brick chimney had
been dismantled and the building prepared for transportation in a series of
earlier work sessions. By the time I
found a reasonable place to park, the school was already in transit. When I actually started filming, the crew had
unfortunately just gotten the school “stuck” on the soft shoulder of Gage Road just east
of the intersection at Cherry Hill.
Figure 2: Stuck in the mud on Gage
Thus, the first scenes on my
videotape were of workmen trying to get the school back onto the roadway,
jacking the transit dolly and using planks to ease the school back onto the
water-softened dirt road. The transit
dolly was towed behind a large farm tractor, and a backhoe assisted in pushing
the schoolhouse from the rear. Despite
the logistical challenges of moving the relatively fragile structure over the dirt
roads of Conneaut
Township, the work-crew
was patient and soon had the school moving again.
The short stretch of Gage Road that runs
between Cherry Hill and Old Albion Road is located on the
Northern bank of Conneaut Creek. When
the creek rises, as it typically does during the spring thaw, the road is
generally inundated for several days.
The washboard effect that already exists from the winter months is then
exacerbated by new transverse “gullys” that form as
the water level goes down and traffic creates new longitudinal ruts in its
surface. Conneaut Township
is usually pretty good at keeping the dirt roads graded, but in this instance,
the roadway hadn’t seen a road grader or received any maintenance since the
Figure 3: A Backhoe Pushes the
Compounding the problems with the
roadway surface, the approach to Old
Albion Road is a fairly steep grade that was a
challenge for the tractor, transit dolly, and backhoe to navigate. A wood-frame schoolhouse is not an
insubstantial load, and the transit dolly was not equipped with brakes. Thus, the uphill journey was undertaken
carefully, with much thought given to keeping the schoolhouse going in the
proper direction. Whenever the dolly was
not actually in motion, the backhoe was positioned at the rear of the school to keep
the entire assembly from pulling the tractor back down the hill. Crewmen were also stationed at each axle of
the dolly, to chock the wheels with wooden cribbing as necessary.
Figure 4: John Hosey (left) & Bob McClymonds (right) as the school climbs the hill on Gage Road
By the time this unusual train of
vehicles crested the hill at Old
Albion Road, word had gotten out that the school
was in transit. A crowd of spectators
had begun to gather, and traffic along Old Albion Road was threatening to hold
up the schools progress. The Pennsylvania
State Police were on-hand to stop traffic along the route. Penelec was there
to supervise movement of their overhead power lines as the school passed
beneath them. Alltel had representatives
to handle navigation under its telephone cables. Pendot was out in
force. There were Conneaut Township
road-crews, Bessemer Railroad employees, and even representatives of the Albion
Fair Association were on-hand with the bucket truck they use to maintain the
extensive electrical system at the fairgrounds.
Along with all the necessary
workers, there was a contingent of news media, gawkers,
and one idiot with a half-assed video camera.
Given the circumstances and the pressure that everybody must have been
under, I must say that the powers-that-be were extremely gracious and nobody
gave me a hard time about filming their efforts.
Figure 5: Phyllis Goldhart supervises the move on horseback.
Once across Old Albion Road, the slope of Gage Road reversed
and it began a long downhill run towards the next
major obstacle: making a 90 degree turn
at the intersection of Gage Road
and Bessemer Street. Both roads are typical “two-lane blacktop”
and turning the entire assembly without running off the road was expected to require driving precision not
usually associated with farm tractors.
Before getting to this turn, the school house had to negotiate a narrow
bridge on Gage Road
near the Trout Raceway. Both the bridge
and the turn were expertly negotiated but another bridge, this one on Bessemer Street,
stopped the convoy dead in its tracks.
Figure 6: Gage Road
at the Trout Raceway. The man atop the school moves electrical wires from the
path of the Valley
The bridge itself was perfectly
fine, but the guard-rails on either approach to the bridge were just slightly
too narrow to allow the school passage. The
guard-rails were removed after quick work by the Conneaut Township
road crew and the school was able to pass with mere inches of clearance between
the walls of the school and the vertical posts that normally support the guard
rails. Immediately after getting across
this bridge, there was a mechanical failure of either the tractor or the
transit dolly. This unexpected break
gave most of the crew an opportunity to have some lunch. I took the opportunity to retrieve my camera
battery from home and run the tape I’d shot up to mom’s classroom for her
review and approval.
Upon my return, the crew of
movers was just getting started. The
mechanical failures had been repaired and the school was moving south along Bessemer Street
into Albion Borough. The police had
closed the street by this time, so I cheated a bit and used access roads in the
Bessemer Railroad yards to get closer to the action. Naturally, I got stuck right next to the “No
Trespassing” signs. John Hosey was kind enough to use his bucket truck to shove my
car out of the rut and help me along my way.
Figure 7: Pulling Across a
Bridge on Conneaut Creek
More Photographs: Descriptive
Prose to Follow
Phyllis Goldhart (In Costume) Takes her horse to school. Unknown if the horse ever
New Belfry atop the school. Still lacking bats.
Amazing cooperative children in period costume enter the school to film
a commercial for WJET.
Teacher pretending to teach. Students pretending to learn. Very modern!
Just imagine: a coal stove in
the classroom today!
(How many alarms shall I strike?)
Dana Duguay, Lower Right, Gets her first 15
seconds of fame.
Not to be outdone by his older sister, Bobby Duguay
gets special attention from the local TV Personality.
Dr. Leonard McCoy (right), Superintendent of Schools and Mr. Spock
(left), Science Department
Maintain order at the new location.
I’m getting a little tired. It’s
12:50 AM on a work night.
Remember that coal stove I warned you about?
Just kidding! The school is
alive and well. It even has electric
lights, indoor plumbing, and central heating!
Even the interior is somewhat finished!