How to Move a Whole Town

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According to the residents of Hibbing, Minnesota
Hibbing, Minnesota was a mining town. Incorporated in 1893, it quickly became the largest of several cities built near the Mesabi Range iron ore deposits. Known as the "richest village in the world," the town grew to a population of 20,000 within 20 years and boasted opulent hotels, decorative Victorian banks, and all the cultural amenities of "big city" life, such as it was at the time. But, in 1912, a geologic survey revealed that Hibbing was actually closer to the iron ore than any of its founders had anticipated—as in, right on top of it. Clearly, something had to give, and in an area where iron was king that something was obviously going to be the city of Hibbing. But, lust for iron aside, the locals weren't quite ready to just raze the town and start over from scratch. Balancing greed with thriftiness, they simply decided to re-use what they already had—moving the bulk of the town two miles to the south and out of the way of the strip mining machines. Amazingly, for an era when heavy construction equipment was still just a twinkle in a foreman's eye, this plan actually worked. Hibbing survived and the awkwardly placed iron mine, now known as the Hull-Rust, is today the largest open-pit mine in the world, covering 2,291 acres and producing 1.4 billion tons of ore. Granted, your hometown might not sit on top of a veritable gold mine of iron (or something"¦), but if you don't try moving it you'll never know for sure.

You Will Need
A town
Horses
Logs
Chains
Some very adventurous neighbors

DIRECTIONS
1) Lose the foundation; it was just holding you down anyway. Citizens of Hibbing slowly jacked up their public buildings and homes high enough that they were no longer connected to the foundations beneath.
2) Get on a roll. Giant trees from the nearby forest were felled and stripped to become rollers, which were laid one after another beneath each building. Chains attached the building to a team of horses, which pulled it over the line of rollers. As the building moved to the end of the line, workmen would bring the back log around to the front. Hey, we just said the process worked"¦not that it was fast. Moving began in 1919, but the final one didn't make the journey until the "˜50s.
3) Be safe. The people of Hibbing trusted the movers not just with their possessions, but also with their lives. Many houses were actually moved with all the furniture--and the residents--riding inside. Lucky for them, the movers had a pretty solid success rate. Out of 200 buildings moved, only one didn't make it: a hotel that fell off the rollers and ended up as a pile of kindling.

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November 14, 2006 - 8:56am
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