Group pulls down Shamokin house by hand
SHAMOKIN - Under order to demolish her Montgomery Street property, Brenda Keller rounded up some volunteers and got to work this week.
The result, admittedly, was more than a little sketchy for all involved.
Demolition went under way without the use of heavy machinery. Keller said she doesn't have the money to hire a contractor. Instead, family and friends with little experience volunteered to get the job done.
"They knew I was in a jam, and the city wanted it down," Keller said Friday at the scene.
They used hammers, sledgehammers, axes and the strength of their own hands and feet to pull apart and knock down the double-home at 101-103 W. Montgomery St.
An Oldsmobile Bravada did its part. A chain was hitched from the structure to the SUV's rear end to pull down large portions of the top floors, bringing roof and wall crashing to the ground. It needs brakes but kept its bumper, more than can be said for two other vehicles that made the same attempt - one had its bumper bent and the other lost a bumper completely.
Crowds gathered over the past several days, cheering on Keller's helpers while the upper floors were toppled.
By all accounts, it truly was a theater of the absurd.
"I ain't gonna lie, I was scared," said Nathan Becker, 24, of Shamokin. "Especially hearing the cracking. You have no which way to run."
Not that it wasn't a little fun for him, too.
Becker took it upon himself to work in the top floors. With the outside half of the structure laying in pieces on the ground, he hooked the chain to portions of the inside half before climbing back to the ground level. That was the hairiest part for him.
"I thought I was gonna bury him in there," Keller said of Becker. "I was shaking so bad."
Funny, not funny
It was all a little much for Rose and Bill Bridgeford. They live next door at 109 W. Montgomery St., downhill and about 20 feet or so away from the scene of the novice demolition project.
The couple were stressed given the risk that if the inside half of the structure fell one way instead of the other, it could have smashed into their home.
Rose was sympathetic to Keller and her crew. They were doing their best, she said, and were getting hassled the whole way. Once it started, she just wanted the structure down. She didn't leave her own home during demolition, either.
"We didn't sleep for three days. I was a nervous wreck," she said.
There's debris piled up against the Bridgeford's backyard fence. They're hopeful the foundation of the structure doesn't give way into their yard. A small garage needs demolished, too, and they hope pieces don't end up falling onto their swimming pool.
"It's funny but it's not funny. This is my house," Rose said. "I have a beautiful home."
The Keller crew's determination was matched by the Bridgeford's patience. They lent a hammer and a ladder. They brewed a pot of coffee for the workers. Bill even drove one for gasoline when their vehicle ran empty.
"Oh my God, it was hilarious," she said of the entire scene, demolition and all. "Some of the things they're doing, I can't help but laugh."
With the second and third floors laying in rubble Friday afternoon, Becker had a laugh recalling the project over the past few days. Harry Baughman, Keller's boyfriend, and another helper laughed along with him.
It wasn't lost that despite the resulting comedy, they were there to help a friend in need and were risking their own personal safety. Becker described Keller as his foster mother. A few people who showed up to help stuck around only long enough to make off with some scrap metal, he said.
Becker and Baughman are among those working to see it through.
Keller already has a buyer for the land once it's cleared, so there is incentive to get the job done.
She's owned the home about one year. She said her son bought it, but it somehow ended up in her name.
She said a man agreed to buy the house and even made the first payment; however, the deal must have been sight unseen, because when he saw the property, she said he basically said keep the money and keep the deed.
A portion of the second floor collapsed in August. Code Officer Rick Bozza issued a 30-day order to begin demolition or face daily fines. Keller got a demolition permit.
Bozza wasn't at all comfortable with the process after it had begun, he said, and he was on scene frequently.
When it got late Tuesday night and a portion of the Keller property looked unstable, he and other city officials ordered work to be stopped. The next day, he required a contractor be hired to knock down the most questionable portion of the home. Keller said it will cost her $300.
R. Craig Rhoades, city councilman and director of public safety, acknowledged the danger involved. But he said property owners have a right to demolish a structure on their own, and he's happy Keller took action given the partial collapse this summer.
"Obviously they never told us how they were going to attempt to demolish the building," Rhoades said.
"If we were using government money, it'd be a whole different ball game. There would be all kinds of restrictions. When you do it by yourself, you have to keep it out of the street and clean it up," he said.
Rhoades watched the SUV tug at the house, and he is thankful no one was hurt.
Some precautions were taken, he said. Minors were restricted from helping. Seventh Street between Montgomery and Willow streets is barricaded when the demolition is occurring. Work was stopped more than once when it drew on into the night. And they signed a release clearing the city of any liability, he said.
"I agree, it looks really haphazard," he said. "I don't know of any restrictions we can place on them. The biggest thing is disposal.
"It does seem crazy."
Rhoades said the property must be backfilled and nothing is permitted to be buried on site.
Asbestos shingles were not removed prior to demolition. That should have been done first, Bozza said. However, he said they're separating the singles and bagging them separately as required.
Much of 101-103 W. Montgomery St. is felled. A portion of the interior wall remains along with some of the guts of the structure's first floor. They plan to continue working today.
Keller said a group of Amish people are expected to pick through the rubble and take wood. The rest will be dumped at a landfill.