Craftsman: A person who practices or is highly skilled in a craft. – Dictionary.com
It wasn’t splitting an atom or removing a brain tumor.
But as I watched Don Wetzel and his crew lift our old farmhouse off its footings, I marveled at the smoothness of the operation.
It was more of a levitation than a lifting, and it occurred to me that there was some amount of art mixed in with the craft that Don had perfected.
A smidgen of daylight appeared around the edges, thanks to an intricate network of hydraulic jacks, beams and timbers placed beneath the home.
The idea was to raise the story and a half house, nearly a century old, excavate the soil underneath it, and pour a basement.
The project went smoothly, thanks to Don’s plan and execution. A third generation house mover from Lane and Wessington Springs, Don started out lifting buildings with railroad jacks. When modern hydraulic jacks became popular, Don used them, but retained many of the old-fashioned techniques that were time tested by his family.
I thought of Don recently when I read that he and a grandson were killed in a traffic accident near Wessington Springs. Though I didn’t know him well, the news still hurt. He was not a young man when he lifted our home – probably close to 70 – but he worked as hard as any of the crew, and harder than most. I watched him personally move all the soil from under the house with a skid loader, making hundreds of trips up a dirt-packed ramp. The mountain he created was transferred to the west side of an aging barn to shore up its foundation.
When that project was completed, I asked Don if he thought he could fix the foundation under an abandoned country school that had been moved nearby some 30 years before. He did, and with a backhoe and railroad ties installed a solid foundation that will last as long as the building it supports, and probably longer.
Bob Mueller, a builder from Mitchell, contracted with Don for many projects over the years. He described him this way:
“He was a professional in his industry. We call it quality of craftsmanship. It made no difference if he was doing a $10,000 pole barn or a $200,000 house. He did it right. That’s the type of individual he was.
“He went the extra mile for everyone he worked for. Whether it was a little job or big, he gave it all he had.”
Aug. 9, 2017