Reminiscing From May 24, 2007 Jackson County Times
I once had an elderly friend, a businessman and banker, who said "Nobody can fairly judge how far a person has come in life unless you know the point at which they started!"
Over a long period of years, anyone in the business of dealing with the public will become acquainted with a multitude of people from all walks of life. A few individuals will prove to be unique and memorable. A man known as "Ducky Johnson" was in that rare category. Stocky and muscular, he closely resembled baseball legend Pete Rose in both appearance and personality.
By 1974, I had been acquainted with Johnson, his wife Carolyn, and most of his family for a long time. A native of the Grand Ridge area, His business of moving houses and buildings was well known in the Tri-States area. Beginning as a helper at an early age left little time for formal education, which he regretted in later years. However, he had accumulated a broad amount of experience. By the time he established his own family operation, his track record of completing complicated jobs was already well known.
In the summer of '74, Ducky and I were examining a two-story frame dwelling on the site of the current Regions Bank Headquarters on Downtown Green Street. To go south through the center of town with a house height of 40 feet was not a simple matter. There was a complex of state-owned traffic lights, 143 utility wires, the main telephone suspended trunk line, and the L. & N. Railroad communication lines to name a few. None could be lifted high enough to allow clearance. Public entities and utility companies are natural enemies of people who want to move large structures, and multiple meetings and permits were required. Current regulations are more restrictive, especially on height.
Finally, the house had been vertically cut into two sections. Brick chimneys serving six fireplaces were intact, braced under the foundation floor. The move was scheduled for the next morning. Ducky and I gazed up at the truncated structure. "How much", he asked, "Do you think it weighs?" I felt like a first grade kid being asked to summarize Einstein's Theory of Relativity. My honest answer was "Who needs to know?" "The State Road Department," he replied. "We have to file the weight calculated from the jack calibrations." "The rear section weighs a hundred and forty tons, and the front section ninety tons. Tomorrow, 230 tons will move. And it did, with the assistance of various utility work crews and police traffic control. The house has been "Home" for 32 years, and is now 101 years old.
Nobody could observe such an operation, from start to finish, without seeing that complex engineering skills were being carried out. Over a wide area, Johnson's capability for successful completion of very difficult jobs became know. His services were sought by many. In recent years, his contracts included moving space missiles of gigantic height and weight on government bases in other parts of the country...a long distance from Grand Ridge, in more ways than one...
Regardless of personal talent, the old schools of hard knocks, trial and error and self-education have passed into history. A degree or two is now often required before your ability to do the work is even tested.
However, you have to admire anyone who can overcome the handicaps of the "Old School" to demonstrate unusual talents in his field. I remember Ducky Johnson as a friend and a man of his word. His hometown will remember him as their former Mayor.
How far had he come in life? Remembering the old banker's benchmark of success, or however you choose to measure: it's a long, long journey from a small structure behind an old pickup truck to moving spacecraft.
As "Ducky" might say, "It wasn't easy." He was one of a kind, and the mold has been broken...