Oct 21 2009
You’ve all heard me say it before; we can all learn so much by simply taking the time to have a conversation with our elders. I had the pleasure of doing just that this week when I was asked to meet with Zygmont “Ziggy” Jocha and his lovely wife Pauline Zuzul-Jocha of Calumet City. They married in 1945 and have 2 girls, Gail Smeach and Carole DeBruin with 5 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. Ziggy brought in a photo of a one-time Hammond business, John Ahlborn & Son General House Moving that was located at 780 Beal Avenue in the early 1920’s. This photo was so intriguing to me that I got to wondering, why and how would anyone ever move their home like this so long ago? Well, I got the answers and then some! It turns out that Ziggy’s family moved their home from Hohman Avenue to Pulaski Road in West Hammond, now Calumet City, in the 1920’s. The reason homes were moved was because the area that we know as Downtown Hammond, now around Hohman & Douglas, was being developed commercially. Their home was being moved for the building of St. Margaret’s Hospital. Back then, it seemed as though Hammond and Calumet City were one in the same. Folks seemed to move more freely across state lines when it was called West Hammond. House moving was more common back then because it was just the way things were done back then. One could relocate a two-story home, including the addition of a basement and fancy up the home with brick veneer on the exterior for only $5,000! It simply wasn’t worth the hassle and the wait of building a new home, especially if the wife loved the house!
As you can imagine, moving a home was a laborious task! For a home that had no basement, a process called cribbing was used. A crib was a 6’x6’ wooden box, installed around the house’s main structural poles. Men dug holes around these poles and placed three cribs on each side of the house. They used screw jacks to raise the house up. They would then bring in a big dump truck with a conveyor belt to carry the dirt from the ground and empty it into the truck as they manually dug a trench around the entire perimeter of the house and underneath the house. After the house was freed, it could then be attached to the steamroller or the rubber dollies and moved to the new location. The house movers were also expected to cut the power lines before moving the house. It wasn’t such a big deal back then, because there weren’t so many poles and lines like we have today. Ziggy cannot remember the man’s name, but in the photo, the man 3rd from the left was their line cutter. One time during a job, he left live power lines down on the ground instead of wrapping them around the top of the pole. The house moving company was duly warned about this and was ordered by the Hammond Building Commissioner to wait for the power company before cutting lines. Because he was so impatient, this gentleman decided not to wait, and one day when he was up on top of one of the poles, the police came and threatened to shoot him down if he cut the lines. Ziggy said he scampered down that pole so fast he burned up the inside of his thighs!
Ziggy thinks this picture was from the early 1920’s because the steam roller method was being used to move the house. You can see it in the lower left corner of the photo. In the late 1930’s the industry changed over to using big truck wheels with rubber airline tires on them, known as rubber dollies. This method was easier on the home because it allowed more shock absorption and cornering flexibility. Ziggy’s father, Andrew Jocha is the 5th man from the left in the photo. Next to him is John Ahlborn, the business owner. On the far right end is Stanley Augustynek who moved his home in this fashion from Memorial Dr. & Wentworth to Pulaski because the Calumet City Park District was taking over the land. Ziggy’s father, Andrew, migrated from Austria/Poland to West Virgina and worked in the coal mines. After a horrible explosion, in which he was fortunate to live through, he moved to Hammond because he knew friends and family here. He got a job with John Ahlborn General House Moving and worked there until he could get on his feet and start his own business, Jocha Construction, as a general contractor. Ziggy worked in construction for 60 years, up until the age of 80, in 2005. After his father’s company closed, he worked for Wadas Construction in East Chicago, then left to restart Jocha Construction, where he worked out of his home until retirement.
As soon as I introduced myself to Ziggy and Pauline and they learned I was from Hammond Parks & Recreation, Ziggy was so proud to announce that he would walk from his home on Pulaski Road to enjoy swimming and ice skating in the lagoon at Harrison Park. Pauline said she was originally from Hegewisch, and during her childhood, she would walk to Douglas Park, now Pulaski Park, and even walk to Wolf Lake on occasion. They were such a gracious couple to welcome me into their home. I learned so much more, but due to space constraints, I cannot include everything. I want to thank them for sharing a little piece of their family’s history with me.