We had the great pleasure of meeting Sicily and Suzannah Kolbeck at the Tiny House Conference earlier in 2014. They were in attendance, but Sicily’s beloved tiny house, La Petite Maison, was not. We learned that a hired driver not only failed to get the house out of their yard, but also caused quite a bit of damage in the process. Upon hearing this, we immediately offered our services to move the house should they ever need to move it again. As it turns out, the need did arise when the Kolbecks decided to move to Baltimore and bring La Petite Maison with them. Naturally, we obliged when they asked us to be involved. Then. . . the Kolbecks got a call from the White House! Sicily had been invited to bring her house to the White House Maker Faire, which commemorated the President’s national “Day of Making”, June 18, 2014! So, plans changed. Now we were to get La Petite Maison to the White House for the event, then take it to its new home in Delaware. Here’s how it went:
En route to DC from Marietta, GA. This shot was taken on I-26 W, the Scenic Byway, my favorite stretch of highway in the U.S. The house travelled well on the open road. I was able to average between 60 – 65 MPH. There was some concern about the tires rubbing the frame of the trailer, so we took it easy over the bumps. The other major concern was the lack of lights and brakes. We picked the house up on Father’s Day (a Sunday of course) and there were no mechanics working. There was no time to spare so we had to go for it and hope a mechanic would tend to the issue on the fly.
Somewhere in Virginia we found a truck stop with a large shop. Two young and eager guys took on the task of troubleshooting the wiring and ultimately fixing the lights. I have to give these guys credit, they typically work on tractor trailers, and they approached the job with open minds. I am pretty sure they have not worked on a house in their shop before. I also let them know that because of their work, the house would make it to its destination: The White House. That seemed to motivate them.
The Secret Service
Upon arrival to D.C., we were directed to an off-site screening location. We were ushered into an outbuilding while they went to work on the numerous larger vehicles slated to drive onto the grounds of the White House. After looking through the truck and house, they drove an x-ray truck around and presumably took x-rays. I found myself slightly disturbed by this, wondering how the radiation was contained to its intended target (we were not that far away). Eventually, we cleared the first hurdle and were instructed to go to the next.
After a Secret Service escort to the South East gate to the White House, we were again inspected. This time with more hard core Secret Service guys and dogs. At one point an agent waved me over while looking under the hood and asked what that “ticking” sound was. I was happy to let him know it was the hazard lights flashing, and not a home-made ticking time bomb.
Here are Sicily and Suzannah standing by while agents inspect La Petite Maison. After final clearance, we went through the next gate and waited. Then we were ushered through two more gates. And then we got to work.
Can You Do This?
We were informed that the location they had chosen for the house was a good one. In the East Wing, at the visitor’s entrance, there is a long portico where cars can drive up. This is where the house was to go.To get to it, one must navigate another tight gate, a winding driveway, and the narrow entrance to the portico. I was asked if a) it was possible, and b) if so, could I do it? After taking careful measurements and doing some mental visualizations, the answers were yes and yes. I was slightly nervous knowing that two houses were involved, both of which were extremely important to their owners. I had the Secret Service, White House staffers, and other exhibitors watching, which didn’t add any pressure at all 😉 Below, note the route I had to take, backwards.
Leaving our mark at the White House
We were assigned an usher when we got on the grounds. He was our main POC for the time being, and my set of eyes while maneuvering the house. There was one blind spot that was my biggest concern, and I expressed this to him. . . the gable end on the right side of the house. By my measurements we had 2-3″ of clearance between that and the column on that side. All was going well with the parking job when I heard a little scrape. . . Noooooo! My biggest concern had been realized. The usher looked as surprised as me to see that we had indeed rubbed the column of the White House with the edge of the metal roof of the blue house. I was totally shocked as I had heard no warnings of any sort. He shrugged it off like that kind of thing happens every day at the White House. I got back in the truck, made a correction and backed her in. See pics:
Through the last gate, heading up the driveway.
View from driver’s seat.
Set up and a tour
A note about the staff we worked with at the White House: they were extremely professional and polite. While setting up we were assisted by the official White House electrician and woodworker. After leveling the house, decorating the inside (Sicily has an impeccable sense of interior design), and mounting the stairs and pimple (what Sicily and Suzannah call the shed), we were given a tour of the White House! See below:
Here is the electrician, providing power to La Petite. He had that look that a lot of experienced electricians have – like he had been shocked more than a few times and therefore had the proper respect for the beast that is electricity.
The White House Carpenter. We talked shop. When I asked if he could provide a cross brace for the stairs (you know, thinking the President might be using them the next day), he whipped out a tape measure and hurried off. Before I knew it, he had a 2 x 4 cut and was securing everything in place like a pro.
The shots below provide a sense of the parking place. All visitors for the Maker Faire would be entering and exiting here, and would have a chance to take a tour of Sicily’s great work. Our fingers were crossed that the President would come by during the event. . . but alas, he kept his photo opportunities limited to the more technologically-related exhibits. His loss.
The East Portico
After set up we were given an opportunity to cool down in the waiting room of the East Wing. We all wished we were given more time in there to appreciate the details. Every painting represented a major figure in history. Every piece of furniture had been impeccably maintained through the ages. It was overwhelming. Also mind-blowing was looking through the window of the waiting room and seeing another house out there – La Petite Maison! Here are Sicily and Suzannah having fun with that.
I wish I would have taken more pictures of details like this thermostat. I was struck by the antiquity of this particular thermostat, and by the fact that the dial was made of wood. How long had this thermostat been in service? I was going through administrations in my head and guessed that it was probably Nixon or prior.
Day of show
Although Suzannah and Sicily were kind enough to invite me to the event, the White House had not, so it wasn’t in the cards. Instead, I was escorted to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is directly beside the West Wing. It was the old Pentagon (or “War Building” then) and was very well fortified. I had a great time exploring the details of this huge architectural feat. One of our ushers told us that Dick Cheney tried to start a fire in one of the inoperable fire places and in the process caught a portion of the building on fire! I also enjoyed the great view of the White House from there. We were permitted to watch a stream of the event in a room called the “Library” (although not a single book was to be found) with many other attendees who had not made the cut for the actual event. The atmosphere was electric as entrepreneurs and industry taste-makers mingled. See pics:
Last leg of the trip!
Here is Sicily striking a pose as I drive the house back out through the gate. This process was a breeze compared to coming in. Sicily did an amazing job during the event and met several distinguished guests. Bill Nye had to be the coolest. The drive to Delaware was. . . surprisingly amazing! After the chaos of D.C., the open farm land of DE was refreshing.
La Petite Maison arrives at her new home! This location in Delaware is two miles from the beach and is completely surrounded by national forest. I think they found a gem of a spot. Soon there will be a concrete pad, water, and electricity. It was Bitter/Sweet heading home from here. I owe these ladies a huge thanks for entrusting Wishbone Tiny Homes with this mission. I had a great time hanging out with them and come away from the whole experience feeling inspired. We wish them the best with their move to MD;-)
Thanks for reading!