Okay, you're just moving a pool shell from one place to another, is that a big deal?
Well, yes, it's actually rather exciting. It's exciting because a fiberglass pool out of the ground is like an airplane on water or a bicycle sliding around in the back of a minivan — it's really not where it's designed to be. It's in an awkward state. It's not home.
A fiberglass shell wants to be laid out in a custom-fitting hole, backfilled to a tight supporting fit. That's its home. But on the way from the flatbed trailer to that home in the ground, the shell is big and cumbersome and rather light-weight and delicate for its size, all at the same time. It's like a pterodactyl exhibit on its way to a museum — a great precarious bird that cannot fly.
If it has to be moved across water, it's like an ungainly wallowing scow just seaworthy enough to follow a tow rope for a few miles.
In either case, whether dangling from a crane or sailing across the waves, a pool on the move often gathers a crowd of onlookers.
People sense the excitement. It's exciting because it's a little bit risky. The fragile flightless bird can fall, crashing to the ground, or on top of someone's roof, or into the street. The excavator can tip over. If a breeze comes up, the barged pool can ship water and founder.
It's all happened. It'll happen again, on a day where the foreman decides to take a small chance, and it turns out unlucky.
But that day was not the day that a prudent Jonathan Hendrick from Hendrick Pool and Lawn Service delivered three fiberglass pools across a reservoir north of Indianapolis to their waiting holes along the shoreline. Each step of the process, from truck to dock, across the water, and from water to hole, was carefully planned and went like clockwork, and an audience enjoyed the show.
"There were definitely lots of spectators watching the pools travel by boat to these homes," says Hendrick.
It was an encore performance, as the company regularly uses the process. "I work for a home builder that built multiple homes along a beautiful reservoir and the pools were all situated just off of the water's edge."
In examining the approach to these backyards, it made much more sense to bring the pools in from the water rather than trying to crane them over gigantic homes set far from the road. That's an important measurement — the distance from the road to the house — you like it to be short, because a crane's setup point and reach radius are crucial factors.
In general, you want to minimize the swing. The shorter that distance, the smaller the crane needed, and the less you pay to rent it. If it's a long way to the house from the road, using a crane gets trickier and more expensive. You've got a driveway to deal with, and a front yard, and possibly a larger crane.
An excavator, with a pool shell dangling from its bucket, can often solve these problems cheaply, but it needs a suitable path across the grounds, and its tracks can do a number on your lawn. Hendrick Pool wanted to use the excavator in this case, but didn't like the access routes around the house, so it came up with a novel solution.
"We just barged the excavator to the job first," Hendrick says. "Not only did we save the cost of a crane, but we also avoided any potential damage to the home's yard by accessing it from the water."
With a sound plan and the team prepped, the mission got underway at dawn. A flatbed with a Thursday Pools fiberglass shell strapped on top was hitched to a Dodge Ram 3500, and the journey was underway, "wide load" banners fluttering in the breeze.
At the dock, the shell was transferred to a barge waiting in the water. "We hired Deaton's Waterfront services, they run all the docks on the reservoir," Hendrick says.
Deaton's doesn't get many requests for fiberglass pool boats. It's usually pontoons, bass boats and the like, but they served Hendrick's sailing craft like any other. The weather was calm and sunny, truly a perfect day for sailing.
Hendrick thought about faster options to hurry up the process, but demurred in the interests of caution and safety, always priority one when moving shells.
"We all know fiberglass pools are completely water-tight and built very much in the same way as a sailboat, so we did consider just pulling the pools behind a speedboat," he says, but he eventually decided the barge was the safest course — which would also ensure the pool wasn't damaged by anything it might hit crossing the water. You have to consider every possibility.
Once on the barge, the crew cast off and away they went, putt-putt-putting across the water to the opposite shore. With the pool and barge tied up at the seawall off the backyard, it was time for the final step: Shell, excavator and hole were all in one place, and it was just a matter of lifting and placing the pool.
The lift force vectors applied to the fiberglass pool are always an important consideration in moving a shell, as it's fairly easy to crack it. In this case, the straps were attached to the excavator bucket at four lift points on the pool. A spreader bar was used to absorb the strong pinching force caused by the straps' acute lift angle.
A guide rope and about a dozen crew hands gently escorted the pool onto the gravel base at the bottom of the hole.
Transport complete. High fives all around.
A FEAT OF ORGANIZATION
Shipping a fiberglass pool always requires planning, but this particular delivery, with the shell and excavator crossing water into the backyard, took a little extra organization.
"A lot of scheduling is involved to get everyone on the same page," Hendrick says. "All the houses are on the reservoir, so high-water tables make it necessary to immediately plumb and fill these pools with water to ensure the pools remain securely in place."
The builder has gotten pretty good at this type of special delivery, and that expertise has paid off in multiple pool contracts.
"We have been very fortunate. In this neighborhood alone, we have probably installed 60 to 70% of the pools. Of the five Thursday pools we installed over this two-week period, three of them were 16-by-33-foot Goliath pools, one 14-by-35-foot Aspen pool and one 16-by-37-foot Goliath pool with a 9-by-9-foot fiberglass spa.
"For this particular situation, of the five jobs we had within the two-week period, all in that same neighborhood, we chose to use a barge for four of the five pools."
This article first appeared in the March 2023 issue of AQUA Magazine — the top resource for retailers, builders and service pros in the pool and spa industry. Subscriptions to the print magazine are free to all industry professionals. Click here to subscribe.