To Move A Jubaea

Switzerland's Andy Peter reports on a truly gargantuan task.
Andy Peter, 'Palmetto', CII 6515 Gudo TI, Switzerland
Chamaerops No. 7, published online 23-10-2002

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Maiden Voyage: Note crane, tracks and trench.

Question: How do you move a massive 13 metre Jubaea chilensis, with a 1.1 metre diameter trunk, weighing well over 100 tonnes, a distance of 50 metres? This was the problem facing Locarno (Switzerland) City Council in 1989, when a plan to build a new underground car park could only proceed if the mighty palm could be moved out of the way, and replanted.

Many hours of discussion took place and many suggestions were made and discounted: too risky, too expensive, too dangerous. During a meeting between the clerk of the underground parking works, the boss of the city nursery, two funicular (cable) railway experts, and three tree-care men, the plan evolved, and over the next few weeks, to the great interest of the local people, and the national television network, it was put into operation.

First the tree was dug around to a depth of 2.5m creating a huge soil ball of 7.5m x 7.5m. This was then connected to the new site by a lOin wide x 50m long x 2.5m deep trench. The root ball (more cube really) was meshed and then a ring of iron girders was secured round it to keep it all together. The idea was then simply to drag the tree together with its root ball along the floor of the trench, to the new location. The root ball was duly undercut as far as possible, and chains attached to it connected to a massive system of block-and-tackle creating a pull of 120 tonnes. A giant crane was installed to hold the Jubaea upright, and this was to creep alongside the tree during the move. It wouldn't do for this baby to fall over! Great timbers protected the trunk from the cables' grip.

At the appropriate moment when everything was judged to be in place, with the cameras running, and in front of a large crowd, the signal was given and the winch connected to the 16times block-and-tackle began its mighty task. The steel cables slowly tightened, strained, and tightened some more. It seemed the entire crowd was holding its collective breath! What would happen? Would these steel cables be up to the job? Would the colossal winch burn out?

When it seemed that even the birds in the park had fallen silent, a moment of tiny movement was detected. A millimetre. A centimetre. The crowd cheered as this mighty lady began her voyage, and like an old galleon, straining and creaking, she slowly crept along the steel pathway that had been laid for her along the track leading to her new home and finally, after the slowest journey in history, she was there!

Three years later she is indeed still there, a testament to the care that was taken during the move and to the strength and endurance of these mighty palms!

A final note: the operation was not cheap: the cost of transplanting this palm was in the order of £40,000 (FF400,000).

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