Safe Move: The Good, The Bad and The Lucky

March 1, 2009
First and foremost, nobody was injured. Second, this container is a rental unit for me. I did not damage anyone else’s safe. Third, no one else’s property was damaged. Lastly, the glass relocker was intact.

Very few people enjoy admitting mistakes. I am certainly not one of those. I don’t enjoy making them or facing the reality of their consequences, but they happen and therefore I do.

The story that follows was not one of my better moments. It’s not often that you will see mistakes purposely brought out this far into the open. We all make mistakes, but it’s what we do to learn from those errors in judgment that makes us better. What follows is a hard-learned lesson I won’t soon forget.

The Good
Photos 1 and 2 show a top quality imported TL-30 safe. This high security composite safe contains both a combination lock, and a pick resistant, high security European keylock. This keylock is protected by a glass relocker plate located on the inside of the door. A relocker is a spring loaded device which when triggered, fires an independent locking bolt somewhere on the inside of the door. This independent relocker bolt blocks the safe’s main boltwork from retracting, thus preventing entry. It is an effective form of burglar resistance. In this particular case, the relocker bolt is held in place by a piece of glass inside the door. If the glass is broken, the relocker bolt will fire causing the safe to become locked up.

This is good, and this is bad. If a burglar is trying to smash his way into the container, he will fail without question. This is good. If you accidentally break the glass plate yourself and fire the relocker, I guarantee “oh darn” will not be the first words echoing throughout the vicinity. This is very bad.

The Bad
Photo 3 shows a sight that makes the hair on the back of the neck stand up. I can personally attest that this was not exactly a quiet occurrence, in more ways than one. This container weighs approximately 4,000 pounds. When it did a gainer with a half-twist off the ramp and proceeded to land in the parking lot, the tremor was easily felt 30 feet away.

After the initial shock wore off, we regained our composure and set back to work. The mistake had been made; we must now adapt and overcome.
In Photo 5,  you will notice the small deep crater in the macadam. This was the indirect cause of the mishap. The direct cause was my lack of planning for this potential occurrence.

This 4,000-pound container was moved on a day when the temperature was approaching 100 degrees. It had been very hot and sunny for several days preceding the move. The safe was securely fastened to my hydraulic lifts and we were parked on a flat and level surface. The game plan was to roll the container off the trailer, down the ramp and into the building. This procedure had been accomplished many times with this weight load and the exact rigging setup. It was a routine occurrence. Therein lies the problem.

It was not routine. The temperatures had been exceptionally warm and we had bright sun for many days before the move. I failed to account for a soft landing when the lift’s wheel made contact with the macadam. When the wheel made contact, it immediately proceeded to dig in.

I also failed to have the container come down square to the ramp. One wheel was slightly leading the other. This caused the majority of the weight to concentrate on the leading wheel which hit the pavement first.

Returning to Physics class for a moment, let’s refresh our memories of Newton’s first law of motion. It states: An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Please let me say that this is indeed very true. Unbalanced forces were working overtime this day.

When the lift’s wheel hit the macadam, it immediately proceeded to dig in. As stated by Sir Newton, but translated to our lingo: There’s a lot of weight here and it’s going to keep right on moving. And it did. It pirouetted on the leading wheel and the safe flipped ever so gracefully onto its back. As if to emulate an exclamation point to the event which had just occurred, a mild sonic boom reverberated from the adjacent buildings, sealing our demise.

Now what? The next series of photos illustrates the steps we took to overcome our dilemma. We first had to get a Johnson bar (J-bar) under a corner of the container to pry it up. About the only lucky tidbit thus far was the fact that one of the ratchet straps was crushed underneath the container. We discovered this when we removed the lifts. With the ratchet under the safe, it allowed us easy entry for the tip of the J-bar.

As shown, we have a little extra work to do. It appears as though the bottom of the safe is the end which is giving us the room for the J-bar. We’ll take it! However, we need to stand this container top-up. How do we do this? First we pry and lift where we can. We inserted our J-bars and removed the crushed ratchet strap.

After lifting the safe, we have also inserted a scrap 2x4 underneath. This allows the container to stay up and we can reposition our bars for the next grab.

Next we reposition the bars and lift the safe higher. While the safe is still held up, we insert a 4x4 as far as it will go towards the top of the safe. For now, our goal is to have the top of the safe in the air. We reposition the J-bars again, and the photos show what happened. We moved the fulcrum farther towards the top of the container. In other words, we moved the pivot under the see saw.

Now we have a place to attach something to the top of the container which will enable us to pull or lift it upright.

I decided to add a little more height to the top of the safe, intending to place more weight on the bottom edge in an effort to keep the safe from dragging during the next step.
Before we began moving the fulcrum under the container, I placed a piece of plywood under the bottom edge of the safe. This was done for damage prevention to keep the safe from digging in as it was lifted, though knowing it will eventually aid in the unwanted dragging. Photo 11 shows more height being added to the top end of the container. We were able to safely take one more bite with the J-bars and slide a 4x4 on top of the cement block before stopping.

As shown in Photos 12 and 13, a strap is fastened around the top of the safe. This is the point where we will attach our winch cable. We have also safely blocked the container as high as we can with the tools available. We are now ready to reposition the trailer and make use of our winch.

Photo 14 shows the winch cable attached and pulling. Unfortunately, the container did not lift, but rather slid toward the winch. Photo 15 shows the underside view after the safe slid.

So now what? We have nothing available to lift the top of the safe higher. How do we work around this?

Photo 16 shows how it’s done. You need to block the bottom edge of the container. There are several ways to do this, most of which depend on the surface you are working on. I simply blocked the bottom edge of the container with 2x3 lumber wedged up against the fixed trailer. This allowed an easy pull for a 8000-pound winch.
Photo17 shows the boards removed and 4x4’s in their place. Photo 18 shows the safe upright. Photo 19 shows the truck and winch setup we had this day. Photo20 shows success!

The Lucky
First and foremost, discounting pride, nobody was injured in any way. A steel box can be replaced, human limbs cannot. Secondly, this container is a rental unit for me. I did not damage anyone else’s safe. Third, this all transpired at one of my storage locations. No one else’s property was damaged. Lastly, thankfully, upon further inspection, the glass relocker was intact. As is common practice when moving certain safes, the relocking mechanisms are disabled. This is precisely why this practice is performed. Had the relockers not been disabled and the glass had shattered, it would have been a truly miserable day indeed.

Lessons Learned
Number one: Don’t take anything for granted. I’ve moved safes with this weight load before, but I can honestly say this is a first. It will not happen again. I will plate questionable areas next time. I will bring the load down square with the ramp. I will utilize more manpower with heavier weights.

While this error in judgement didn’t necessarily cost me money out of pocket, it did cost me three people at two hours each. That’s six man-hours of downtime which are better spent making a profit. To accomplish the recovery I needed two extra pairs of hands, two J-bars as well as a strong winch setup. I did it the most efficient and safest way I knew with the tools available. Slow, steady, and methodical while keeping your head works in this case.

Photographs 21 and 22 show me at work the very next day. I may have fallen off the horse so to speak, but I got right back on. Here is the same setup delivering a smaller, lighter unit that was sold. This container weighed around 1000 pounds. It practically moved itself!