Saturday, September 03, 2011

Epic Moving Failure Story

I'm acquainted with Dan and Alison Zarrella though my association with the PubCon web marketing conference and have been following their comments on Twitter about their recent cross-country move. Today, Alison made a couple mentions of things which were damaged by the moving company they hired to tote their stuff. I tweeted back that I could certainly sympathize with her plight, given one moving experience I had which was one gigantic mess. As I tweeted certain parts of the story, I realized it certainly warranted more than just a few less-than-140-character comments. Alison agreed, so here it is in all it's insane glory.

I was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas in 1992. I'd just finished up a tour in the Middle East as part of Desert Storm with the 3rd Armored Cavalry and came down on orders for Germany. This was my first move as a married man, and also the first time my wife and son had been part of a military family move overseas. We were quite looking forward to the experience.

We lived on the bottom floor of the middle building
here on Parseval Strasse.
My orders stated there was no family housing available in Darmstadt, the city where I was ordered to go. Because of that, I went first, leaving my wife and son to wait until I could get an apartment. Of course, bureaucracies being what they are, I found on my arrival there was plenty of housing. I got a very nice apartment in a building leased by the government in the nearby town of Griesheim. It was a great location, off away from all the "Army" stuff, yet very conveniently located.

Of course, my wife and I wanted to get everyone together as quickly as possible, so then came the mad dash to get the house packed up and shipped over to Germany so my wife and son could fly over and join me.

My wife had never undertaken quite such as task as dealing with "professional" movers. On the appointed day, a legion of packers swarmed the house to wrap, box up, crate and haul off everything we owned. When they were done, there was nothing left except three suitcases full of clothes.

Items shipped in those days were divided into two categories:

  1. Hold Baggage, which consisted of things needed right after moving into a new place. This would include things like kitchenware, bedding, seasonal clothing, small appliances and stuff like that. These items were sent via air freight.
  2. Household Goods, which included furniture and other large items and things which wouldn't be needed right away. These items were crated, sent via ship and then trucked to their final destination. 
When I moved into our apartment, I got some loaner furniture from the Army and set up our home. The hold baggage arrived soon after it was shipped and things started looking more like "our place." The move was going quite smoothly up to this point, but we were soon to hit some major bumps in the road.

Namely, our hold baggage was a long time in coming. What was customarily a wait of several weeks turned into several months. Every time I called the Transportation Office to find out what was going on, I was told they couldn't find my stuff. I finally ended up contacting my Mother-in-Law who worked in the Family Travel Office at Fort Bliss to see if she could contact the right people and find our stuff.

Household Goods Crate #1
She managed to locate one of the two crates into which our things had been packed. It was sitting in a warehouse in Bremerhaven, Germany. That crate was delivered to us within a week of her tracking it down. This had our brand new kitchen table - or at least the top part of it. The legs and the hardware to put it together was missing - presumably in the other, as yet unfound, crate. 

In one box we found our television set. It was a very nice Zenith 18-inch diagonal color model. At least that's what it was before it made the trip from El Paso to Germany in a box packed with a rake and a cinder block. Yes, you read that right: the T.V. was packed in a 5-foot long box with a rake and a cinder block ... oh, and a warehouse club-sized canister of powdered drink mix. Needless to say, it wasn't in working order when it arrived. (The lady at the claims office demanded I get an estimate for repairing the TV before she would process my claim. I ended up having to take the thing to her, pieces in a box, before she would believe it was unrepairable.) Most of our dishes and glassware was broken, too. They were merely stacked in a box with no paper wrapping, padding or anything else in the way of protection.

I'm happy to report, though, that the rake was completely undamaged and the cinder block only received a few minor scratches in transit.

Believe it or not: all the stuff in our junk drawer, including the envelope we kept coupons in, was neatly wrapped in bubble wrap. All of our markers, pens and miscellaneous stuff from that drawer made the move unscathed.

Our mattresses and bed frames arrived, but no headboards. The boy's toys made it, mostly in good condition. There were other odds and ends, including my guitar which was broken even though it was in a case and packed inside another box.

Oh, and half my CD collection was also in this crate. I had them in two of those faux wood three-drawer units alphabetized by artist name. A-M made arrived, but N-Z were missing. Half my VHS movie collection was also unaccounted for. We held out hope they were in the other crate.

Household Goods Crate #2
The other crate was a long time in coming. We'd just about given up on it when I got a call at work one day with the news it had been found. It turns out this crate was on a ship which had been loaded up with supplies for the troops who were operating in Somalia at the time. The situation there caused the ship to be parked in the harbor off Mogadishu for six months. When the ship was finally released, it went on to Germany to drop off my, and presumably others', crates.

When the shipment finally arrived it was quite a welcome sight. Well, at least most of it. The packers in El Paso had been so efficient, they packed up the wastebasket from the kitchen - along with the trash inside of it. You can't imagine the small that issued forth from the box when it was unsealed. This was also carefully wrapped in bubble wrap.

The legs to the kitchen table were in the crate, but the hardware was still missing. Unfortunately, the nuts and bolts designed to hold it together were some custom made ones and irreplaceable (believe me, I tried to find some).  

Also missing were the CDs and VCR tapes along with several other high-value items. These were presumably stolen by the packers back in Texas as I later found that company lost their government contract because so many complaints were lodged against them.

In the end, I ended up with a huge mess and a check for $4500 to cover the damages. 

The Good News
When we moved back to the States, we had no damage and no loss. Even the antique china cabinet we got in Germany arrived unscathed.


  1. Beautiful story. Well wrapped pens is my favorite part--that and the garbage. My stuff made it to Germany, eventually, but coming back, everything was stored out in a rain storm before arrival. The best part of coming back to the states was discovering stuff I had in long-term storage for six years. All surprises. My other favorite move was from CA to TX, when they messed up my paperwork and allowed me 440 pounds. I threw away everything I owned. When I got to Texas, they said, "hmm, that wasn't right."

  2. Ah, the joys of dealing the bureaucracies. They say you should sometimes get rid of things you don't use. Having that forced on you through a paperwork error is no fun, though.

    Getting stuff out of long-term storage after six years must have been like Christmas morning.