Rick Howard started moving pianos in his hometown of Watsonville California in 1978 while still in high school and started Howard's Piano Moving in 1981. His story was the subject of an article in the Santa Cruz Weekly entitled "The Piano Mover". In that article it was described how Rick becomes "utterly immersed in thought" during a move, or when he's previewing a location to plan a move. He's often been asked what goes through his mind at that time, and knowing that explains what makes Rick different from other piano movers.
As the article says, a lot can go wrong with moving pianos, and there is a lot at stake. Its not just the instrument itself which is a sizeable personal investment and can be easily damaged by even a small bump or drop. It's also the home itself. A wrong turn can punch a hole in a wall. A mishap on stairs can be disastrous. Hardwood floors can be easily damaged.
So there's a lot to think about. For example:
- What is the path into the house (through the front or around the back)? Is the driveway or pathway sloped, uneven, rough, soft dirt?
- What is the path through the house? Are there sharp turns? If there are stairs, how many and is there a low ceiling?
- What equipment and manpower is required? You don't want to get stuck in the middle of a job and need additional tools or assistants.
Moving a piano is a complicated and technical task which demands a great deal of experience, an understanding of the balance and inertia of pianos, the proper equipment, and of course, plenty of strength.
As owner/operator, Rick is the one who not only plans the move, but participates in every move rather than sending a crew out who has not done the site survey themselves, or lacks the same experience. What sets Rick apart is not just his decades of experience moving pianos in all sorts of situations, or his physical size and strength, its his care, pride, thoughtfulness, and calm, easy going demeanor.
Unlike regular house moves, which benefit from a fast moving crew, piano moving cannot be rushed. It requires forethought and planning. Not getting stressed is important — you end up rushing the move and that can be dangerous. Occaisionally a move can take longer than expected. We take whatever time is necessary to move your piano with care.
Preparation is key. Rick has an arsenal of special tools at his disposal designed specifically designed for moving pianos — ramps, blocks, tie-down straps, piano dollies and boards, and even a custom made electric stair climbing dolly, as well as cranes (when required). Knowing what tools are required and where in the move is important.
To Rick, the Piano Mover, every move is different — different houses, different stairways or paths, different ways to set up the equipment. There is no standard piano move. Rick treats every piano move as a new project, including yours.
The Piano MoverBy Traci Hukill, Fri, Nov 27, 2009, Santa Cruz Weekly
CONSIDERING the nature of the work, Ricky Maurice Howard spends a surprising amount of time on each job standing stock still, staring intently into space. Maybe his bear-sized hands move a little this way and that as he maps out his next move, but other than that he seems utterly immersed in thought. Silence from such a massively built man makes an impression, and one tends not to disturb him.
A lot can go wrong with pianos. A typical upright weighs about 500 pounds. When they slip the bonds of control, things happen fast, usually with the worst kind of witness: an anxious owner. A dropped piano issues a musical yelp of outrage or a loud bass blurt of disapproval. It’s just not good.
Howard moves the dolly, a fancy lunar rover-looking model from a specialty company in New Jersey, into position just beneath the edge of the open end of his van, parked on an incline. Bending down, he gently grasps the two edges of the Baldwin and slowly lifts. The piano begins an imperceptible slide and he leans into it, countering its mass with his own. Slowly, balletically, he eases it onto the dolly.
Howard moved his first piano in 1978 for a company in his hometown of Watsonville. He was still in high school. Strangely, the 6’ 1” Howard was in the role of assistant, moving the dolly and helping stabilize the pianos, while the proprietor, a smaller man, literally did the heavy lifting. When the man let on that he was thinking about selling the business, Howard made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: a restored 1937 Cadillac that the man had admired just a few weeks before, and which Howard had purchased through the trade of a vintage pinball machine. Before he knew it, he was the owner of Howard’s Piano Moving.
Through all these years, he’s remained sound of back and limb, except for soreness on one or two occasions when he overdid it. “I was taking on more than I should have,” he says in a surprisingly soft, musical voice. He sometimes works with an assistant. The first time he moved this piano, up a narrow flight of stairs to a downtown Santa Cruz apartment, a young, sallow Tim Lincecum lookalike was along. When Howard lifted the piano to pivot it, the kid slipped the dolly beneath it. Up the stairs the piano sailed, slowly dancing, lifted on wings of might.