Portable tabernacles were not invented by men of the twentieth century. Since the days when the sanctuary was erected at Mount Sinai, the idea of a movable place of worship has been existent.
In these days of city .and hamlet evangelism, when it became necessary to move a tabernacle once or twice each year, our crop of workers despaired at the thought of the tedious job. We grew weary when we thought of thousands of nails to pull, the sore muscles, the broken boards and ruined timbers, to say nothing of the weeks of lost time from actual spiritual labor. Because material was at a premium price, if it could be obtained at all, it became imperative to save every board when dismantling our tabernacles. This only slowed down the work and increased the time consumed.
In view of these facts, we set about to design a portable tabernacle which could be easily and quickly moved. Information concerning this method of constructing an attractive, neat, and commodious tabernacle may be appreciated by other workers who are struggling with their building and moving problems.
The size of our tabernacle is 30 by 56 feet, and it is built on the dome-shaped, streamlined principle. It is completely portable. There are no nails to pull or boards to remove anywhere, aside from the roofing strips. Everything is made in sections and joined with bolts, angle braces, screws, or lag screws. The rostrum, the prayer room, the baptistry, and the furnace room, including the floors, are all easily and quickly taken apart in sections.
The same is true of the bookstand. The front, with its letters and pilasters, the back, the doors, and the exits are all arranged to be quickly removed and laid in order, for transportation to another city. The rolled roofing, which is generally applied with tar and nails where it laps, is sealed at the lap by placing long strips of lattice or parting stop over the lap and tacking these securely. It is not necessary to use any tar in this method of application, and these strips are easily removed. Thus the roofing comes off quickly, and can be used several times before it wears out.
The dome-shaped walls and roof are in sections, and after being unbolted can be let down with a block and tackle. Dismantling, moving, and setting up again is thus simplified and hastened without excess expense. The main roof sections of the tabernacle are 8 feet wide and nearly 24 feet long, extending from the ground to the peak in one piece. There are fourteen of these sections in the building, seven on each side. Each section is composed of four ribs, constructed out of two thicknesses of two-by-sixes, as shown in the accompanying diagram. These ribs are held together with a 2" X 6" ridge and sill plate and the shiplap which covers them. These sections are placed one against another and fastened with five bolts on the curve and two through the ridge.
There are two collar ties, one 2"x 10" at the top and a 2" X 4" at the next bolt down. This makes a rigid structure.
In beginning the erection of the building we lay a 2" X Jo" mud-sill foundation which is stripped with two-by-fours along the outer edge. After this is leveled and squared, it is joined at the ends with a mud sill for the front and back sections to rest on. It is then necessary to tie the foundation across the building in several places, to prevent spreading when the dome sections are set in place. As soon as the foundation is in readiness the gin pole is set up. Then with the aid of a block and tackle, we hoist the first pair of roof sections into place, drop them inside the 2" x 4" strip on the sill foundation, a n d bolt them together at the top from a movable scaffold. Two lag screws are also used to hold each section to the sill.
The front, composed of eight sections, is next brought into place and bolted onto these sections.
Then the pilasters are fastened to the front. Immediately the building has put on a front, and the letters and advertising can be put in place.
The gin pole is moved along 8 feet for each pair of sections as they are raised into place with the blocks and bolted one to another. As soon as the first sections are in place the roofing can be applied, thus providing immediate shelter for valuable equipment or inside arrangements. We have found that the best method for applying the roofing is with the aid of two flat ladders which will bend to fit the dome. These are held together at the top with a rope, and have rigid legs about seven feet long at the bottom. As each roll of roofing is fastened in place, this pair of ladders is moved along. It is very important to put building paper under the roofing; otherwise it will stick to the boards in hot weather and will not come loose.
After the sections of the back are hoisted into place and bolted to the roof sections, the inside arrangements and rooms can be completed in record t i m e. We have found from our experience here that four men can erect the outside structure complete in two to three days. The inside arrangements will vary according to room plans, etc. This building will seat from 125 to 175 people, varying according to the space consumed by the rostrum and rooms.
The ribs are constructed on a bench form from the various pieces. These pieces are cut out by exact patterns on a table cutoff saw. It is not necessary to cut the complete curve on each 2" x 6". Only about 18 inches at each end is scribed to be cut on a slight curve. Usually a good ripsaw or an ordinary bench saw will cut this slight curve. Five separate patterns are needed for the pieces in one rib. These are obtained by laying out the rib plan on the ground and marking the lumber with a steel tape at the 23-foot radius. The two pieces at each end have different angles and lengths, and are entirely different one from the other, but the five center pieces are alike and can be cut from one pattern. Each rib is nailed securely, while in the form, with approximately two hundred sixteen-penny box nails. This gives the maximum strength to the curved arch, which nothing else will. (We used two kegs of sixteen-penny and one keg of eight-penny box nails in making the tabernacle.)
While the ribs are still in the bench form where they are nailed, the five holes for the bolts should be bored in all those used for the outside edges of the sections. These holes should be five-eighths inch, and if spotted with a try square from points on the form, they will always be the same and will match well when erecting the structure. Since half-inch bolts are used, there is a little leeway for variation.
After the ribs are removed from the first form, four of them are placed in another form where the 2" x 6" plates are nailed on the ends and the ship-lay on the surface of the curves. This last form must be level, square, and plumb in order to assure perfect fitting when setting up the building. This completed section weighs approximately 800 pounds, and can be moved about on skids or rollers or carried by the crew of men to position. (Some of the men here have had good success by using a laminated rib of one-by-sixes or one-by-fours.)
When moving these large sections from one city to another it is best to secure a long, heavy truck and extend the rack by using 24-foot timbers, to catch the ends of the sections. After putting a heavy sawhorse under the center of the section, as many sections can be stacked on top as is advisable to haul. They move and ride well and can be slid up, one on another, when loading. A truck and trailer with swinging bobs may also be used successfully.
In leaving these sections stacked or stored, or even when they are lying separate, it is necessary to brace them up well in the center, for they have a tendency to lengthen out, even of their own weight. A 2" X 4" block, flat between them in the center, with a heavy sawhorse beneath the undermost section, will serve your purpose. They should always be handled, moved, and stored with the outer curved surface up. This is the natural way in which they are erected and let down.
There is a great saving of time, money, and effort in building tabernacles this way. We used old lumber which had already been used twice before in tabernacles of the shed type. Other men in this field have also used what they had, and their tabernacles are portable and very attractive. It can be done, and pays big dividends.