As I mentioned in the previous post, sod walls were typically two-feet thick. If you compare the exterior window pictures to this one, you'll see a generous ledge on both sides. Also notice the plastered walls. In MAY B. I make mention of this nicety through a conversation with Mrs. Oblinger, the new bride from the city, and May, the frontier girl.
from poem 29:
"I hate this place," she whispers.
Before I think better, I say,
"He's left a shade tree out front,
he's plastered the walls,
and he's putting in a proper floor."
"What'd you say?"
Does she even remember I'm here?
"Mr. Oblinger's a good man," I try again.
"He wants to make this home for you."
She stands over me now.
"You think plaster makes a difference in this place?
Look at this."
She holds out her mud-caked skirt.
"It's filthy here!
The ceiling leaks.
Sometimes snakes get through!"
The cool sod's where they like to nest.
"They help with mice," I offer.
Sod houses were one room with little to no privacy. Here you see a bed right up against the stove, a tree trunk meant to support the roof also used to hang clothing.
These benches are made from hewed logs and are a great example of the wood used for puncheon floors (the proper flooring May mentions above -- many lived with packed earth underfoot) : the smooth side of a log faced up, the curved side down.
One way families kept dirt from falling from the sod above was to cover the ceiling in muslin.
How would you fare living this way?
In the years I've been blogging, no topic has drawn more visitors here than sod houses. I hope this post, showing the exterior of a Kansas soddy, and the next, its interior, will satisfy the curious!
My mother took these pictures while on an Elderhostel tour in 2009, just as I was putting some finishing touches on MAY B.
This sod house is located outside Gaithersburg, Kansas. You can see the family had access to enough wood -- perhaps a sawmill nearby? -- to build a door, frame out several windows, and lay lumber for a roof (though they still chose to place sod on top).
A pitched roof would have made rainstorms more comfortable, as it was typical for water to seep through flat-roofed sod houses, where it would continue to "rain" inside well after a storm.
Sod bricks were typically 1' x 2' x 4". They weighed roughly fifty pounds and were stacked, grass-side down, so that walls were two-feet thick. These sturdy homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Structurally, they weren't especially neat and tidy. This poor wall looks like it's melting.
While researching for MAY B., I'd read about women who'd left comfortable lives determined to make this new world as familiar and lovely as possible. My mother included a note with this picture, the words of her tour guide:
Bird cages were kept to show some gentility or civility attesting to their previous lifestyle.
I included a stanza in MAY B.'s poem 80 that was inspired by this bird cage picture:
I button Ma's fine boots.
I wish I had insisted on keeping Hiram's old ones,
but I know Ma gave me hers
for herself as much as me,
a message to Mrs. Oblinger,
fresh from the city,
showing that women out here still have some grace.
My feet will hurt, I reckon,
before I make it far.
Come back Wednesday for views of the interior.
20 feet, 16 feet, 20 feet, and 12.5 feet
Find a room big enough and stretch the string out, making a rectangle with a door-sized opening at one side.
Measure a bed, a dresser, a table, a stove. Mark the furnitures' dimensions on butcher paper and arrange it inside your string rectangle.
What do you have?
A furnished soddy! Imagine a family living together in this small space.
Children’s Literature Top Picks of 2011 & 2012 By Patricia Austin, University of New Orleans
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose. New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2012. 231pp. Gr. 3-7 The title alone May B (short for the protagonist’s name Mavis Elizabeth Betterly) sets up an intriguing metaphoric premise. What is it that may be possible for twelve-year old May B, a poor girl from the Kansas prairie in the 1870s? She shares her dream of becoming a teacher but she struggles so in reading that people think she’s slow-witted. Her family hires her to a farm some fifteen miles away–to make money and help out. May suffers an uneasy relationship with the lady of the soddy, who is so sad, missing home, that she leaves. When her husband searches for her and doesn’t return, May is left to fend for herself facing uncertainly, fears (some imagined but most real) as she braves many hardships. The novel has perfect pacing with tension that will have readers turning the pages, yet its beauty is in the lyrical language. Readers who have felt “my best isn’t always good enough,” will find a special kinship with the determined protagonist.*
They will also appreciate the short verses. Check out the blog of former teacher, Caroline Starr Rose where she offers info on making sod houses
and provides teaching materials for her book.