Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Getting Settled in the Soddy - Part Two

Will and Ruby Dawson have arrived in Custer County, Nebraska, in the spring of 1886. Their sod house is finally ready for them, (we aren't going to mention the roof!) and the largest pieces of their few belongings have been moved into the soddy. Now Will is busy carrying in wooden crates in which their collection of smaller items have been packed. Ruby is busily unpacking the crates and trying to make room in the small soddy for the varied assortment of possessions that have made the long journey with them.

Fitting In the Bits and Pieces

Many of the items that Ruby and Will brought on their journey were packed in small wooden crates. They had no idea how useful the crates would prove to be.

Ruby and Will wanted to hang these photographs of their mothers as soon as they were removed from a small packing crate. I think there might be some homesickness going on here!

Two of the small crates are used to store the canning that Ruby has brought along from Indiana. She will have her own vegetable garden to tend soon and will be busily canning her own produce by late summer.

This small crate provides storage for the coffee mill and the meat grinder, two awkward and heavy kitchen tools.

Ruby's frequently used dish towels have found a home on this handy shelf created by turning a larger crate on one end. She has discovered that a big, heavy kettle can hold her sharp knives safely and conveniently. 

Two large crates stacked together make a wash stand and a convenient resting place for the water pail and wash pan. There is plenty of space on another shelf for Will's shaving supplies. Will and Ruby must carry their water from a nearby creek until they can afford to hire a well digger.

I made some lye soap from Sculpey for Ruby, because soap making is a long process, and I knew that Ruby wouldn't have time for that kind of chore until she's well settled in the soddy. Ruby and Will use the strong soap for laundry, dishes, and bathing.

 The container of soap will be conveniently at hand on the wash stand.

I decided to help out with some medicinal needs; Ruby and Will needed a potion to relieve coughs and colds and another to help stomach ailments. I found a tiny plastic vial of eye drops that looked promising.

I trimmed the excess material off the vial, leaving a ready-made bottle shape.

After painting the bottle cobalt blue, I let it dry.

I painted the bottle neck black and added a black bead stopper and wrote out a label. I made a second bottle that I painted brown but forgot to photograph.
The bottles of medicine will be stored on a shelf of the washstand.

Another small crate is just the right size to serve as a bedside table.

The copper wash boiler made a convenient container in which Ruby packed  smaller items. When she needed to wash clothes during their journey from Indiana, she scrubbed them in the cold water of the nearest creek.

The wooden churn is a small necessity if Ruby and Will want fresh butter for their cornbread! They don't have their own cow yet, but they were given chickens by a settler who decided to keep moving west toward the mountains. They can trade eggs for milk and cream from a distant neighbor. Will plans to trade his team of oxen for a milk cow and a work horse after his land is well broken. He knows that an ox is better than a horse at pulling a breaking plow; the ox is stronger and plods along at the slow pace that's necessary to cut through the heavily matted prairie sod.

The forked poles that support the soddy's ridge beam at each end of the house have pegs added so that Ruby and Will can hang various articles that need to be kept close at hand. A lantern, a fly swatter, a shawl, and an umbrella are among the chosen necessities.

 Rugs are often inconvenient in a sod house, because they have to be taken up whenever a hard rain develops, in case the roof should decide to leak and turn the dirt floor to mud. But Ruby was determined to have at least a small rug to add color to the soddy and to keep dish water off the floor when she's washing up. She made one rag rug and liked it so much that she made a second one to place beside the bed. She considered making yet another for the doorway, but Will made a teasing remark about wiping his feet on the rug to avoid "tracking dirt outside." Ruby glowered at him but couldn't help giggling at his joke. She decided against the third rug. I helped Ruby make the first rug by cutting a small piece from an old dish towel and fringing the edges.

Another dish towel was cut up and a piece fringed for the second rag rug.

Ruby and I wove colorful yarn into the fringed pieces.

We completed two "rag" rugs that will help to brighten the soddy's interior.

The soddy's window sills needed red geraniums, so I bit the bullet and tried the ivy geranium tutorial by Elizabeth from Studio E. I doubt that Elizabeth will recognize the soddy's geraniums, because they look nothing like the gorgeous ones that she made!  

My first attempt didn't look like ivy geraniums, but they were okay as plain old garden variety geraniums. Ruby planted them in some old tin cans, but when she placed them on the wide window sill, they looked much too large. (Where did I go wrong?)

I started over, making a batch of smaller geraniums from some leftover materials that I had saved.

Ruby found smaller cans and planted the new flowers. They look cheery and colorful on the window sill, and she will place the larger ones outside by the soddy's doorway as beacons of welcome to any visitors that Ruby and Will may have in their new home.

We'll leave Will and Ruby to complete their "settling in." They're so eager to begin life in their new soddy that I'm sure they'll be comfortable and cozy by the time we return in a short while.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Getting Settled in the Soddy

In my last post, I left you looking at a barely-begun roof (and a finally-finished floor) because I had realized that I needed to finish the interior before the roof was put in place. There wouldn't have been much working space with the roof blocking my movements and my visibility. There were, as it turned out, quite a few interior tasks that I could have completed with the roof on, but I was on a roll, and it seemed too complicated to have to separate the before-roof tasks from the after-roof ones. So I did the whole thing. 

There were a lot of things to finish and a lot of photographs to take - way too many for a single post - so I've decided to divide the completed interior into two or three separate parts. This post will include some basic necessities for making a home as comfortable as possible in spite of many inconveniences. I hope you'll sympathize with my young homesteaders as they settle into their (roofless) sod home.

Basic Necessities for the Soddy

Will and Ruby Dawson came to Nebraska's treeless plains from Indiana, where they were married less than a year ago. Will had always worked on his father's farm, along with his three brothers, but Ruby and Will decided after their marriage that they wanted to make a fresh and independent start in a new territory. They packed their meager belongings, mostly cast-offs and hand-me-downs from family members, into a wagon covered with canvas and pulled by oxen and began their new adventure. They arrived in Custer County, Nebraska, in late spring, 1886, just in time to build their one-room sod house before Will began the spring plowing of his new land. While Will worked long hours on the land, Ruby's days were occupied with the task of creating a homey, comfortable ambience within the soddie's confining walls. 

Ruby considers her stove the most important item among her household goods. When she and Will camped in their wagon while the soddy was being built, the stove was moved off the wagon so that she could prepare meals; that was so much easier than cooking over a campfire!

When Ruby began to unpack some of the wooden crates that contained their hand-me-down accumulation of kitchen goods, she realized that she had nowhere to store any of these things. (The cornbread and the eggs weren't in the packing crate - they're fresh!)

Will found time to take apart one of their large wooden packing crates, carefully straightening the nails so that he could use them again in the construction of a crude shelf unit. 

The shelves provided space for all the items, and Ruby could see all her kitchen equipment at a glance. Wooden packing crates served a major role in equipping a sod house for daily life. They were used for many housekeeping items: stools, cupboards, storage bins, tables, benches, and shelves, to name a few uses.

The next consideration was a comfortable bed for a good night's rest. Will and Ruby had spent their first nights in the soddy on a feather mattress laid over a sheet of canvas on the soddy's dirt floor. They both woke every morning feeling much older than their years. They had heard that many new homesteaders built their bed frame in a corner of their soddy so that two walls could support two sides of the bed, saving both materials and labor. But Ruby begged for a "real" bed, free-standing away from the wall, and Will was happy to oblige. He had set aside a willow pole that wasn't needed for the soddy's construction; he thought the pole would be adequate to build a simple bed.

A length of rope from their supplies was used to weave a sturdy base for the feather mattress that had made the journey with them.

Ruby and Will feel fortunate to have a feather mattress; many settlers had to make do with a mattress ticking stuffed with corn husks or prairie grass.

Before leaving Indiana, Ruby had spent many hours piecing together a quilt top to use in her new home on the prairie. She wanted the brightest colors that she could find for the top and used a cheery red for the backing. She knew, from the many "homesteading" stories that she had heard, that her new home would be small and dark and colorless. She was determined to remedy that sad fact.   

I had to help Ruby a little with the quilt; I added a sheet of foil between the quilt top and the red backing, just to add shape and flexibility. Ruby was surprised by this unusual technique, but she allowed me to have my way.

To save time, because there was so much to be done to prepare for the long trip, Ruby decided to "tie" the quilt rather than take the time necessary for the usual quilting stitches.

Ruby and Will are happy with their colorful quilt and comfortable bed - and very thankful to no longer wake up with aching backs.

Ruby's mother had insisted that room be found on the wagon for a "civilized" dining set. Although the table and chairs were old, Ruby was happy to have them. Personally, I thought that all the pieces would benefit from a slight "makeover," and I took it upon myself to put a darker stain on the chairs and to sand and re-stain the table top. I thought it a great improvement. Ruby hasn't expressed an opinion.

The makeover is underway on one of the chairs. After the first coat of stain, I could see a big difference, so I proceeded with impunity.

This piece was in my stash, and I thought it could provide useful storage space and also a work surface for Ruby, but the two different levels on top seemed to present a problem.

I built up a uniform top and cut the legs down to make the work surface a more comfortable height.

I added some color, but after being well used for many years and stored in an attic for many more, this cabinet is showing its age. Ruby was thrilled to have the cabinet added to their few pieces of furniture, and Will obligingly made room for it as they packed their wagon.

Ruby and Will possess only a few items of clothing. but they needed a safe place to store them in their new home, away from moths and mice, spiders and snakes, and water from a leaky roof. Robert volunteered to put together a trunk that I wanted to give to Will and Ruby. The trunk was in kit form, and Robert knows how I feel about trying to make anything from a kit. (I feel like I'm working a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle wearing a blindfold.)

Robert wasn't entirely happy with the final results, but I had told him that I wanted the trunk to look well traveled and well worn, so he worked toward that end, and I was pleased with his efforts.

The trunk was ready in time to be packed and loaded onto the wagon.

The wagon was becoming crowded; Will's farming implements took up much of the space. But he knew how important Ruby's sewing machine was to her and how useful it would be as she worked to create a cheerful home in Nebraska.

This piece was almost left behind for lack of space, and Ruby was bravely accepting the loss. But by transferring some of the pieces that could safely be  tied to the sides of the wagon, Will managed to fit it in, to Ruby's great joy. She knew that her new home would be short on comfort, and the rocking chair represented not only comfort, but even a touch of luxury in her simple sod house.

Ruby and Will now have the basic necessities for their home, but there are many smaller, useful items still to be unloaded, unpacked, and arranged in the small room. I'll leave Will to take care of the unloading while Ruby takes care of unpacking and arranging. But I'll return soon to follow their progress. There is much work ahead of them, because making a house into a home requires time and effort - even if it is only a simple sod home.