Sunday, June 9, 2019

Getting Settled in the Soddy (Part Three)

Robert and I have been traveling for a couple of weeks, away from Nebraska and its grasslands, cornfields, and far horizons - and its pioneering history in which I've become so immersed during the past months. We've driven through mountains (!) and taken ferries across large bodies of water and walked through forests of tall pine trees. Is it any wonder that I'm feeling a bit out of touch with Ruby and Will and their little soddy on the treeless plains of Custer County, Nebraska? 

But it's time now to take the final steps toward getting the young homesteaders settled in their soddy. Because the soddy is small and dark and crowded with the belongings that Ruby and Will have carried in their covered wagon from Indiana, I've found it necessary to photograph some of those belongings individually in order to have them shown to best advantage. There will also be a "tour" of the interior of the soddy to end this post. (You may have been expecting a tour if you remember my fondness for such things!)

Making a (Sod) House Into a Home

Ruby turned these useful, multi-purpose packing crates into a washstand which also holds a pail of fresh water carried from the nearby creek.

The stovetop is a convenient spot to store Ruby's irons; they're always at hand when she needs to heat them on the stove for an ironing session. She has just taken a pan of cornbread from the oven and cut a small piece to "test" it. Yum!

Having removed her apron, Ruby is preparing to set the supper table. She has  finished her churning and has set out a dish of fresh butter to have with their meal of cornbread and beans. Ruby knows 33 ways to prepare corn. (Nebraska has earned its title as the "Cornhusker State.")

The sewing machine is an almost indispensable item for Ruby's housekeeping requirements, so room was found for it in the crowded wagon as Ruby and Will began their move to Nebraska. Ruby's sewing box rests on a stool close by.

A bed made from cedar posts and rope; a soft feather mattress; a bright quilt made by loving hands. These things make for a good night's rest. The trunk lends a helping hand by making it hard for unwelcome visitors (such as mice, bugs, spiders, snakes) to invade clothing, linens, and other important items. I hope Will and Ruby remember to close the trunk's lid securely.

The rocking chair very nearly had to be left behind, to Ruby's great disappointment. But Will's ingenuity in loading and packing the wagon saved the day. Ruby sometimes has to borrow Will's rubber boots after a hard rain. If water has leaked into the soddy, the dirt floors can be a problem. Ruby has to pin up her skirts to keep them from dragging in the mud as she sloshes about the soddy. Fortunately, the sod roof is as watertight as possible and leaks only during the worst downpours. Of course, sometimes it continues to leak for two or three days after the rain has stopped, while the roof slowly dries itself out. 

This hand-me-down cabinet is a great help to Ruby; it gives her extra storage space and provides an adequate surface for the daily dishwashing.

Will made this important piece from a large packing crate; the shelves store most of the items that they need for daily use.

Will has hung his shotgun and rifle within easy reach. He doesn't often hunt for meat, but is ready for any passing turkeys, prairie chickens, or elk.

Time for a Tour

Now that Ruby and Will have arranged their household goods and feel settled and at home in the soddy, they'd like to share their pleasure with you. If you follow along clockwise from the front door, it won't take long (maybe only a moment!) to see the entirety of this humble, happy home.

And here are a few views of the small room, with sod walls and a dirt floor, that  Will and Ruby have built with care and made into a home.

And now...the cart is complete, so it's time to hitch up the horse in this topsy-turvy construction plan. Yes - finally, it's time to put the long-awaited sod roof on this sod house! The roof is already under construction, and you won't be a bit surprised to learn that it's a bit touchy and problematical, but I expect to get the best of it yet. I sincerely hope.

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.