Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Soddy Grows Up

In my last post, we left my homesteaders ready to prepare their home site for the construction of their sod house. Their first step will be to stake out the corners of the house, but they must wait for a clear night so that one wall can be lined up with the North Star. In true pioneering spirit, the homesteaders want their home to stand "square against the world."

After the corners have been staked out, the homesteader, hopefully with the help of a neighbor, will begin cutting the sod blocks. The house will have an inside measurement of 14' x 18' and will require approximately one and a half acres of sod. Each sod block weighs about 50 pounds, and is limber rather than rigid, so carrying and laying the blocks is ideally a two-man job.

It will take my homesteader two to three weeks to build his soddy, depending on the weather and on how much help he can muster. Meanwhile, he and his wife will live in their covered wagon, thankful that the weather is warm. Not all settlers arrive in a wagon. Some come by train; others are on foot. Without the convenience of a wagon to provide temporary shelter while their soddies are constructed, these settlers resort to carving a "dugout" from a hill or embankment. This cave-like shelter has only dirt for the floor, the roof, and three walls. A piece of canvas can be hung to cover the front opening. If canvas isn't available, a rough, movable wall might be created using brush and small branches gathered from the banks of the nearest creek.

I'm sorry to say that my sod house will not be completed in such a short time as two or three weeks - or probably not even in two or three months! But I've accomplished some things, in spite of myself, and the following photos show my progress. Of course, the photos also show my usual setbacks as I get started - and restarted.



MOVING FORWARD - AND BACKWARD 



I started laying the first course of sod blocks on the flat, unassembled styrofoam walls, thinking that working with the walls lying flat would be the fastest method. I soon realized that the blocks weren't all lined up evenly with the bottom of the wall - because the bottom of the walls weren't completely even. When I raised the walls upright for a trial run, the blocks were poorly seated, which made the walls wobbly. 



 I removed the uneven first course of sod blocks and secured the walls in their upright position, using my usual toothpicks-and-glue technique. Then I started over, laying the blocks flat on the base board.
Success! Now I can proceed with laying the sod blocks.



THE PROCESS



I cut a shank of prairie grass (oven-roasted corn silk) into bits of about 1/4" in length.



Next I use a brush to apply glue to the bottom front edge of a sod block. I tried just dipping the edge into the glue, but that became very sticky and messy very fast. The brush prevents (mostly) such sticky, icky fingers. I also apply glue to the back edge of the block, which will be placed against the styrofoam wall.



Then I press the glued front edge of the block into the grass.



Finally, the block is laid in place and pressed against the styrofoam wall. I also insert toothpicks at intervals to secure the sod blocks. The excess grass that you see in this photo will be gently brushed away. Every fourth course or so, the sod blocks are laid crosswise instead of lengthwise along the wall, in order to bind the inner and outer blocks firmly together and add stability to the structure.
(You may remember that my solid styrofoam "inner" walls would, in Real Life, be an inner wall of sod blocks just like the outer wall.)



The sod blocks are laid with the grass side down, allowing the roots to grow upward into the blocks above, strengthening the wall.



MOVING UPWARD



Hmmm...these walls seem to have grown a little taller since the first two photos in this post. You will not be a bit surprised to learn that I had to increase the height of the walls because of an OVERSIGHT! Yes, I made a mistake! Or, actually, I thought I had made a mistake, but as it turned out, I was mistaken in thinking that. 



THE STORY

 As I was laying blocks on one of the end walls, I took a long look at the window opening, and I remembered that there is supposed to be a half-inch space between the top of the window frame and the support beam over the window. This space would have been filled with paper or cloth to provide a "buffer zone" so that as the sod blocks settled, the weight of the wall wouldn't break the window panes. The same is true of the door frame, to avoid jamming of the door. I realized that if I belatedly cut that half-inch of space, the support beam would be too close to the roof, allowing no space for the roof beams.

 I set about correcting the error by adding an inch and a half to the height of the walls. That makes the walls higher than I would like, but not unrealistically high. Of course, the addition meant some more interior work, as you'll see below - and the end of this story will follow.  



I had to add more wine packaging "bumps" to the addition...



...then cover the bumps with joint compound. Then sand a bit and eventually repaint the entire room.



At this point, before I painted the room again, I got out my windows - four of them - and tried them again for fit. And - guess what?! All four were consistently exactly one-half inch too short for the window opening! Yes. When I had cut the window and door openings, I had, with due diligence and great intelligence, allowed the necessary extra half-inch that was needed for the paper or cloth buffer. Except that I had let too much time pass before moving ahead with the construction and forgot what I had already done. My memory is way too short for such a long time lapse. So there you have it - my full confession. I may yet reconsider and saw off most of that addition, making another mess and a lot more work. But that'll be another story!



COURSE BY COURSE



This is a close-up photo of the low back wall. There is an implied solid sod wall here, but I've left it open for viewing purposes. 



I initially thought that I would stucco the top of the wall the same as the interior, then I changed my mind and treated the wall as it would have looked during the sod laying. The adjoining wall edges will later be treated the same. I just need to decide how those sod blocks would be laid, and that will be easier to determine after the corners are finished.



In this close-up of the top of the wall, you can see the grass roots entangled in the sod. The roots were so tough and thick that as the sod was cut into strips by the cutting plow, the ripping grass roots made the sound of a giant zipper being opened.



Building up the sod courses. Each course should be laid all around the structure before the next course is started, in order to keep the walls as level as possible. A course of "crosswise" sod blocks is ready to lay.



A course of crosswise blocks has been completed along one end of the house.



The sod walls grow higher along the front and west end....



...and another "binding" crosswise course has been completed on the west end.


That's the extent of my progress to date. The walls will continue to grow upward as planned, but otherwise, construction will be by trial and error as I move on to the next steps. In spite of the various setbacks - with more certain to follow - I'm enjoying this project immensely, even while wading into unknown territory. But as I navigate through the unknown in the safety of my workroom, I imagine with what trepidation and uncertainty those pioneers faced the building of their own homes and the settling of a new land. What courage!







16 comments:

  1. Esta casa empieza a tomar forma de una manera muy agradable!!!
    Besos.

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    1. Hi, Pilar - Thanks for your interest in my soddy. I hope it keeps shaping up as well as it should. It's a little like reading a mystery novel; I won't know how it turns out until I finish it!
      Marjorie

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  2. WOW!!! Once again I am impressed by your original methods and solutions for laying mini sod AND for the additional background building information! I had no idea that that grass would grow up through sod as a natural re-enforment to the structure but now that I know, it makes perfect sense!
    I feel as though I am furthering my education whenever I visit your blog Marjorie. I get the visual pleasure of seeing your work and also understand the "whys and the wherefores" too-
    a double bonus! :D

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    1. Hi, Elizabeth - My original methods do seem to present problems that need solutions! I'm surprised at how many problems I've encountered at such an early stage of construction, especially when this is a one-room house! How did I ever build that Tuscan villa??? I've had a great time learning the "whys and wherefores" too, and every work session seems to be a learning experience. Good thing I have all those informative books at hand - I continue going back to them to relearn what I thought I already knew. You should see the bookmarks! The soddy continues to be an interesting project; I'm excited to keep moving along with the construction, and I'm so happy to have you along for the ride. Thanks for visiting!
      Marjorie

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  3. Hello Marjorie,
    What a great post. I am really enjoying learning about sod houses and how they were built. It is very informative and you explain everything so well. The sod blocks are looking beautiful And I cannot wait to see more. I am glad you were able to correct the window situation without any damage to work that was already done. I love the lower back wall. It is a great way to finish the backside of the project and still let the viewer see inside. It is all coming along beautifully.
    Big hug
    Giac

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    1. Hello, Giac - I think that I thought that I was better prepared to start building the soddy than I actually am - I seem to encounter a big question mark with each new step! But that's part of the fun and the excitement - and I am excited to be getting on with the sod house, even though I must continue to learn as I go. I'm happy that you like that back wall; it should look more realistic when the side and top edges are "sodded" as well. Thanks for your nice comments and for following along on this adventure.
      Marjorie

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  4. What a delight it is to not only see this unique and historical home come to life, but to learn the extremely fascinating history and construction methods employed! I think we forget in our modern times about true survival, and what it took to be a progressive pioneer!
    The oven-roasted corn silk not only gives a wonderful representation of the grass used in construction, it seems so appropriate! I can completely understand the fun you're having, as this looks like a challenging yet fulfilling process as the walls grow block by block. I wonder how many windows were broken before the ingenious rag spacing method was adopted.
    What a marvel you're creating here, Marjory, and one I am excited to continue to follow and learn from!

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    1. Hi, Jodi - Thanks for your lovely comments and for continuing to share my excitement about this project. I've employed your "stare down" method more than once when I've encountered yet another unforeseen problem or question. It really does help to pull up my chair, sit back, and just look the soddy right in the eye until it gives me an answer! I admit that I hadn't previously considered how apt is my use of the corn silk here in the middle of the corn belt - and right in Cornhusker territory! I appreciate your observation. I'm so glad that you're following along on as I continue this "experiment."
      Marjorie

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    2. The staring into submission method really works!
      Say... I am sending out Christmas greetings and would love to have your address. Will you please send it to me in an email to jodihippler@gmail.com? Thanks Marjorie!

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  5. Increíble el proyecto que estás comenzando, una obra de verdadera albañilería, el comienzo es muy prometedor. El pequeño error lo has solucionado perfectamente. Buena semana,besos:-)

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  6. Hello, Rosa Maria - I appreciate your visiting my sod house. Laying the sod blocks is very slow work, but I find it both fun and relaxing - until I encounter another problem! But the walls do continue to climb, one by one, and soon I can move on to the next thing. Thank you for your nice comments.
    Marjorie

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  7. Hi Marjorie! What a fascinating project this is! The History lessons alone are deep... but add to that the building structure lessons and you will be a master builder by the time you are done! (Even if only in Minis!) I think it is important in these times that we try to understand how hard things once were... we have so much we take for granted now! To learn of the need to live in a dirt cave while you are building your dirt house..... I had never thought that part through before! I know how you feel about "forgetting" what it is you did already... my Castle project has become so lost in the Past... I think I will be starting over on many parts when I get to them! LOL! But maybe that is how we end up with a "better" building in the long run! :) I look forward to seeing more of this fascinating construction project! :):)

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    1. Hi, Betsy - If I keep making mistakes, you'll maybe want to take back your remarks about the building structure lessons! : ) The funny thing is that I keep a fairly extensive "construction journal" in which I make entries after each work session - so there's no excuse for my forgetting what's been done, because it's all right before my very eyes in black and white. Of course, I need to read those entries in order to remember what's written in them, and I don't always remember to do that! Speaking of journals, some of the research material that I read before beginning the soddy consisted of diaries and journals of men and women who experienced the trials, tribulations, and hardships of the prairie pioneer life, and some of the stories are heartbreaking. Not all, of course - there were also heartwarming stories of the excitement and humorous adventures of many of the homesteaders. But in the main, life wasn't easy for any of them, and I agree that it's a good thing to be mindful of that and more appreciative of our present way of life. Thank you for taking the time to leave your very welcome comments.
      Marjorie

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  8. Another informative and exciting post! And thank you for sharing your "oops" moments too -- makes the rest of us feel better to know that other miniaturists are in the same boat with us! LOL

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    1. Hi, Lori - Thanks for stopping by; I always enjoy reading your comments. I'm glad that I make you feel better when I share my mistakes. Now I'm going to make you feel even better by admitting that I don't come close to sharing them all - some of my "oops" moments are just too dumb to ever, ever, talk about! But at least I can usually fix most of them. So far. The soddy continues to grow, sod block by sod block. It's exciting to know that I'm making progress, but I'm sort of looking forward to the time when something else is happening!
      Marjorie

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  9. Hi Marjorie, this is fascinating! Obviously American history isn't part of the curriculum in Europe so I am learning quite a lot. But considering those settlers had European origins, there must be links to houses and building methods back here.
    Oven roasted corn silk. Who would think of that? It's absolutely brilliant.
    Looking forward to seeing more of this project, mistakes and all. It's so unique, I love it!

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I'd love to hear your comments!