Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Reaching Toward the Roof

I accomplished almost nothing on the Nebraska Sod House during the entire month of December. The days sped by, and suddenly there was January, presenting me with a new year and a new view from my workroom window. All that white stuff also presented me with a good reason to stay inside and get busy working on my soddy again.


In my last post, I had increased the height of the sod walls because I mistakenly thought that I hadn't allowed enough space for the roof beams to fit over the windows. I was wrong. So my first construction task of the new year was to saw off that extra height. I made a big mess, but not as big as I expected. 

The tops came off so easily and smoothly that there was very little interior repair necessary. That was a great relief!

I applied more brown paint to the top of the shorter walls to cover any white styrofoam that might show through the sod. I'm right back where I started from in November!

Now my homesteader can continue to build up the sod walls. When the walls reached waist level, a wagon, if one was available, was driven alongside the wall to provide a working platform for handling the heavy sod. If no wagon was available, perhaps he used a table to stand on. (Lay the sod, drag the table; lay the sod, drag the table.)

Robert, my electrician, also put wiring in at this time for display lighting.


The walls have reached the top of the window opening; it's time to build the wood box frames for the window and door openings. At least, that's the way I did it. My homesteader would have built his simple, open box frame as soon as the sod wall reached the desired level for the window sill, set the frame in place, propped it up with sticks, and built the walls up around it.

I tried a dry fit for a side window and frame. The soddy's two small windows will have pins set in each side frame so they can swivel outward from the bottom.

Also a dry fit for the front window and door box frames. The door will be made later. The most common type of window was the twelve-pane double hung sash window that could be raised or lowered from the top or bottom. The sod walls didn't permit the use of counterweights, so when the windows were raised, they had to be propped open with sticks. In some cases, if the walls were too short for the windows to fit upright, they were installed horizontally and could be opened by sliding the frame to one side.

Most windows were set in their frames close to the outer walls, rather than even with the interior walls, to avoid any possibility of water settling and washing away the sod. This provided deep window sills inside, where they offered needed storage space. (The deep sills also gave the homesteaders a dry place to sit when rain leaked through the roof and soaked everything else!) Many homesteaders plastered the inside of the window wells to avoid the dark shadows created by the bare sod blocks.

Since all windows and glass panes were extremely expensive and seldom to be found in the small prairie towns, many settlers brought windows with them, as many as they could afford, carefully swaddled in quilts for the long wagon journey. If they arrived without windows and couldn't find them in a town - or couldn't afford to buy them - they would make do with a canvas covering for the window openings, or sometimes cover the opening with oiled paper, which would let a little light into the soddy.

The wood for these frames and windows is ready to be painted or whitewashed, then "weathered" a little. This soddy is not very old, so hasn't undergone much wear.

I stuccoed the interior of the deep window and door openings, which will be sanded and whitewashed.

All the window frames, the windows, and the door frame are ready to be installed... 

... as are both side windows.

All the box frames are installed, leaving a "buffer zone" between the top of the frame and the window opening. The front windows will be next...

...along with the small west window...

...and the east window waits its turn.

This is the collection of sticks that will serve as "cedar" posts for the over- window support beams. Cedar is a tough, rot-resistant wood that the homesteader could often find along creek banks, although finding a straight limb of the right length was not easy.

I've cut the sticks into appropriate lengths to use as support posts.

Two cedar posts for each window will be laid over the top of the sod blocks, leaving a gap between the top of the window frame and the cedar beam. This space will be filled with rags to prevent the settling of the sod over the window, which could result in a jammed window and broken window panes. The door frame will receive two cedar posts for support as well.

Views of the front and the east side of the soddy before the support beams are installed.

The cedar posts for support beams have been installed over all the windows and the door.

A view of the small windows that swivel outward at the bottom.

A simple method of propping the windows open.


More courses of sod blocks are laid above the support beams to reach the desired height of the soddy. This photo shows the west side of the house.

And the east side.

This is the front view of the soddy, showing the support posts and the overall height of the house. In many of the photographs that I looked at before I started construction on the soddy, some of the windows seemed to lean drunkenly to one side or the other, because of the premature settling of the sod blocks. I decided that was a nice touch of authenticity, so I spent some time and effort to have a window leaning at a drunken angle. However, now that it's way too late to correct its posture, I realize that the window doesn't look authentically askew; it just looks like a crooked window. 

The time has come to add sod blocks to the sides of the partial back wall; all the blocks have to be built up to the same height as the other three walls.

I thought the back (north) wall was finished - but then...

...I found better "roots" for the sod blocks that make up the wall.

This photo shows the left half of the wall with new roots, compared to the right half that has the old "skimpy" roots.

The new root system looks much more like the thick, tangled roots in Real Life prairie sod.

The last step (for this post) is to stuff rags in the "buffer zone" over the window frames and the door frame. I used unbleached muslin, colored darker by soaking  in black coffee to simulate weather stains. I wanted a blotchy effect, but the pieces insisted on being rather uniform in color. 

I tore the fabric into approximately two-inch (24-inch Real Life) pieces, which I thought would be a manageable size for the homesteader to work with when he pushed the pieces into the space over the windows. I let the fabric dry. 

The rags have been stuffed into the buffer zones over the window and door frames. I added some sod-color blotches with a paintbrush and a grayish wash after the rags were in place.

Now the sod walls have reached the roof height, so one of the next steps will be to build a sod roof. The roof was the most important part of the sod structure, so the homesteader has a hard task before him. I hope he finds a neighbor who can help with the job.


I must share with you these tiny treasures that Jodi (My Miniature Madness) sent me. I'm so happy to have received the perfect pink chair, along with a basket of kitchen towels, books and a tasseled book mark (!) There is a tiny cup of tea with a minute tea bag (how is that possible?) and a jar of honey to sweeten the tea - even the teensiest spoon for stirring, and boxes of tea so I can keep on enjoying those "cuppas." The beautiful pot of flowers and the birdhouse bring a breath of spring even in January and will add color and cheer to a wintry landscape. I'm so excited about all these delights, but they're much too elegant to find a place in the soddy, so I'll put them safely away until my next build - where they'll fit in to perfection. Jodi must have read my mind! Thank you again, Jodi. You've warmed my heart with your sweet thoughtfulness.