Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Roof Grows On




I just realized that it's been almost two months since my last blog post! I left Will and Ruby Dawson feeling settled and at home in their sod house on the treeless plains of Nebraska; they weren't nearly as concerned as I was that the soddy didn't have a roof! The only excuse I have for such a long delay in putting a roof over their heads is that - it's summertime!

However, the sod house roof is finally - really and truly - finished! But I had two additional steps to complete before I actually started building the roof. One step was a minor, straight-forward one that I had simply overlooked until the last minute. The second step was another of those cart-before-the-horse things that should have been the very last thing to be done AFTER the roof was on, except that I couldn't do it with the roof in place! But it did get done, in a topsy-turvy way, and finally I could proceed to build the roof. 



FIRST THINGS LAST 



I almost overlooked the absence of this top wall that connects the 
back side walls! The roof wouldn't have much of a resting place without it.



I cut additional styrofoam "sod" blocks for the underneath side of the top wall and glued them in place...



...then added cornsilk "prairie grass." The wall piece was put in place with the grass side facing down, because this would have been part of the (implied) solid back wall, which I left open for viewing purposes.



LAST THINGS FIRST



 With admirable foresight, Ruby packed several bolts of muslin fabric to be used for various purposes in the sod house, including as a protective layer for the ceiling. Sod house ceilings were rarely left open to the beams or rafters; rather, muslin sheets or yards of muslin fabric were tacked to the beams, providing a screen to block the view of the roofing materials. The light covering also made the interior look brighter and airier, but its main purpose was to keep dirt, sticks, bugs, mice, snakes, and other critters from dropping down into the soup kettle. (Or down one's neck!)



Will and Ruby took on this awkward task together and have finished covering the back side of the ceiling. The muslin was tacked up loosely, because after a few months - or sometimes weeks - the muslin will accumulate its fill of undesirable elements, including globs of mud from rain showers, and will need to be taken down, laundered, and replaced. That is Ruby's most dreaded chore.



The job is half-way finished. 



And all done! (Until the next time.)




Ruby thinks that the soddy's interior looks much cheerier with the muslin in place. If only it weren't such a trying task! But some homesteaders, lacking muslin, tacked up canvas, (usually from their wagon cover) cheesecloth, or heavy brown paper. Those would have been even more awkward to work with, so Ruby knows that this job could be much harder.



UP ON THE ROOF!



Will used a "pole and brush" construction method for the roof of the soddy. Over the three cedar roof beams, Will and his neighborly helpers laid willow poles vertically, running from the ridge pole to the wall top. (Keep in mind that the muslin covering shouldn't be in place yet - the roofing materials would be laid over an empty space. Just pretend it isn't there.)





On top of the willow poles, the workers piled a layer of chokecherry branches...



...and chokecherry brush, both being readily available along creek banks.



Will added some dried cedar branches for added strength.



Atop the branches and brush was added a thick layer of wild grasses.



 It was at this point that I realized that the roof had a major problem: the wild prairie grass was piled thickly, as it should be, but the styrofoam "sod" blocks were so lightweight that there was no way they could hold down all that grass! 
Each real life sod block weighed approximately fifty pounds, so the blocks would have pushed the grass down and held it securely beneath that enormous weight.



So all the grass had to be torn away. (Just pretend it's there.)



Since the sod blocks have no weight of their own to hold down the building materials, I needed a firm surface for the blocks to rest on. Firm, but not too straight. A layer of papier mache proved to be the perfect solution. The blocks could be glued on, but the surface was uneven enough to look realistic.



I dipped strips of newspaper in a paste mixture and layered the strips over the brush and branches on the roof. The paste in all the photos is still wet - I can't remember why I was too impatient to let it dry before taking pictures!




LAYING THE SOD



I measured, cut, and painted the first batch of sod blocks for the roof. I used approximately 180 blocks for the entire roof.



I first glued an underlayer of low-growing "weeds" to the sod blocks, then added prairie grass made from toasted corn silk. Then I glued each grass-covered sod block in place on the roof.



At first, I glued the grass on so that it stood upright, as it grows, before I realized that after being trampled on, cut into blocks, piled onto a wagon, then manhandled onto the roof, the grass would no longer be standing straight!



I smashed all the grass down and proceeded to glue the remainder on pre-smashed! The odd flag on the back right of the photo is my reminder to put the chimney in place before I sod over its designated space.



The chimney is in place. I had been saving a length of plastic tubing to use for the chimney pipe - but when the time to add the chimney was at hand, the tubing wasn't! I couldn't find it anywhere. Never did. Robert found a piece of light copper tubing in his tool box, and that served very well after I painted it and added a little rust.



This photo shows another problem caused by the lightweight styrofoam "sod" blocks. Ideally, and in real life, the heavy sod would compress all the brush down on to the tops of the walls. Without the great weight, there was no compression - which meant that I later had to do a lot of patch work!



All the sod has been laid on the front side of the roof.



I changed my sod-laying technique for the back side of the roof. I glued the blocks on first and added the prairie grass to the glued-on blocks. Much faster.



The roofing work was brought to a complete halt a few times because I was using cornsilk faster than I could find fresh corn. It was too early in the season to buy local corn, and corn from the supermarkets often had most of the cornsilk cut off. Eventually, I located a vegetable truck on a corner not too far from home where fresh corn from Arkansas was sold, so my supply could be replenished often.



I've begun the patching on the roof edges. Some patching and filling of holes and gaps would have been necessary on a real life soddy, of course, but not to the extent of the patching that I had to do!



I pushed bits and pieces of styrofoam into the gaps all around the roof edges.



All patching has been finished on the roof edges, and I painted the white styrofoam bits before adding prairie grass to the edges of the blocks.




You'll notice that the soddy roof has no eaves. A wide eave would, of course, have helped protect the sod walls from erosion. But on the other hand, a wide eave was an open invitation to the strong prairie winds to catch it like a kite and flip the roof right off the walls. There was no simple way to anchor the roof firmly to the loose sod walls; only the massive weight of the roof held it on.There were a few options to more adequately secure the roof, but those options were expensive, inconvenient, and beyond the means and ability of most homesteaders. Now that the roof is finally on, I certainly don't want it to be carried away by a great prairie wind!


LITTLE PRAIRIE ON THE HOUSE


Although soddies were often drab in outward appearance, for many months of the year they could be very attractive. Prairie flowers grew and blossomed on the roof, along with wild grasses - and meadowlarks sang on the roof beams. Often, a homesteader would receive packets of flower seeds from "back home" and broadcast the seeds onto the roof where they sprouted into a variety of colorful blossoms to lend cheer to the soddy. Ruby hasn't received such a gift yet, but she's pleased that some of the many wild prairie flowers and other plants are now growing freely on the roof




Sunflowers were my main priority for the soddy's roof. I found some ready-made ones online, but they weren't quite what I wanted, so I bit the bullet, ordered a kit, and combined elements of the kit with the ready-mades and was very happy with the result.




I forgot to take "after" photos of these re-constructed purple prairie flowers. Maybe you'll see them on the roof!



I picked these pieces of cactus from our Nebraska Sandhills property, snipped off the smallest bits, and let them dry thoroughly before spraying with a fixative. I used the small pieces to make several clusters of prickly pear for the roof. 



I also used dried moss for random weeds; a few stems of some sort of real weed; as well as clusters of green model railroad grass to simulate new prairie grass growth.



These dried flowers from my stash were an afterthought, and I used only a few scattered here and there.









I needed a meadowlark - Nebraska's state bird - and "borrowed" a tiny black and yellow bird from the grandkids' bin of assorted wildlife. I had to give him a longer beak (the tip of a toothpick) make him some wire feet, and give him a meadowlark paint job.



And here he is, singing away on a roof beam and enjoying his own little prairie on the house!


Will and Ruby are thrilled to finally have a roof over their heads - especially a roof that grows its own flowers! Their homey sod house is complete now, (except for a front door!) but work remains to be done in the immediate area around the soddy. I hope Will and Ruby can get the yard in some sort of order before it's time for Will to start harvesting his crops.

12 comments:

  1. OOOOhhhh!!! es un techo encantador,aunque lleva mucho trabajo,vale la pena por ese maravilloso resultado y la adición de las pequeñas plantas y flores,con la alondra en la viga,le dan el toque perfecto!
    Que bonito despertar en la mañana con los trinos de la alondra!
    Besos.

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    1. Hello, Pilar - I had the same thought about the lark's song when I placed him on the roof beam; that would be a lovely way to wake up in the morning! I'm so glad that you like the "Little Prairie on the House." Thank you for your comments.
      Marjorie

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  2. a MOST IMPRESSIVE fabric covered ceiling and LIVE soddy roof Marjorie! I think that adding visual weight is a difficult task in miniature, however you have definitely achieved it with the natural looking undulations of your paper mache base.
    I LOVE the grasses and the wild flowers growing on top along with your inclusion of the tiny meadowlark. What a treat for Will and Ruby to listen to as they go about their daily household chores! :)

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    1. Hello, Elizabeth - It was a struggle (for a while) to avoid having the roof look too straight and stiff, but the papier mache made a huge difference. I may try the same technique to "unlevel" the yard around the house. I'm happy that you like the flowers on the roof. I'm sure that every little bit of color could lift the spirits of those homesteaders, and the song of the meadowlark must have made many hearts sing as well. Thank you for stopping by the soddy!
      Marjorie

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  3. It is just truly fun to see this project and to learn so much about the history of our pioneers! What a different world, full of so many luxuries, we live in today. A bad day for some of us is when Starbucks does not get our coffee right, and yet these poor folks had to de-critter their ceilings!!!
    Your challenges in the order of operations were certainly many - real brain teasers, but you worked them out in such clever and successful ways! The whole structure is a marvel to behold and really belongs in the state history museum to fascinate and educate!
    I love your living roof, and all of the flowers you made and created are awesome! I can't wait to see what you come up with for the landscape and what season you'll have us viewing! I am hoping there will be some cleverly created corn!

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    1. Hello, Jodi - Thank you for your lovely comments! I agree that those settlers had to meet some very unpleasant challenges - dealing with creepy crawlies on a daily (and nightly!) basis must have been frustrating and exasperating to say the very least! No wonder they were delighted to see colorful flowers blooming on the roof and to hear the song of the meadowlark nearby. Now for the landscaping (although that's much too grand a concept for the soddy's yard work!) Will has about a hundred acres planted in corn, but it almost assuredly will stay in the fields, out of sight beyond the house. I may be able to muster a few roasting ears, though, just as a reminder that Will and Ruby are indeed Cornhuskers! I'm so glad that you stopped by the soddy!
      Marjorie

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  4. Wow! Marjorie, this is soooo Awesome!!!! I just Love the Prairie on the roof! And the meadowlark is such a gorgeous touch! The muslin under the roof is a layer I would never have thought of... but clearly the Pioneers were clever and made do with what they had! And it saves the residents so much trouble with all the mud that surely would fall from the roof every breezy and wet day! Not to mention lightens a dark interior! This has been such an amazing learning experience watching you build this Soddy... and it must be the only such mini project ever! Wow! It must give you so much pleasure to look in at night with the lights on... I love this cozy little place and it really speaks so much about the Pioneers on the Prairies! Well Done!!!!! :):):)

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    1. Hello, Betsy - The soddy has been so much fun to build, from the very beginning - and the research has been fascinating as well. I've learned a great deal, not only about the construction techniques for the sod houses, but also about the trials and tribulations in the daily lives of the homesteaders. (I've also encountered some trials and tribulations during this construction project, but not enough to spoil my pleasure!) Now the work is drawing to a close, which is sad but also satisfying. I'm looking forward to beginning those final steps in the completion of the soddy, and I hope you'll continue to follow along!
      Marjorie

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  5. Wow I love the roof with all the flowers growing on it. This has been an amazing project to follow. The pioneers sure knew how to make the best use out of everything. Fantastic job I have learned so much.
    Hugs Maria

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    1. Hi, Maria - I'm so glad that you've followed the progress of the sod house. You're right that those pioneers were amazing in their ability to make use of everything - and to make "something from nothing." They didn't have many pleasures, but I like to think that having flowers growing on the roof brought some bright moments to some otherwise drab lives. Thanks for stopping by!
      Marjorie

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  6. It is absolutely wonderful and well worth the 2 month wait since the last blog update! It is amazing! I love it and hope that Ruby and Will appreciate that the only critter you decided to add was a meadowlark and not a snake or mouse! - Lori K.

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    1. Hi, Lori - Thanks for the enthusiasm! I'm so glad that you like the soddy's roof. And actually, I did seriously consider adding one or more of the crawly critters that Ruby and Will would likely have encountered. But I was stopped by the fact that I would have to deal with the critters personally. That held no appeal. The friendly little meadowlark was a much cheerier option!
      Marjorie

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I'd love to hear your comments!