Living in a Sod House | TheFencePost.com

Living in a Sod House

Susan Davis
Inman, Kan.

Most people think of sod houses as those lived in by pioneers with only the basic living quarters within their dirt walls. I’ve recently come to realize that image is not always a true one.

In June of 1988, my husband Ben and our three kids spent a vacation day traveling from northeastern Colorado into southwestern Nebraska. The purpose of the trip was to see where his relatives had lived in the past. Ben’s mom drew us a map so we wouldn’t get lost. She pointed out to us several places where his grandparents had lived. She also pinpointed where a rock house and sod house were located. Both of those houses had been homes to Ben’s Aunt Ruth, Uncle Maynard and three of his cousins.

Ruth, who is now in her nineties, was a country school teacher for six years. During that time, she met Maynard Morehead, who would become her husband. She quit teaching and became a homemaker. They lived in a rock house, which was built from solid squares of rock with mortar between them. She liked her small home, but it was very cold in the winter.

Along came an opportunity in 1951 to buy a sod house not far from where they were currently living. According to Ruth, she thought it was going to be a pretty house. She soon found out differently, “When we first moved in there, it was terrible!” she emphasized. “Skunks, rats and mice lived under it. Most awful odor you ever smelled!” She recalled how Maynard crawled under the house, got the problem taken care of and cemented it up. “Then the house was pretty livable,” she added. “Nothing ever got inside after that. Maynard saw to that!”

The sod house originally included a living room and two bedrooms. A cement plaster protected the outside walls. By the time the Moreheads purchased the home, a wood-frame kitchen and an open porch had been added onto it. The kitchen was about 10 to 12 feet wide by 20 foot long. The house did not have running water. However, there was a sink and a hand pump that pumped water into the kitchen from a cistern.

Ruth recalls that they also had a coal range in the kitchen. An oil burner was used to heat the living room and the two bedrooms. A delivery man came occasionally and filled two barrels with fuel oil. It was then piped inside the house.

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With sod walls 2-1/2 feet thick, the house stayed quite warm in the winter and comfortably cool in the summer. It was a quiet home – free from echoes. A wood-shingled roof kept the house dry. Large, wooden framed windows helped provide the home with good ventilation. Due to the thickness of the walls, the inside of the window panes set way back.

Throughout the years, the Moreheads improved the home. Hard dirt floors no longer had to be swept to keep the dust from collecting. Wood floors were laid throughout the home.

The Moreheads’ middle son, Terry, says the inside walls were improved by adding laths, plaster and painting them. The ceilings were plastered, as well. The home went from having electricity ran off of a generator battery system to getting electricity from the REA. He remembers when they got a black-and-white television set in the mid- to late-’50s.

One of his fondest memories of living in a sod house was having his grandmother stay with them. She made him a feather-tick mattress to sleep on. It was very warm.

In 1961 Ruth and Maynard thought that termites were beginning to take over one of the bedrooms. The floors in the sod portion of the home were getting bad. Maynard’s mother owned a wood-frame house in Dickens. They decided to relocate it to their farm near Elsie. Ruth says she was glad to move out of the sod house.

The old soddy hasn’t been lived in since. Terry, who now farms the land, says its still standing, but that it is in bad shape. He feels the reason the sod house has lasted so long is because it was concreted on the outside.

Not many people get to experience what Ruth did. She really had two unique homes to live in – a rock house and a sod house. She admits that she never dreamt of living in a sod house. I doubt the pioneers of the late 1800s ever imagined that living in a sod house could ever be modernized, either.

Most people think of sod houses as those lived in by pioneers with only the basic living quarters within their dirt walls. I’ve recently come to realize that image is not always a true one.

In June of 1988, my husband Ben and our three kids spent a vacation day traveling from northeastern Colorado into southwestern Nebraska. The purpose of the trip was to see where his relatives had lived in the past. Ben’s mom drew us a map so we wouldn’t get lost. She pointed out to us several places where his grandparents had lived. She also pinpointed where a rock house and sod house were located. Both of those houses had been homes to Ben’s Aunt Ruth, Uncle Maynard and three of his cousins.

Ruth, who is now in her nineties, was a country school teacher for six years. During that time, she met Maynard Morehead, who would become her husband. She quit teaching and became a homemaker. They lived in a rock house, which was built from solid squares of rock with mortar between them. She liked her small home, but it was very cold in the winter.

Along came an opportunity in 1951 to buy a sod house not far from where they were currently living. According to Ruth, she thought it was going to be a pretty house. She soon found out differently, “When we first moved in there, it was terrible!” she emphasized. “Skunks, rats and mice lived under it. Most awful odor you ever smelled!” She recalled how Maynard crawled under the house, got the problem taken care of and cemented it up. “Then the house was pretty livable,” she added. “Nothing ever got inside after that. Maynard saw to that!”

The sod house originally included a living room and two bedrooms. A cement plaster protected the outside walls. By the time the Moreheads purchased the home, a wood-frame kitchen and an open porch had been added onto it. The kitchen was about 10 to 12 feet wide by 20 foot long. The house did not have running water. However, there was a sink and a hand pump that pumped water into the kitchen from a cistern.

Ruth recalls that they also had a coal range in the kitchen. An oil burner was used to heat the living room and the two bedrooms. A delivery man came occasionally and filled two barrels with fuel oil. It was then piped inside the house.

With sod walls 2-1/2 feet thick, the house stayed quite warm in the winter and comfortably cool in the summer. It was a quiet home – free from echoes. A wood-shingled roof kept the house dry. Large, wooden framed windows helped provide the home with good ventilation. Due to the thickness of the walls, the inside of the window panes set way back.

Throughout the years, the Moreheads improved the home. Hard dirt floors no longer had to be swept to keep the dust from collecting. Wood floors were laid throughout the home.

The Moreheads’ middle son, Terry, says the inside walls were improved by adding laths, plaster and painting them. The ceilings were plastered, as well. The home went from having electricity ran off of a generator battery system to getting electricity from the REA. He remembers when they got a black-and-white television set in the mid- to late-’50s.

One of his fondest memories of living in a sod house was having his grandmother stay with them. She made him a feather-tick mattress to sleep on. It was very warm.

In 1961 Ruth and Maynard thought that termites were beginning to take over one of the bedrooms. The floors in the sod portion of the home were getting bad. Maynard’s mother owned a wood-frame house in Dickens. They decided to relocate it to their farm near Elsie. Ruth says she was glad to move out of the sod house.

The old soddy hasn’t been lived in since. Terry, who now farms the land, says its still standing, but that it is in bad shape. He feels the reason the sod house has lasted so long is because it was concreted on the outside.

Not many people get to experience what Ruth did. She really had two unique homes to live in – a rock house and a sod house. She admits that she never dreamt of living in a sod house. I doubt the pioneers of the late 1800s ever imagined that living in a sod house could ever be modernized, either.