BRANDON WISCONSIN RR-2 ZIP-539I.9
It has been drizzling rain from a deep gray atmosphere for two and a half days as I begin to write. And as we are so securely shielded from it all in a well built house, my thoughts are drawn back to sod shanties on the American plains.
This era in our country's history became very real to us as we visited with Mr. and Mrs. Herb Shafer of rural Minot, North Dakota recently.
And having remembered nothing but substantial frame houses here in Wisconsin for all of my lifetime, I was intrigued to learn that a sod house has been in existence there until recent years. In fact, one of Mr. Shafer's buildings is covered by a wooden roof he removed from a soddy which was still standing when he purchased some additional farm land a few years ago.
Then, in October, when the Friends Magazine arrived, my husband showed me an item telling of two two-story sod houses still standing in Broken Bow, Nebraska, and one in Kirk, Colorado. I am hoping these will be put on our list of 'we must see things' in the near future.
How I wish there had been time that day to talk to a Mrs. Dye who knew the feel of living in a sod house such as this. She told Mrs. Shafer that when the dirt sifted down they knew snakes were moving about in the sods. (OH! HOW I LOVE MY HOUSE!)
This story brought a vivid remembrance of milking our cows at one time. We had just put some grubby hay in our barn. As the hay began to heat, the grubs came squirming through every crack. We had our collars closed tight around our necks, and wide-brimmed hats on our heads while we milked our cows. It was real messy to see them bouncing off our hat brims. It was one of those things you never forget.
Butgetting back to sod houses the Shafers told us of the homesteading there. The territory around Minot was opened up about 1889. They believed that this sod house was built around 1902.
By 1905 most of the land was taken by homesteaders. Mr. Shafer has a quarter section of native prairie grass left. The roots of this are very compact. Years ago as the plows broke the sod, strips, three feet in length were used for the construction. These were laid horizontally in courses, like bricks. Then a spade was used to smooth the walls, after which they were often plastered with clay and ashes. Sometimes the roofs were of frame construction, and then thatched with sods. While sod houses were wind and fire proof they seldom kept all the rain out, and after heavy rains you might have to redo your roof. Windows were a problem too.
This type of prairie sod was also used for fences at one time. Eventually these became most unsightly. It is the general feeling 'homely as a mud fence' was describing these.
Memories were filling my husband's mind as we travelled this area. The years when he was seventeen and eighteen he threshed on Jess Shafer's crew as they followed the rig from Minot up into Canada. Jess was Herb's father.
In Minot we found several men busy in preparation for their thresheree which was to be held in a little over a week. I was not aware that such huge gas tractors existed as those seen in that shed. Jess Shafer's tractor, a 40-80 Avery was securely housed. Nearby was a 1913 Ford Touring car. There was a Big 4 30-60, and a 1910 Pioneer 30-60 originally owned by Paul Dobrinski of Makoti, and now owned by John Knudsen, also of Makoti. There were steam engines as well. When they have their parade they have over 100 units.
The gentlemen who showed us around were most courteous and helpful. Thank you, Sirs. Teasingly I tried to run down the whereabouts of an old girl friend my husband knew out there, the cook's helper on the chuck wagon, but I failed. Nobody knew anything. I wonder!
There were other highlights on this steam trip. Two beautiful churches so entranced us in Minnesota that we missed our turn-off, near one of them. As we came into Green Isle we saw the first one. The setting was perfectthe church awe-inspiring. In Norwood was another, almost as breath-taking. These were structures of some years duration, with the type of architecture our generation is thrilled by. Evidently these were built by rugged pioneers and their sons and daughters. How we rejoiced to see them among the changing scene. An elderly friend of ours maintains that some of the modern churches look as though a cyclone hit them as they were being built. True? Louie?
Should you want to get into some historical winter reading there is a biography of Hannibal called ALPS AND ELEPHANTS by Gavin De Beer (1956) and another by Harold Lamb (1958). Pliny, the Elder, who lived A. D. 23-79 left writings telling of a rammed earth fort built by Hannibal which had survived 250 years at that time. And R. L. Patty and L. M. Minium wrote RAMMED EARTH WALLS FOR FARM BUILDINGS in 1938. Also a later book-1947-BUILDING IN COB, PISE, AND STABILIZED EARTH was written by Clough Williams-Ellis, and John and Elizabeth Eastwick Field.
So, should some of you adventurous people want to build a cheap cover for your equipment you might try the good earth. And if any of you have memories of building or living in a sod house let us hear from you. Did the walls ever green up in a wet season?
But how great to know from earthen houses, however they were built, to modern places of worship, and even in our comfortable homes, we can praise and adore the same Everlasting Father. He hears our prayers in joy or sorrow, comfort or discomfort, in cathedral or shanty. His Son was born in a stable yet He reigns in heaven awaiting those who will accept Him as Lord and Saviour. Surely the dwelling He prepares for us there will be the best of all.