Your RDA of Irony

Litter House on the Prairie

Should the need arise, I now can help you build a sodhouse. Of course, I doubt many of you were planning to go back to the nineteenth century. Even if you were, your intended destination probably was a bistro with Toulouse-Lautrec and not the prairie of Wyoming. However, my editor at Boss Magazine was more interesting in the settling of the West than coping with an Absinthe hangover. That would explain my sodding expertise.

A sodhouse is really just a mud hut. Why would the pioneering farmers of the Great Plains settle in such primitive, unProtestant dwellings? They really had no choice. The Great Plains are exactly that: no trees for lumber, no hills for quarries, just a vast prairie. Those settlers needed a shelter; no one would want to spend a Great Plains winter in a covered wagon. In the desolate, scarely populated prairie, there were no equivalents of Home Depots, So the pioneers carved bricks of sod from the ground to construct a house. Each sod brick was approximately was 18 inches wide by 24 inches long, and weighed about 50 pounds; and the bricks had to be checked to remove any wildlife, especially snakes. It required an acre of sod, 3000 bricks, to build a one-room house just 16 feet wide and 20 feet long. The sod construction was inherently dirty but also had its virtues. A sod house was cheap, well-insulated and–always a distinct advantage in the West–bulletproof.

However, the sod house could erode from heavy rain. For protection, “stucco” was plastered on the house’s exterior. Of course, in the West the ingredients had to be improvised. The nearest store was days away and there was no guarantee that it had in stock the cement required for stucco. Besides why should a farmer squander money when he had a practical and free substitute. If the farmer was near a river, he would use its clay to make the stucco. And if clay was not available, then there was always manure. Remember that hygiene was a luxury found east of the Mississippi. No one probably could tell the stucco’s stench from their own–and it may have been one in the same.

Now you have to wonder if the annals of the Old West include manure rustling.

  1. Joyce J Briggs says:

    Actually very interesting, so the huge laugh at the end was a bonus!

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