Family Farming Frances History Podcast TTT Season 4

Season 4 Episode 34: Looking Back with Frances on Sod Houses

Welcome to Tea Toast and Trivia.

Thank you for listening in.

I am your host, Rebecca Budd, and I look forward to sharing this moment with you.

May 22, 2022, The City of Vancouver held a symposium to feature best practices in green roof design, maintenance and policy making on the West Coast.  This was in response to Vancouver’s ambitious targets of having all new buildings “carbon neutral” by 2030.  One of the strategies is to promote green roofs as a way of managing rainwater.  It is called the RainCity Strategy.

The United States Environment Protection Agency supports this strategy: “Green roofs have been proven to help reduce heat islands.”  The European Commission recognizes the multiple benefits of green roofs in a new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change.  

Green Roofs are emerging as a global strategy.   And yet, green roofs have been with us throughout history.  We continue to build on knowledge that has come before. As Isaac Newton remarked a few centuries ago: “if I have seen further [than others], it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Today, I am joined by my mother, Frances, to discuss sod houses. I invite you to put the kettle on and add to this exciting discussion.

Carl A. Oman was a tall, very handsome man.  He was born and spent his early childhood in Oman, Sweden.  His surname came from his birthplace, a choice was made to change the family name when they came to the United States.  He came as a young unmarried man, possibly to prepare for the arrival of the rest of his family.  Many of his relatives settled in Minden, Nebraska, but he chose to homestead approximately fifteen miles between the towns of Callaway and Arnold, Nebraska.  Gothenburg lay 24 miles to the south. There is not much information about his family, but he did have brothers who “made it well”.  One settled further to the west and one chose to go to Alaska to mine for gold. Frances, My Mother’s Memoirs

Thank you for joining Frances and me on Tea Toast and Trivia as we looked back at how sod houses created family homes.   

Until next time we meet, safe travels wherever your adventures lead you.

Looking Back with Frances on Sod Houses Tea. Toast. & Trivia.

Special note: When I entered the world of podcasting in 2019, my first goal was to preserve my mother, Frances’s story.   Frances was raised on a farm in Nebraska during the eventful decades of 1930’s and 1940’s.   We read about the Great Depression that spanned the years from 1929 – 1939 and acknowledge that it was the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world.  And yet, it is when we hear the stories of those who lived in those years that we come to appreciate how history continues to influence our present reality.

By Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

27 replies on “Season 4 Episode 34: Looking Back with Frances on Sod Houses”

Excellent interview. We have a lot of adobe houses out here. The mud bricks are sun baked and they were often laid in double walls with a 4 inch air space between the walls for added insulation. The walls ended up being 3 feet thick. The ceilings had large vigas (pine trees logs) and then 2 feet of dirt on the roof. In the dry climate out here, we rarely get enough rain to soak through 24 inches of dirt. Before brick floors, they mixed clay with ox blood and spread it over the floor. When it dried, the surface was hard and easy to sweep.

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Your comments had me thinking, Tim, about how we view the past. Every generation wants to think that they knew better than the last. And in many cases, there is truth in this thought. But what is not considered is that progress is incremental, that we do not start from tabula rasa, that we depend upon what has come before. Your comments about Adobe architecture sent me on an internet search. I did not know that adobe architecture has been dated to before 5,100 BC. Even in more amazing (although I should have known this from my history lessons) Adobe houses can last for centuries. Now, I understand that these ancient techniques are being discussed in terms of sustainability.

Many thanks for your insightful comments. Very much appreciated. I continue to learn….

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We have a lot of old adobe houses out here. Prior to 1850, the Spanish did not allow trade with the eastern part of the USA. All above houses had flat dirt roofs. After 1850, when NM became a territory, tin was brought in from the midwest and east and they started building adobe houses with tin roofs. Here’s a post of re-mudding and old adobe: Here’s a link of when we tore down the original one room adobe that was part of the house I grew up in. We had to demolish the house because it had no foundation and it was not worth the cost of trying to stabilize it.

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My dear friend, you always give me treasures in your comments. I found My Antonia by Willa Cather on Gutenberg Press which I will upload to Kindle. Thank you so much for adding to my knowledge. I was captured by the opening lines:

“Last summer I happened to be crossing the plains of Iowa in a season of intense heat, and it was my good fortune to have for a traveling companion James Quayle Burden—Jim Burden, as we still call him in the West. He and I are old friends—we grew up together in the same Nebraska town—and we had much to say to each other.”

I have crossed those plains of Iowa in the season of intent heat where the dry hot air coming in from the open windows of the car produced little respite.

Sending my hugs along with my gratitude!

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I am delighted that you listened in, Dave and for your heartwarming comments. The questions I ask myself are: How do we remember? How do we preserve memories that are relevant to others who follow us. The more I explore the archiving process, the more mystified I become. A quick internet search will offer plentiful ways in which to archive Facebook and Instagram stories, but how do we retrieve these same stories 50 years from now and in what form do they take? I believe that recording and telling a story is only one part of the process. As you know, I read Three Apples Fell From The Sky by Narine Abgaryan, who gives us the old Armenian saying:

“And three apples fell from heaven:
One for the storyteller,
One for the listener,
And one for the eavesdropper.”

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This is amazing! How many times did I say I should interview my mom and get her stories down, and then it was too late? Bravo to you for doing this. I love the story about the sod houses. Francis explained things so well. My great grandparents settled in southern Alberta, with similar terrain and weather to Nebraska. They built a sod house as well. They later built a wood house but the sod house was still on the property, used most likely for storage, but I do recall it. I also know that great grandmother decorated the whitewashed walls with patterns she made out of potatoes and stamped with beet juice. They did what they could in those days.

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“They did what they could in those days.” That is a most brilliant insight, Darlene. I try to imagine what it would be like to to face the challenges of those who settled the land with limited resources save for their creativity and courage. Can you imagine keeping warm in the winter months? And working the ground in the heat of August? I did not know about the potatoes and beet juice – interesting!!!

The idea of recording Frances’s story came to me when I was sorting through my Dad’s old photographs that date back to the early 1900’s. Who were these people staring out from the photographs? The “ah ha” moment came when I realized that I may never know their names or stories, but I shared their DNA. I am forever grateful for the person/persons who took these photographs. They used the best technology of the time to record their story. What am I doing to preserve the stories with the technology that is available now? And that is how TTT has evolved, one story at a time.

Many thanks for sharing your stories. I enjoy our conversations.

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As do I, Rebecca. I believe it is the strength and courage of those pioneering women that keep us going through tough times. When I think of my great grandmother boarding a cattleship with three children under 5 and pregnant with my grandmother, to cross the Atlantic. They had to stop in Winnipeg so she could give birth, before continuing to the SE corner of Alberta. There she encountered a lonely harsh land; no trees, no water, no house, until the sod one was built. Whenever I have a bad day, I remind myself of her life. It doesn’t surprise me that she found happiness in decorating her meagre home with a carved potato and beet juice.

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I am with you, Darlene – every day is a day to be thankful for the legacy that we have been given. I can’t imagine what it would have felt to be pregnant and care for young children. Your great-grandmother was extraordinary.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to time travel and find Amanda’s great-grandparents!

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HI Rebecca, it is really lovely to listen to your mother sharing her memories. This discussion about sod houses and how they were built reminds me of the sod house the Ingalls family lived in in Laura Ingalls Wilders book, On the Banks of Plum Creek. Have you read it?

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Thank you so much for listening in, Robbie. I have never read any of the books written Laura Ingalls Wilder. This is something that I should rectify. But I think is comes from having grown up with the TV series “Little House of the Prairies” that ran from 1974 -1983, which was very successful and based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I just found a link on Project Gutenberg which I will download and send it to my Kindle. Thank you for the reminder.

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Many thanks for joining Frances and me on TTT, Liz. This conversation prompted me to research the question whether the sod house idea came from Sweden. If my great-great grandfather came from Sweden, perhaps the idea travelled with immigrants from Sweden, Norway and Finland. Well, it seems that sod houses were common in the Nordic region. This is what I found:

“Sod houses, or “soddies,” were a common style of dwelling built in the Prairies during the second half of the 19th century. Soddies were small structures cheaply built out of blocks of sod and rudimentary house fittings. Sod refers to grass and the soil beneath it that is held together by the grass’s roots. Although the term “sod house” is primarily associated with Canadian and American structures built during westward expansion, the structures found their architectural roots in Indigenous and Norse practices. Sod houses have come to symbolize the hardship of homestead life, despite shacks and log cabins being the primary form of housing.” Panneton, D. (2017). Sod Houses. In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

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I loved listening to your mom’s family history, Rebecca. Francis is a wonderful storyteller, and I appreciated the details she shared about pioneering in Nebraska. I learned a few things too! I’m glad sod houses are making a comeback. I don’t see them much in the US, though it’s nice to read that they’re supported by the US EPA. I’d love to live in a more ecologically friendly and “living” home. Thanks, Ladies, for the wonderful post. ❤

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I am delighted that you enjoyed this conversation, Diana. Something that I just learned (and I live here so should have known before) was a project that was designed by Seattle-based LMN Architects, for the Vancouver Convention Centre West: “features a six-acre green roof, which is the largest in Canada and the largest non-industrial living roof in all of North America (as of April, 2009).

Here is a short video:

And here is how the maintain the 6-acre green roof.

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I have waited to comment until I was able to read all the interesting comments. Thank you for all the positive interest in our times of the past. Making a home in this time of our history was not easy in any place in this strange new land. My grandfather, first of all, had to find a place in the Nebraska’s hilly wide open spaces level enough for a floor with enough square footage. I especially remember my grandmother’s lonely time while waiting for grandfather to finish the sod house. She was very brave, but she shed many lonely tears in a place without close neighbors (if any)! Framing the sod house was, of course, tricky, but that was only the beginning! Finding enough level ground for rooms for the family and a way to do the cooking of food safely was of grave importance. I am sure there are books written about families in Nebraska and elsewhere making a way for life in those early days.

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Whenever I think that I am having a particularly difficult and frustrating day, I think of my great-grandmother raising children in a sod house, without a refrigerator or a grocery store nearby. YIKES!!!! Thank you for sharing your memories, Frances. I look forward to more conversations!


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