Try cleaning a house made of dirt! One wrong move with a vacuum cleaner and you’re living on the street


My part of this nine-author book is called Homestead on the Range.

Authors always have to learn new things to write a book. We study the setting, the grass and trees, the native animals, career skills, clothing styles, we have to set our story in a time and place and to do that we need to learn new things.

For Homestead on the Range I had to learn to build a sod house.

There are antlers stacked in front of this sod house. This is mysterious.
There are antlers stacked in front of this sod house. This is mysterious. These people seem very somber. Why not? They live in a sod house. I’ll bet they don’t have air conditioning. I’ll bet that stack of antlers is their most prized possession.

Now I truly wish I could say here that to make everything realistic, I built a sod house out my back door and now I live in it during the summer, just so I can bring my book to life for all you lovely readers. Wouldn’t that be interesting? Wouldn’t you all just lean forward to learn every single thing I know about building a soddy???

Unfortunately building a sod house sounds really, super hard and probably boring. Plus what a mess if I started cutting strips out of my lawn!!! So instead I researched online.

Of course in my book I did my best to kind of gloss over the days and weeks of back breaking work. And I think that’s the right thing to do because not only would it be boring to build one of these puppies, it’d probably be boring to read about building one, so………………………………’re welcome.

But what I learned about sod houses is, many of them have wooden frames, which is sort of weird because wasn’t the whole point that there wasn’t wood? So where’d they get a frame?

Why is there a team of horses on the top of this house? Why are those people in a 'room' with no front wall? Do sod houses porches? I'm going with YES. We have photographic proof here.
Why is there a team of horses on the top of this house? Why are those people in a ‘room’ with no front wall? Do sod houses have….open porches? I’m going with YES. We have photographic proof here.

And they didn’t invent breaking plows until mid 1880s. Before that they were cutting hundreds, possibly thousands of sod bricks with a shovel. It makes me want to cry a little, just thinking about it. Have I mentioned I’m a wimp? God bless these people. Wow, they worked their HEARTS OUT to gain property, to be free, to own  a home, claim some land. It’s really amazing and inspiring and I’m frankly ashamed of myself for being so sedentary and out of shape.

Which is no fun so let’s move on!

These are the Chrisman sisters, each claimed and proved up on her own homestead. This picture inspired my Wild at Heart series. Or maybe it's more accurate to say it was the seed from which the story grew.
These are the Chrisman sisters, each claimed and proved up on her own homestead. This picture inspired my Wild at Heart series. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say it was the seed from which the story grew.

A sod house had ‘bricks’ about 2 to 3 feet long and a foot wide. They’d lay the sod lengthwise, side by side so the walls were around 2.5 feet thick. Get that? It’s like a FORTRESS. The walls are thick enough to stop a canon ball.

Or not.

But it did help with the winter wind and the blazing heat of summer. Yep, I’m bettin’ these were as cozy as all get out.  That sod was a fine substitute for central heating. Okay, I’m beating that to death. Moving on.

And now we've got a cow on the roof. It's like a theme or something!
And now we’ve got a cow on the roof. It’s like a theme or something!

The walls were laid alternately the long way and the short way,  this made the walls sturdier, the strips of sod would bind together and stand better. it’s kinda like Legos only not primary colors and  no cute movie characters! And they laid the sod GRASS SIDE DOWN. I tried to find out why but couldn’t really get to the bottom of it. I assumed it was to keep the children from grazing even if they were starving to death.

Are those WATERMELONS on that table? I like watermelon. I could have survived in the wild west. If I’d have known there was watermelon I’d have written this blog all different.

Could you have built a sod house? Could you survive on the vast treeless prairie, forty miles from the nearest neighbor. With a cow on your roof. (honestly that ‘livestock on the roof’ thing is the least of their problems)

The Homestead Brides Collection
The Homestead Brides Collection

Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for The Homestead Brides Collection.

Homestead on the Range: Widow Elle Winter meets new homesteader Colin Samuelson on the Nebraska prairie, but the attraction between them is quickly dampened by the discovery that they have seven children between them. Soon their children are working against them to bring the two families together.

Other contributors to The Homestead Brides Collection are: Darlene Franklin, Carla Olson Gade, Ruth Logan Herne, Pam Hillman, DiAnn Mlls, Erica Vetsch, Becca Whitham, and Kathleen Y’Barbo.

Mary Connealy writes Romantic Comedy with Cowboys, which is odd because Mary is a serious woman who behaves herself and only writes things with the utmost calm and reasonable tone. Writing comedy is just counter-intuitive. 

Website | + posts

Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

80 thoughts on “Try cleaning a house made of dirt! One wrong move with a vacuum cleaner and you’re living on the street”

  1. Oh Mary. You are something gal. A comic for sure. Can’t read one of your posts without laughing many times. But, they say laughter is healthy. So tho its only 1:18 am, guess I’ve had a dose of laughter for today. Those Pioneer times have always interested me. They had to be some tough men and women. And, I’ve always wondered at the solemn faces in old time pictures. Maybe they were too tired to smile. Never thought of that. : ) No, don’t think I would have been very much help with those sod houses. I do know I would be so happy to win this book. And, especially to read your story. Has some good authors so know it will be good. I have been seeing it and wishing I had it. Maybe this will be a happy day for me. Can hope anyway. Might even cross my fingers. Think that might help. Guess better stop and climb in my bed. Sure glad I don’t have to get up early except on Sundays. GOD bless you.
    Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

  2. Hi Mary, That’s interesting with the livestock on the roof. Maybe they were trying to show people how sturdy their homes were? I don’t think the building of a sod house is at all boring but quite interesting. If I remember I’ll ask my husband about the grass side down reasoning ? I wonder if it just sat better that way? It’s hard to tell if that’s a watermelon or a bowl and it must have been fun cutting it. What did they use for silver ware or plates? And where was your water supply? I’m definitely a wimp compared to these ladies.
    jennydtipton at gmail dot com

  3. The livestock were on the roof because that’s where all the grass went. They were just hungry. What resourceful animals. I like my solid floors and smooth walls. I hate bugs. Pretty sure I’d cry if I had to live in a soddy. I love the outdoors and wide open farmland, but by golly you had better make sure I have a solid house to go with it. Fantastic post!

  4. Hi Mary, thank you for a fun post.

    I did come across the remains of an old soddy once in Kansas. I immediately stopped the car to check it out since at the time I had a character living in one. It was worse than you can imagine. Dark, smelly, buggy–oh my!

    Me? I would have bunked out on the roof with the cow.

  5. Absolutely LOVED those pictures, Mary. And you commentary had me chuckling. I always figured sod houses made for great camouflage. People riding by would just think there was a hill in the distance, not a house. My guess is the family with the horses and wagon on the roof were hiding from the in-laws who wanted to invade their photograph. The husband must have told them that he’d leave the wagon out as a landmark. “Take a left at the wagon and go two more miles.” By the time the in-laws discovered they’d been tricked, the photographer would have packed up his camera and moved on. 🙂

    Your novella sounds like fun. Reminds me a bit of a frontier version of the Brady Bunch. 🙂

  6. I love the history of pioneer days and how the sod houses were constructed. We visited one in South Dakota and it is amazing how the pioneers lived. I am sure the bed bugs were fierce! The pictures you shared were great examples of the time and show the strength of the people heading towards a vision of hope. I look forward to the book!

  7. Can’t wait to read this collection. Your post reminds us of how difficult it was for women and how lucky we are!

  8. Oh, that was fun! But of course it’s MARY CONNEALY! Why wouldn’t it be??? lol

    I once watched an online video of someone building a sod house. Kinda cool… or at least it was cool watching it from my nice dirtless (well less dirt than a SOD house) house. 🙂

  9. This sounds like an interesting book and would like to win it. I know with you, DiAnn, Kathleen, and the others it will be great. Love your humor. I’m a wimp too as I don;t think I could help build one let alone stay in the buggy thing. I can handle some bugs but there are others that give me the willies. Thanks for the post.

  10. WOW! What more could a person ask for 9 stories in one book by some of my favorite authors and some new ones to see if I enjoy their work, historical fiction and close to my heart in my home state of Nebraska!


  11. Mary, you crack me up! I’d love to take a peek inside your head sometime. I’m sure you have those wheels smoking up there. No telling how many you’ve burned up!

    Loved your blog. The pictures were great and I learned that I will stick to my brick house with its wood floors and an indoor toilet! Can’t even bear to think about not having that. I’m sure when it rained, those sod houses smelled. Probably washed some of the sod away too. Very informative post. I’m filled with envy that my posts are as dry and boring as a sun-dried piece of jerky.

  12. Thanks Mary for the wonderful insight – living back in the pioneer days was a very hard and tough time. Can’t say I could do it, but if that is the life you are around at the time and know no different, then maybe. My take on the cow or livestock on the roof is may it’s their way of including their pets… or sort of pets. I would love this book and agree with others that a wonderful group of authors was put together to help make a wonderful masterpiece for the rest of us to read. Hope you have a wonderful day and keep smiling, as you seem to make us smile.

  13. Oh Mary, you never fail to make me laugh! I would not have wanted to have to build a sod home let alone live in one.

  14. Oh my goodness… seeing the cow on the roof… glad it was sturdy enough to hold it… thanks for sharing! I really like the sound of your book in the collection!

  15. Maxie, Good luck in the drawing. If you don’t win and can’t buy the book, go to the library and ask them to buy it. Or ask for it through interlibrary loan, that is often free or maybe a dollar or two. don’t ever let lack of money keep you from reading!

  16. Susan P I’m sure you’d be amazingly tough and resourceful. YOU’D COME THROUGH. (I’m saying this because I desperately hope I would and frankly I have to doubt it!)

  17. Margaret! Write a blog post about that.
    Was it just THERE?
    Was it preserved?
    Where in Kansas?
    Is it still ‘standing’.
    I want to hear all about the gloomy, buggy, dark place!

  18. Connie I think you would have been okay.

    Yes bugs are creepy but considering you were standing outside and winter was coming, you might have had bigger things to worry about and come through for the team.

  19. Lorry, well, I had to do some research but honestly I don’t like learning new things. My brain’s kinda full and when I learn something new I seem to have to forget something old.

    So uhhhh what was my mother’s maiden name again?

  20. I know Jeanette, I know. I KNOW! I’m so ashamed of myself and all my nonsense. And honestly it’s no fun to feel that way.

    I think a donut would help me pull out of all this self-evaluation about now.

  21. Jackie JUST TO BE CLEAR at no point is there a cow or horse on the roof in my book.

    I regret that now but the book is in print and we all have to just live with that gaping, missed opportunity.

  22. Hi Mary, wow, I had. O idea they placed the grass side down. I am left-handed and frequently turned around by nature, but that does seem upside down to me. Nor can I reckon who came up with the idea of slicing up long chunks of grass for bricks. Last of all, I need me some trees.

    Did anybody see The Homesman? Didn’t like it all that much, but you kinda got the drift of the endless, treeless plains. As for me, I lived in Nebraska (college) when there were big brick buildings with real floors, central air, and trees, trees, trees. Yet I still consider myself a husker, lol.

    Mary, this blog is hilarious, and the book is my kind of reading. Say Howdy to the lovely Darlene for me! Congratulations, and hugs for much success!

  23. Love this post! So funny! And I could not have lived in a house made of sod! Just incomprehensible to me. Our ancestors were string people! Mind and body! I kept imagining where would the sunlight come in. I need light!
    It would be interesting to see one though!

  24. What a great post Mary and so funny. I am not sure I could have built a sod house but who knows for sure. We do learn to make do with what we have. I have had to work hard all my life and make do with what I have. I did break down and paid the price for that hamberger just to get my Chili. If we had to build a sod house and live in it we would, even in this day and time. I also love watermellon so that is a plus.

  25. Goodness that was interesting!! I can only find one real advantage – not having to pay a mortgage for the rest of your life! I do like the idea of it being earth friendly though lol.

  26. I didn’t know about the grass side down either. I think the ancesters on this farm where I live started out with a soddy. There is corn there now.

  27. This was very interesting to me… Early in our marriage (38 years ago) we bought & lived in a 2 bedroom Soddy in South West Nebraska.. 1/2 of it was Soddy and the other have wood structure. It was an easy home to heat and cool. The walls were probably 18 inches thick. They had put windows in so it was well lighted. It had wood floors.We also had an old Ben Franklin stove that kept it nice and warm in the Winter & it always seemed cool in the Summer. I’d enjoy reading THE HOMESTEAD BRIDES COLLECTION sounds so interesting..

  28. Mary, I absolutely love reading your books. You always make me feel as if I am there! And I love the humor that you include in your stories (especially in “The Husband Tree”-I absolutely loved that series)! I have my mom to thank for getting me hooked on your books. I am soured on romance stories but she kept insisting that I try reading yours. I did, eventually, and now I am hooked!

  29. I can’t wait to get this book! Some of my favorite authors are involved in this one. As far as cleaning a dirt house- I can’t even keep the regular kind clean! I guess it’ll have to wait until I’m done reading!

  30. You know in a way a sod house is a bit like an adobe house.
    It’s both cutting up chunks of dirt.

    Does the dirt get solid, brick-like, with age?
    I really need to go see a sod house. There’s on in Beatrice Nebraska at the Homestead National Monument.

    I need to get down there!

  31. You know when we were kids, living in a tiny farmhouse with the eight kids and mom and dad…we just went outside all the time.

    Do you think that is the secret of a sod house?

    You slept in it, you sheltered from the weather, and nothing much else.
    So winter would be nasty because there’s no escape but maybe spring, summer and fall, the kids would run outside, maybe the mom even cooked and did the laundry and sewed and who knows what else, outside.

    That might give you more sunlight than you’d know what to do with.


    I have a lot of questions.
    Did it need repairs? If so, how do you repair a sod house? What did it feel like? were the walls hard, like ROCK HARD after time passed or was it dirt-like always?
    Was the sod on the inside too or was it white washed or what?
    Dirt floors? Was the soddy old? Did you live in it by choice? Did you appreciate how interesting it was while you were there? How old was it? Who built it? Is it gone now?
    I’d love to hear more of this.

  33. Hi Stella. Thanks so much for the kind words. The Husband Tree was so much fun to write. I still love Belle Tanner.
    Good for your mom!!! THANK YOU STELLA’S MOM!!!!!

  34. I am such a fan of life on the prairie in my head and heart, but the Lord knew what he was doing sending me to an era of electricity and air conditioning! ????

  35. Hi Mary, I found out why they put the sod grass side down. Most homesteaders cut bricks that were 18 inches wide by 24 inches long and weighed around 50 pounds each. Approximately 3000 bricks were required to build a 16 x 20 foot house. Freshly cut sod bricks were laid root-side up in order for the roots to continue to grow into the brick above it. Over time, the bricks in fact grew together to form a very strong wall.

  36. Hi Mary, I really enjoyed reading this post and the pictures are awesome. I love reading these novellas put in one novel. I am always looking forward to a new one. Thank you for the chance to win. ~ Blessings ~

  37. I look forward to reading this anthology. I have read stories by a few of the other authors, and I know your story will be full of wit and a fun read.

    I think our family would survive if put in that situation. It would certainly be a difficult, dirty job, but we would have managed. The cow on the roof would at least make it easy to find when it was milking time. The distance from others would be no problem. I would bring books, plus I am certain they were all so tired after a day of work and survival, they weren’t very interested in socializing. I think most people would do better than they think. Survival brings out strengths and talents you never knew you had. I don’t think I would willingly volunteer for that life, especially at my age, but we could do it.

    Thank you, Jennifer Tipton, for the info on the blocks. It makes a little bit of sense, but even if you put the blocks grass side up, the roots would grow into the block below it, having the same effect. Maybe they figured the roots would grow up initially then back down, doubly fusing the blocks.

  38. Ok Mary. Seriously, this is your most hilarious post yet (not the topic, but your approach). You just brightens up my day and made my own personal whining seem small and temporary. Maybe I should build a sod house too… good for character right?

  39. Mary, hilarious as usual….along with very informational! My favorite! I love, love, love history!!!!! I’ve read so much about the prairie and “going West” and pioneers, etc. Most of my ancestors were pioneers in one way or another – I love reading about them! I have one thing to say – I’M SO GLAD I WAS BORN WHEN I WAS!!!!! I could NOT have lived on the prairie, in a sod house, with no electricity, indoor plumbing, etc. I’m a wimp…proud of it! I admire those who did….WOW, they were awesome!

  40. I learned a great deal & had a laugh. I agree, what with all the livestock on the roof?

    My allergies would not take well to a sod house.

  41. Thanks Mary – so interesting. I have researched sod houses a little and come to the conclusion I couldn’t do it. Can you imagine chores like sweeping and dusting? Not to mention the critters on the roof thing.

  42. Thank you for your post. I have read about sod houses but I didn’t know quite how they were built. I don’t know that I would have been able to do that. I have to admire the people that came before me and the hardships they endured.

  43. I am thinking, no, I could not, would not, Sam I Am, I could not live in that vast land.

    Wow. I am impressed with the fortitude of our Western American ancestors. I can’t imagine, and I have tried, living without my wonderful modern conveniences, most notably the bathroom.

    While reading a book, in which the heroine lived in a soddy, there was a scene in which some dreaded legless creature slithered out of the ceiling onto her head. That image was sufficient to keep me from trying my hand at that kind of life.

    Great post. I really enjoyed the “lighter” side of the hardships for creating a house out of grass.

  44. Down here in Southeast Texas, soddies would be “muddies” which would be completely impractical, I’m thinking. Certainly couldn’t hold any livestock on the roof. We have tried to make bricks before like the Israelites with mud and straw. Seems like that’s what we’d have had to do back then. Of course, we live in the woods, so a log cabin would have been the logical choice.
    Enter me in the drawing, please. I never win, but maybe this time …

  45. It would have been so much more fun if you would’ve made a sod house. And from the very un-researched and not very well done job my sister did with her sod house, I would say a wooden frame was probably a good idea.

  46. Mary, yes we actually bought the sod house to live in. The inside walls had been plastered over, rock hard and painted. The floors were wood and carpeted. I’m not sure what they covered the outside with. We didn’t have to repair the sod as it was very solid and they had put a shingled roof over it all. After we sold it to the neighbor and moved I think they demolished it and built a metal garage. So sad. You said there is a sod house in Beatrice, NE… I live in Beatrice (5 years now).. I see I’ve not visited all my area sites yet. On my to do list 🙂

  47. I imagine I could have lived in a sod house since that would have been one of the very few choices. I’m not sure I would have been of much use in the building of it, though. Thanks for including all the photos. I was especially interested in the one of the sisters who all proved up homesteads. Our second grade classes at my school are studying about pioneers. One of the students shared some photos of a dug out home of several rooms on his family’s land near Lindsborg, Kansas. A dug out is a bit different than a soddy but still a dirt home, so I’ll say it’s relevant to the conversation.

  48. I love the pictures posted here! My favorite childhood books are about living on the prairie. (Laura Ingalls Wilder) I have traveled to all the places she lived. I don’t think I could have lived like they had to, but I love reading about it.
    Susan in NC

  49. I’ll stick with my modern conviences and leave building and living in sod houses to my historical reading, thank you. 🙂 If I didn’t have a choice I guess I could have done it but I’m glad I don’t have to.

  50. Wow! the first picture looks like a modern day house except it’s made from sod. I don’t think my allergies would allow me to live in a sod house. I would think there could be a lot of mold in it too.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

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