Thursday, July 20, 2017

Inside a Sod House

This post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

Traveling the Oregon Trail Backwards, a Road Trip Adventure, Part 8

Our small family group had the day before us and miles passing beneath our tires. Farmlands stretched on either hand, a fitting approach to our destination. A red barn with white letters spelling out “Sod House Museum” beckoned to us from behind a gas station. We pulled into the parking lot and went inside. Admission was free. With the prospect of seeing an accurate replica of a soddy, that most iconic of pioneer homes, I didn’t pay much attention to the pictures and memorabilia in the small museum.

Sod House Museum in Gothenburg, Nebraska, boasts the world's largest plough. Image by Ammodramus (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Outside the barn a wooden windmill lifted six sets of fan blades against the sky. Beneath it a wagon with four wooden bows waited for occupants who would ride in it no more.  A path led past a grazing buffalo. An Indian on horseback watched us. It took a moment to realize both were crafted of barbed wire. While I usually dislike anything that smacks of tourism, these life-sized figures looked natural in the grassy setting.

The sod house squatted with its back to a stand of trees. At first sight, it seemed like something a hobbit might live in. Built from rectangular bricks cut from the prairie sod, it has retained its integrity long after many wooden frame dwellings have collapsed. Prairie grass has thicker and tougher roots than the grasses we use in modern landscaping, which made it durable, although sometimes rains caused damage. The settlers often cut the bricks to measure 2'×1'×6" (60×30×15 cm). If you’ve ever moved fresh-cut sod, you know that size is heavy to lift. Two wooden windows sat below lintels on either side of a doorway. The front door stood open, revealing the rustic interior. Just inside the doorway, the day’s heat eased a little. One of the benefits of a sod home was its ability to regulate temperatures. However, pioneers mainly built soddies to compensate for a lack of timber.

As you'll recall, I lost the images from this trip, and I couldn't find one of the sod house that I could post to this site. However, I've pinned several images shared by others to my Wild West board on Pinterest.

The interior walls were stuccoed, lending it a more civilized appearance. A pot-bellied stove backed against one wall. A wooden bench covered in a blue gingham tablecloth flanked it. Rough shelves held pots and pans, and a rocking chair sat in one corner. A wooden trunk stood beneath a window, and a rifle hung on pegs above it, ready for any emergency. A rope bed covered in a bright quilt rested in one corner. The place seemed to small for all the living it would have to contain.

I left the Sod House Museum with a better appreciation for the hardihood of western pioneers. Many of the images from the trip have blended together and become fuzzy at the edges, but visiting the sod house remains sharp in my memory. I didn’t know it at the time, but this experience would later color my writing of the Montana Gold books.

Note from Janalyn on this series:

I seem to approach everything backwards, and traveling the Oregon was no exception. A few years ago I set off from Washington state to a family reunion in Missouri, following the route of the Oregon Trail backwards. The trip sparked an idea for an Oregon Trail series which finally came to fruition with the release this spring of Hills of Nevermore (Montana Gold 1). My historical romance series is set in Montana during its gold rush, and each of the heroines travels part of the Oregon Trail.

Hills of Nevermore (Montana Gold, book 1)

Can a young widow hide her secret shame from the Irish circuit preacher bent on helping her survive?

In an Idaho Territory boom town, America Liberty Reed overhears circuit preacher Shane Hayes try to persuade a hotel owner to close his saloon on Sunday. Shane lands face-down in the mud for his trouble, and there’s talk of shooting him. America intervenes and finds herself in an unexpectedly personal conversation with the blue-eyed preacher. Certain she has angered God in the past, she shies away from Shane.

Addie Martin, another widow, invites America to help in her cook tent in Virginia City, the new mining town. Even with Addie’s teenage son helping with America’s baby, life is hard. Shane urges America to depart for a more civilized location. Neither Shane’s persuasions nor road agents, murder, sickness, or vigilante violence can sway America. Loyalty and ambition hold her fast until dire circumstances force her to confront everything she believes about herself, Shane, and God.

Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, Hills of Nevermore explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west.

Read the first two chapters free.

About Janalyn Voigt

My father instilled a love of literature in me at an early age by reading chapters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Robinson Crusoe and other classics. When I grew older, and he stopped reading bedtime stories, I put myself to sleep with tales I 'wrote' in my head. My sixth-grade teacher noticed my interest in storytelling and influenced me to become a writer.

I'm what is known as a multi-genre author, but I like to think of myself as a storyteller. The same elements appear in all my novels in proportions dictated by their genre: romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy. Visit

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed learning about these homes and I look forward to reading your new historical fiction novel.