The OLIVAR SOD HOUSE in Nebraska

The OLIVAR SOD HOUSE in Nebraska

Maria Engracia Olivar Padilla, Joseana’s oldest sister called "Mi Ya ya" by the kids

N anny baby sitter

David, Maria del Refugio, Silverio, Josemaria, Luciano


On the prairies, away from the streams which provided logs and timber for cabins, the people turned to materials furnished by the environment to build their home. Like the Native Omaha Natives (Indians) who had constructed home of earth, the Olivar Family found most of it’s building materials in the native soil. Bricks made of sod, which some jokingly called " Nebraska marble," made a satisfactory and reasonably comfortable home near the rail road camps. It provided shelter to only the privilaged since workers were not allowed to have their families at the camp. Joseana with his deep love for his wife and children and "Ya ya" his Nanny traveled with the train crew knowing that is wasa temperary condition and they would return once the Revolution in Mexico would cease. Emiliano Zapata/Pancho Villa)

So, our Olivar family built a sod house. Four inches or more thick. Strips were then cut into about three-foot lengths. In laying the sod bricks, the builder placed them lengthwise, making a wall two feet in depth. The process was reversed every few layers, and the bricks were laid alternately lengthwise and crosswise to bind the walls, and to make them solid. All sod was laid with the grass side down. Window frames of wood were positioned when the wall reached the proper height. Sod was laid around the sides and on top of boards placed above the frame. A gap, left at the top, above the frame, was filled with rags or grass, which allowed the sod to settle without crushing the glass panes in the window. Pegs, driven into the sod through holes in the frames, held them in place. Construction of the side walls varied little from house to house. The roof, however, allowed the builder a wide range of choices. The gable roof, hip roof, and shed roof were commonly used. Of these types, the gable roof was the most popular. It was something they knew about the usefulness of adobe bricks and their positive interaction with the Omaha tribe helped with their living conditons and many times they relied on the Natives for help.

A variety of materials were used, depending on the locality of the rail road camp. Cedar logs, when available, were used as ridge poles because they were rot-resistant and strong. The ridge pole sometimes needed extra support, and this was commonly provided by, placing a forked post under each end, inside the walls. This provided the added advantage of having a place to put in pegs or hooks for hanging up clothes and utensils occasionally the forked supporting posts were placed just outside of the walls since cooking was done our doors when weather was bearable. Willow. cedar, or other woods were used for rafters. Crude roofs were often constructed by spreading native wild plum or chokecherry brush, or similar growth over the rafters. This layer of brush was then covered with wild prairie grass and a layer of sod was added on top of the grass. (This type of roof always leaked when it rained or snowed. White muslin or canvas was often tacked to the ceiling to catch dirt, mice, bugs, and other vermin which might enter through the ceiling.

In Nebraska during this time, lumber was not available in the railroad camp areas. All wood was used build the rail road. Tar paper, placed on top of the sheathing, did much to improve the generally leaky roof. The best roofs were made by adding wood shingles; then more sod, somewhat thinner than that used in the side walls, was placed on top of the tar paper to provide a roof. Windows were generally set even with the outside wall. as you can tell the Olivar Sod House had no windows, that means they were ready to move to the next train camp. The thick wall beneath the window provided a ledge (or sill), which often held colorful plants growing in tin cans. "Ya ya" would grow tomatoes and chiles something that would make the simplist meals of beans and rice today’s gourmet delight.

(Curtains were sometimes hung at the windows.) When a family could not afford glass windows or when they were not available, buffalo robes, blankets, or oiled paper were used. Native American( Indians )helped the Olivars with there survival since the beautiful Cresensiana blended in with their tribes .

I am sure that they probably had a dirt floor, as found in the majority of the sod homes during the 1920 and 30s. If a family which could afford them they might fasten carpets to the dirt floor. Since this home was temporary.a new one had to be built in another future railroad station you didn’t want to accumulate too much materialism. I doubt they made them compfy.

Regardless of how this sod home may look to the Olivars today, our ancestors were not poor. Josй Ana Olivar worked for the railroad and although I dont know yet what he did, he did go all over the USA building or supervising the construction of America’s Railroads. Records indicate that, no other railroad workers were allowed to have families with them.

Nebraska (Mid west) winds and storms were difficult. So were the snow storms.By the 30s the dust bowl and economic depression of the 30s sent families to the west.(as in Steinbecks Stories) By then the Olivars were in a better position financially to start in again Mexico.with a free deportation from the USA government.

We should be proud of our family. love is a very strong ingrediant.

This information was told to me by my father J.Luciano Olivar and varified by my research in the United States of America Archives ,USA Library of Congress, Mormon Church records, Roman Catholic Church records Vatican Rome, Hispanc Archieves, Journals.

The Photo may have been taken by a famous American Photographer that help document "Sod Houses in America:" Further information is found in the USA Library of Congress during this time. He usually asked his models to hold books and other objects.

please comment. Written 2007 by Ruth Olivar Millan

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