Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Cellar Is a Cellar

Another Trip Down Memory Lane... Life in Kansas...

Our young rascal, Casper Cat, disappeared for a while today. About suppertime, we realized he was missing. When we called and Casper didn't appear, we decided to check the shed. Sure enough, when Dennis opened the shed door, there was Casper -- napping on the workbench. He awoke, stretched, and ambled out.

This reminded me of something I hadn't thought of for a while. When I was six and my family moved to the ranch at Rose (NE), there was an old cellar in the side yard. It looked like a small hill on the lawn. On one end, some steps led down to the cellar's door. The door and the cellar's floor were probably about 6 feet underground.

I was outside exploring the new surroundings and I decided to peek inside the cellar. I ventured down the steps and pulled the door open a few inches. To my surprise, an emaciated cat shot out like a bolt of lightning and began eating grass ravenously. Poor thing! He must have been locked in there for quite a while.

I also remember a bit about the cellar we had at the ranch south of Johnstown where we had lived before the move. As I recall, it was built into the side of a little hill, and the entry was at ground level on the outside. At any rate, the entry's roof slanted at an angle that reminded me of a playground slide. One day, I climbed it and slid down, and that night my mom picked out wood slivers from my legs and backside with a needle.

Those cellars were old, even when I was a little child. I don't think my mom used the one at Johnstown, and my dad tore out the one at Rose because it was in bad shape structurally. Wooden roofs of cellars tended to cave in. Concrete cellars were more durable.

Driving through the Ozarks, I've seen a few old cellars dug right into hillsides like caves. The front walls around the entry doors were made of native stone, mortared together.

I drew a little sketch of the cellars I remember from childhood and showed it to Isaac. He said, "Oh, like Uncle Dwight and Aunt Kathy's storm shelter." And he is absolutely correct about the similarity. Come to think of it, storm shelters are often called "storm cellars."

Not long after Dwight and Kathy and my parents moved to the ranch out west of Wichita, KS, a tornado passed by too close for comfort. Since they had no storm cellar, they got in the pickup truck, drove into the pit silo which sits deep in the ground between a couple of hills, and waited for the storm to pass over. Soon after that, Dwight built the storm shelter that Isaac was talking about. It's right there in the yard if they need it.

Entrance to a Kansas storm cellarDwight and Kathy's storm shelter is made of a huge old salvaged oilfield tank -- like maybe 2000 gallons in size(?) -- cut in half and set back into a small hill. (The other half of the tank was used for something else on the ranch that I don't recall right now.) On the part sticking out of the hillside, Dwight built a a door. The framing of the little stoop over the doorway is salvaged oilfield pipe.

Inside are a few lawn chairs so they can sit down. A dozen people could probably pack into the shelter if necessary, but it would be a little crowded.

The upside-down bucket on top is covering a vent that lets in a little fresh air. I assume the vent in the door has some mesh over the backside of it (or is completely closed off) because I remember Dwight saying he made it tight enough to keep out snakes.

With a few shelves and storage bins, Dwight's storm shelter would make a pretty good cellar, because it fits the criteria of being an underground room (though its round interior and steel walls are unique.) For conventional cellar construction, see "An Old Time Cellar" that gives a general plan for constructing a wooden cellar. Mother Earth News also has an informative article about "Root Cellars."


Updated 3/22/07: I found a larger version of the photo and posted it this morning. When I wrote this last night, I was thinking that Dwight put the tank on its side and that the floor was rounded, but after some memory searching and looking at the photo closely, I believe the half-tank was turned upside down onto a concrete floor and the sides are the rounded part. I apologize for my confusion. It's been about ten years since I peeked inside it!

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Collagemama said...

I know why you never forgot having slivers from the cellar roof! As a small child I rolled down a hill at Pioneers Park and had cockleburs stuck all over my body. My dad drove me home. Mom set me on a tall stool. Both of them pulled stickers out with tweezers all afternoon.

My dad was a structural engineer. In the early Sixties he had to be certified in designing bomb shelters. We thought everyone would be building bomb shelters in their yards. It's all confused in my childhood memories with tornado warnings, the Cold War, Grandma's cellar in Pierce, and a song from Captain Kangaroo:

See, see my playmate,
Come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three
Climb up my apple tree
Holler down my rain barrel
Slide down my cellar door
And we'll be jolly friends
Forever evermore.

Genevieve said...

I love that little song -- "slide down my cellar door." That's exactly what I did. :D

Sammie said...

We have a cement cellar which is about 20 feet from our porch door. It has a 1938 date on it. Not only was it built for storms but I think mainly to keep potatoes and canned goods. We don't use it as it often has water in it and I imagine snakes so I would have to see a tornado coming before I'd venture into it. But it is always nice and cool in the summer and keeps things from freezing in the winter. I have often found different canning jars for my collection in abandoned cellers. I now tell someone where I am adventuring as I am not as brave as I used to be as most are not safe anymore. I think the cement came from the sand of a blow-out and crumbles with age.

Genevieve said...

You are probably right about the source of the sand in the old-time cellars of the Nebraska Sandhills, Sammie. It may not have even been put through a screen.

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