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Pie Town Dugout: 1940

Pie Town Dugout: 1940

October 1940. "Mr. Leatherman, homesteader, coming out of his dugout home at Pie Town, New Mexico." View full size. 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Russell Lee. Another example of the dugout-style structure used for the homesteader dwellings and church in the Dead Ox Flat photos. Before industry and technology gave us sawmills and frame houses, this is how the average person lived in much of the world. The dugout or pit house, with sod roof, log walls and earthen floor, is among the most ancient of human dwellings -- at some point in history your ancestors lived in one. Especially popular among 19th-century settlers in the Great Plains and deserts of the West and Southwest, where trees and other building materials were scarce, dugouts were warmer in winter and cooler in summer than above-ground structures; just about anywhere in North America the ground temperature three feet down is 55 degrees regardless of the season. [Addendum: This picture was taken using Kodachrome sheet film (5 inches by 4 inches) and (probably) a Graflex Speed Graphic press camera. The image you see here was scanned from the positive transparency itself, not a print.]


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In the Netherlands, these dugout homes or pit houses, 1900 circa, were called "plaggenhut" (sod house or turf hut). They were found typically in the north-eastern part of the country, e.g. in the province of Drenthe.

Vincent Van Gogh visited Drenthe from September till October, 1883. In a second letter, dated around September 15th 1883, to his brother Theo, he wrote:

"I am enclosing a sketch of my first painted study from this neighbourhood, a cottage on the heath. A cottage made entirely of only turfs and sticks."

In Drenthe he painted several studies, the so called third series.
One of them is "Cottages," Oil on canvas on cardboard(?), F17/JH395, 35.5 x 55.5 cm."


Ad nauseam indeed

From the Department of Dead Horses:

"The Wizard of Oz" was indeed released theatrically in 1939 with sepia toning to the black-and-white sequences. MGM, for reasons I don't know, used sepia toning rather often in the late '30s. The b/w Oz scenes were shot on b/w stock; the Technicolor sequences were, as described, shot using the Technicolor process, which produced three separate b/w negatives. But the was not originally printed on color "positive" stock; however, but using an imbibition process, which is too complicated to go into here; try this link:

As for toning of films, it was EXTREMELY common during the silent era, as opposed to "generally not used." Try

Honestly, how do people manage to speak with such authority about things they clearly know nothing about?

Oz ad nauseam

Unless someone can prove otherwise, I am convinced the black and white portion of Wizard of Oz was shot on black and white negative.

The Color portion of Wizard of Oz was shot on THREE black and white negatives.

Black and white and sepia are all colors.

You mean I've been in Kansas all along? I saw all of you there though. Were you thinking? Maybe you weren't really there.

But in short, the intro and epilogue was black and white, and the OZ portion was Technicolor.

And the prints seen in theatres, I assume were all printed on color positive stock, although it is posible if there was a reel change, the intro and epilogue actually COULD have been printed on black and white stock.

The real question is... was the sepia toning of the black and white portion originally there, in the theatre prints? Watching the movie on TV growing up, I would say it was not, unless the networks decided to pump away the sepia technically. When the film was restored for video release since 1980, sepia toning of the black and white portion was probably done. Electronically. You know, to make it look old. I haven't watched the film since its first 'restored' vhs release, except to listen to Dark Side of the Moon.

Sepia toning usually takes place on paper prints (such as via bromination) either as a accidental by-product or intentional archival technique. It generally was not used for movies presented in the theatre, even in cases where it could have been technically possible to fudge the look when printed to color transparency.

And it is cool/hotto live in a hole in the ground. That doesn't make it that feasible for an entire population however. The majority of houses are, and have historically been, ABOVE ground, because it is simply easier to build them that way.

Root cellars were common, to keep stored food at a more constant temperature throughout the year. And beer was often made in caves, as was the mash for whiskey, for similar reasons.

"not my ancestors"

where did you come from? obviously not earth...

The Wizard Of Oz

The main reason people think the movie "The Wizard Of Oz" is colorized is because 'faded' copies of that film is usually shown on tv. This movie has been recently restored frame by frame to its original look by Warner Studios and even some extra footage has been added. I have that restored movie on DVD and it is visually outright spectacular. Just take a preview look at this here [Warner Bros.]:

Looking Forward

Dare I say it? There might come a point when these people appear to be ahead of their time. Imagine how much less energy we would use if we took advantage of some of the ground's natural advantages---of course balanced with modern technology to make it a whole lot more comfortable.

Oz, Part 23573

"The Kansas scenes were filmed in Sepiatone, which is actually color film. "

Well, just to carry this off topic argument further... sepiatone is not a color film. It is a coloration applied to black and white images resulting in a brown and white appearance, but not a color film in any normal sense.

Wizard of Oz

Actually, you are all wrong. The Kansas scenes were filmed in Sepiatone, which is actually color film. The Oz scenes were filmed in Technicolor.

Blair Frodelius

I'll give you a "hell yeah"

I'll give you a "hell yeah" on that one !!
I thought everyone who grew up watching that movie would realize the significance of the color part of the film.
think we need to put down our game boys and read books again.

Nice dipole antenna

I wonder what kind of wireless equipment he has in that shack...

Dugout House

My mother's family lived in a dugout house near Elida, New Mexico, in the 30's and 40's. They were not poor, and they found the life to be just fine.

I love it!

I want mine in my backyard so I can go down there with my neighbor!!!!!! Uh huh. I bet I'd still live in one of these babies if my community would allow it. Holy Sh*t!

History of color photography


The Wizard Of Oz started filming in 1938. The book's silver shoes became ruby slippers because the movie was one of the few films made at the time to be filmed in color, and MGM wanted to show off the color process. At the time, most movies were filmed in black-and-white thus those parts of the movie were meant to be reality, and the color part was meant to be a dream.

By the way, all this information can be found on the internet, so look up things before you say something because instead of being an expert instead you sound like an idiot.

Wizard of Oz

Wrong. Wizard's first few minutes and last few minutes were in B&W but the majority of the film was originally in Technicolor!


Uhm ... Both The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind were filmed in B&W. It wasn't until later re-releases that they were colorized.

[Sigh. Where do people get these ideas?? GWTW (which won an Oscar for color cinematography) and Wizard of Oz were of course both filmed in color. Wikipedia articles on Technicolor and Gone With the Wind. - Dave]


my ancestors were monkeys and couldn't even afford a house like this

Photographic History

The first color photographs predate WWI. Even those aside, it's fairly trivial to colorize an existing black and white photo if you feel the urge.

These structures are indeed ancient -- they were common in Japan as early as 400 AD (that's off the top of my head) and elsewhere in the world even earlier.

Interesting to see that they were used in the USA - though it shouldn't shock anyone. The depression wasn't in full force in 1940 but the USA wasn't something a modern resident would recognize. Times were hard.

Great photo.


I can't imagine they stayed there very long. What happens when it rains? I don't think there were many sump pumps then.

Color photography goes back

Color photography goes back a lot further than October 1940. No reason to believe it's fake.


Note--the photo is in color. Not real?

[This is one of our most frequent uninformed comments. When do people think color photography began? The answer is that it goes back to the 19th century. Kodachrome film went on the market in 1935. And of course we've all seen Technicolor movies from the 1930s -- The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, etc. - Dave]


I agree that we've progressed in the sense of no longer having dirt floors, and tiny houses, but there are certainly advantages to that style of building that we have regretfully left behind. Part of the looming fossil-fuel energy crisis has to do with our dependence on convenient energy, rather than efficiency, in keeping our homes climate controlled. I'd say a similar tradeoff has been made with respect to transportation. Instead of living in close-knit dense communities, we require freeways and cars.

I love seeing stuff like this picture, because it's a reminder that there IS a way to live without energy-rich technological solutions.

[The people of Pie Town, living as they did out in the middle of nowhere, all had cars. - Dave]

Oh man...

Progress IS fast. I cant believe that people used to live in those...

I never knew, This is a

I never knew, This is a great website.

Similar Aleut-style dugout

Here is an 1899 photograph from the Harriman Expedition of a barabara, a semi-underground Aleut dwelling on Unalaska, in the Aleutians Islands, Alaska. Not quite the dugout captured so well in Pie Town by Mr. Lee, but the principle is the same: the temperature below the ground’s surface remains fairly constant. In the fiercely windy Aleutians the advantage of below-ground structures is even more enhanced.
Denny Gill
Chugiak, Alaska

Pole & Line in Back

Likely a dipole antenna for a small radio in the home. Note what appears to be a runner going towards the ground from the mid-point.

What is the pole and line in back?

It seems to have a line or wire running from the pole into the tree, then on to another tree.

Speak for you own selves

Not MY ancestors!


That must be why the first structure ever built at my alma mater looked just like this!

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