Growing Up in a Little Tract Home

Our tract home, and my oldest brother in the background

When our fathers got back from WWII, they were in the mood to get out of living in barracks and tents. They wanted new homes! So many of them purchased brand new tract homes, which were being built by the hundreds of thousands all over the US.

My father purchased our tract home in the early 50’s. It was probably built right after the war was over. It sat on a nice-sized corner lot, had a one-car garage, three bedrooms, one bathroom, and was probably about 1100 square feet in size. It was heated by a floor furnace, and cooled with a swamp cooler.

A new home would not be built with those dimensions today. In my area, even the most modest new home has two bathrooms. And the days of the big lot are gone. Lots are postage-stamp-sized in lower-priced subdivisions.

But our fathers felt like they were in tall cotton, buying new homes for perhaps $10,000. After all, they grew up having to visit the “house behind the house” for bathroom duties. The sleek homes they were able to purchase had real INDOOR plumbing!

So, we families grew up in small houses with a single bath. we grew accustomed to waiting for our turn in the “little room,” and nobody thought they were being deprived.

Brochure for a 50’s era floor furnace

Additionally, our heating and cooling systems were far from reliable in many cases. Our floor furnace’s pilot light was constantly blowing out, and morning temperatures of near-freezing were the result.

But the biggest downside of floor furnaces was the fact that natural gas is heavier than air. So a malfunctioning unit might possibly have a mass of extremely flammable gas built up inside it, and you lit a pilot light by sending flame to the bottom with a match!

Fortunately, we suffered no explosions in our home, although it was known to happen in our town.

The evaporative cooler had a mind of its own. It liked to shut its water pump down for no apparent reason on August days where the temperature was around 100 degrees. It didn’t take long for an 1100 square foot house to turn into a kiln under such circumstances.

But, I remember that house with nothing but fondness. I revisited my home town about ten years ago, and was pleased to see my house still standing. It has additions built on (another bathroom, I’m sure), but I was still able to recognize many familiar landmarks, at least on the outside.

My current home is also modest, a 1500 square foot 1972 tract home. But it’s been extensively remodeled, and my lot is at least as big as the one I grew up on.

I think I feel the same pride in it that my dad must have felt about that 1940’s tract home in Miami, Oklahoma.

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