The Race is On! (To Build a Sears Rodessa)

Sometime in late 1918, Sears conducted a “race,” building two houses, a Sears Honor Built pre-cut kit home and an identical house with no pre-cut lumber. For their experiment, they chose the Sears Rodessa, a darling little bungalow with clipped gables and oversized  eaves.

The result of this race was thoroughly documented in the 1919 and subsequent Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

It’s a very interesting story with many interesting images.

The “race” was conducted at the Sears Mill in Cairo, Illinois (at the southern most part of Illinois).

Today, those two Rodessas are still standing side by side, and they are the last remnant of the  40-acre mill that was once a substantial manufacturing center, employing more than 100 men, and cutting enough lumber every day to build 10-12 kit homes. The Sears Mill had 20 acres of outbuildings, several sidings of railroad track, and a  massive berm, built to keep out the springtime flooding of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

The pre-cut Honor Bilt Rodessa was the easy winner in this race, with 231 hours to spare (compared to the stick-built house). To learn more about the specifics, read the captions on the photos below.

To learn more about the old Sears Mill in Cairo, click here.



Two Rodessas were built side-by-side at the site of the old mill in Cairo.


House being built Sears Rodessa (1921)

The house they chose to build was the Sears Rodessa (1921).



Perhaps the Rodessa was chosen for this experiment because it was a "Pretty little home." After all, you probably wouldn't want to build a pretty BIG home for an experiment (1919).


Comparison of the two building techniques

A thorough comparison of the two building techniques.


And the ordinary way

In the "ordinary" way, the old hand saw is to blame. In fact, many carpenters would not have used a steam-powered saw at the building site, but would be stuck sawing all the wood "the old fashioned way." The electric saw didn't come into widespread use until 1925 (according to "American Carpenter and Builder" magazine).


The full page showing the experimeent

The full page showing the experiment.



According to their experiment, a Sears pre-cut home could be built 231 hours faster than a stick-built version of the same house. And this was probably realistic, too. Pre-cut lumber did create a substantial savings of time and money.


Really ture

Time and money saved - "the modern way."


I love this. Theyre slouchers.

I love this image. Look at these guys. They're a pair of slackers. All their lumber is pre-cut and ready to use. They can take their time and start the work day with a rest break.


But look at these poor saps.

But look at these poor saps. They have everything laid out and ready. They even have their saws stacked up against the massive piles of lumber, ready to go. In fact, it looks like they've already started! And there are three guys on this crew.


The end result is strikingly similar

More than 230 hours AFTER the pre-cut Rodessa was finished, the stick-build Rodessa was finally done. Kinda of like being the very last soul to drag across the finish line at a 26K marathon. These folks are so pooped, they collapsed in exhaustion on the front porch. And the yard is still a mess, full of construction debris! They didn't have the time or energy to tidy things up. Why, they're sitting down before it's finished! The shame of it all!!



Meanwhile, the pre-cut Rodessa was done 230 hours before the stick-built house, and the builders not only tidied up the yard but planted many fine-looking bushes! Pretty darn impressive. You think there's a little subtle message going on here? Looks like it to me! If you buy a pre-cut Sears House, you''ll have time and energy for pretty gardens!


Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

Throughout the city of Cairo, you'll find several Rodessas, such as this one. I suspect that the folks at the Sears Mill had several "practice" sessions building the Rodessa before the timed experiment actually took place at the mill.



Today, those two Rodessas sit side by side, the last remnant of the massive Sears Mill that sat on this site in the early 1900s (in Cairo, IL). I'm sorry to say that I don't know which Rodessa is pre-cut and which one is stick built. If the graphic above is accurate the pre-cut kit house has a stucco foundation and the stick-built has a brick foundation. Next time I'm in Cairo, I'll check that out. BTW, these homes are located on Sears Road.


To read more about Sears and Roebuck Road, click here.

To read more about the history of the Sears Mill, click here.

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  1. House Crazy Sarah

    That’s fascinating! Sears was a master of marketing back in the day! Great post!

  2. Rick

    I visited today to those two Rodessas on Sears Road. Mr. Guy Parks told me a little about how he bought and fixed them each up over the years, overcoming floods and other situations.

  3. Melissa

    I went to Sears Roebuck rd in Cairo today and didn’t see the homes. I could find a sears rd.

  4. Melissa

    I drove Sears Roebuck rd today with no luck. Where is Sears rd!?

  5. Sears Homes

    Sears Road is on one side of the interstate and Roebuck is on the other side.