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Outdoor Toilets Helped Build America

Updated on May 22, 2020
kenneth avery profile image

Kenneth is a rural citizen of Hamilton, Ala., and has begun to observe life and certain things and people helping him to write about them.

Writer's Note:

in the body of the text of this hub, the company names, Sears & Roebuck (catalogs) and Ronson Lighter Fluid is used simply for an editorial point, not to endorse, promote, or even inform readers to buy from these big corporations where the original products originated. Thanks, Kenneth.

Although this outhouse is built of bricks, it is still considered an outhouse.
Although this outhouse is built of bricks, it is still considered an outhouse.

I am Very Embarrassed to

introduce a hub of this nature, but the topic kept popping in and out of my mind, so I decided to play the “Brave and Bold Card,” and see where this takes me. You are always welcome to ride each hub with me as we travel through the highways and byways of early America so we can get back to the basics and trace where our roots came from. (a special nod to Roots author, Alex Haley.)

No use in using fiddle, faddle verbal smoke screens here because my hub deals with an American icon: outdoor toilets. They evolved after the outdoor toilet name to a more respectful Outdoor Bathroom moniker. But it’s all the same. Just the latter title was made a bit more sensitive to the less endured pioneers of early America. These guys and gals wrote the book on Tough. They ate, drank, and slept Tough. Not even the dangerous grizzly bears and rattlesnakes that guarded these creatures’ homes ran I fear when the pioneers tramped through good and bad weather to use their axes and saws in order to carve out a nice place to raise kids. Simple theory, but sensible.

I Just Want You to Know That

from this point forward, I do not plan to back down from talking about outdoor toilets because I am afraid that the very first engineers who devised this earliest of bathroom facilities would cringe in their graves if I did that. No, sir. I am not about to degrade or minimize the hard work and ingenuity that helped outdoor toilets to become a reality. My hats are off to you, “Mr. and Mrs. First Engineers of The First Outdoor Toilets.”

Let me just say that there was not one thing that was dainty about outdoor toilets. Oh, maybe some were were built by those of the elite parts of America, but for the most part, ‘rough’ could easily describe the outdoor toilet. I guess, in a rational way that the outdoor toilet inventors did not put that much thought was put into the inside of their new American bathroom, just the roof and outside. I mean, who in their right mind would have an outdoor toilet that rang fancy, girly, and soft to their neighbors. If this were the norm, some outdoor toilet makers probably suffered dangerous whippings from fists and clubs to eradicate these rebellious outdoor toilet makers of their very conservative neighborhoods. An Amazing Outdoor Toilet Fact: the literary icon, Ernest Hemingway never wrote anything about outdoor toilets. He did have a love for the outdoors, but not outdoor toilets. There is a difference.

To retreat to my original thought about the design of outdoor toilets, I can tell you from my experience when I was forced to use an outdoor toilet when I was eight years of age. To be exact, in my younger life, I used a total of three outdoor toilets, but not at one time. There was one outdoor toilet in one of the three different places my family and I lived and worked, and there it sat. Just waiting for us to experience fear, danger, and breath-taking terror: the outdoor toilet. It did, I have to admit, look very deceiving with its humble roofing and walls made of lumber, but this is how outdoor toilet “users” were conned into believing that there was nothing to fear. It’s only an outdoor toilet, some landlords had to say to the unassuming renters. But the one time that Nature Called and had to walk a quarter of a mile from their homes to the outdoor toilet they were in somewhat of a big eye-opening surprise. And if this trip were made in the darkness, the amount of danger was doubled for these poor sharecroppers who were really thankful to have a bathroom that they could brag to their neighbors about them having a real outdoor bathroom. Some of their neighbors were made jealous of this uppity fact about the sharecroppers being given the grand privilege of letting their kidneys act and bowels move inside a real bathroom, well you can imagine the anger and resentment that was born from that one so-called innocent home addition of an outdoor toilet.

Even rough treatment cannot destroy the outhouse.
Even rough treatment cannot destroy the outhouse. | Source

Speaking From a Personal Viewpoint

I can testify on a Bible with my right hand up in the air that the inside of our outdoor toilet was rough. And I mean rough. As rough or maybe rougher than the NFLs two “monster” linebackers of a few years ago, Dick Butkus of the Chicago Bears and Jack Lambert who was a Pittsburgh Steeler and from all that I have read or watched film about these guys, I can tell you that even if these two were to join the Navy SEALS, they would NOT have to take any training!

I lived with and inside of this great fear of having to use our outdoor toilet during the night, but there was no difference when I used it in daytime. Like I said. Usiing an outdoor toilet was rough 24/7. You had to have the courage of Bruce “Batman” Wayne to just sit down and let Nature do her job because during this sit-down (not a protest ploy of the early 1960s), I had to face things such as huge, poisonous spiders who loved to stalk me from their vantage point of any of the four walls. If the spiders were abut to bite me, I would be easy prey. Who is going to jump-up with your toilet use beng half finished for anyone who happened to be outside to see all that you had. No one! Not even Bruce Wayne. A man, young or old, stayed until he was finished regardless of a few huge spiders had launched on him, it did not matter. It was a matter of pride. This is just a small part of why America was strong.

If the big dangerous spiders did not turn me from a confident guy into a plate of shivering Jell-O, there were big supplies of ants and ticks to hurt innocent outdoor toilet customers at will. But one question has bothered me for years: I can understand the dangerous spiders and even the ants, but the ticks? What on earth was the ticks doing inside an outdoor toilet? Unless . . .these annoying creatures wanted to drop down several feet into the “Refuse Hole” and eat whatever, but that is not sensible. Only living dogs, cats, and animals are the prime menu choices of ticks. No more talk about the big hole where human waste was dumped (no pun intended) and eventually turned to soil (I guess. I never checked.)

The outhouse is not just an icon, but a treasure.
The outhouse is not just an icon, but a treasure.

I Want to Cover All of The Bases

in my lecture of Outdoor Toilets and how they made America strong because I think that the main reason that America was made strong by outdoor toilets was when the older men and women pioneers “made their nature trip” to their outdoor toilets, sometimes Nature did not move all at once, but some tmes it took time, so the outdoor toilet clientele just sat and thought about life and its many facets—problems, new inventions and such—I mean, there was nothing else for outdoor toilet clientele to do but wait, so why not take advantage of using the time for a purposeful reason. It did work. How are we to know whether or not many of America’s most enduring inventions were dreamed up by the users of outdoor toilets? There were no crowds inside an outdoor toilet to bother these high thinkers. And for the most part, the atmosphere was quiet. Aside from the dangerous spiders, ants, and “freeloading” ticks, an outdoor toilet was THE perfect place to find solace and think.

To further cement the idea of the outdoor toilet “customers” who had to wait in order to “complete their business,” almost every outdoor toilet was equipped with an outdated Sears & Roebuck catalog, one of those think ones. Every man, woman, and child always had a strong attraction to the catalog. And would you believe that in the days of the outdoor toilet, probably hundreds of thousands worth of merchandise was bought from Sears & Roebuck by those first thick catalogs. No, the early outdoor toilet builders did not have to order a Sears catalog to use as bathroom tissue, the customers of the outdoor toilet were first among the millions of customers (across the U.S.A.) who received these massive catalogs through the mail and this was compared to a supply and demand principle because it was so convenient for the outdoor toilet builder and the catalog publisher.

And for those of you who love Early Inventions, I should share with you about the first person to design an outdoor toilet (of sorts). His name was Sir John Harington is credited for designing the first outdoor toilet of sorts which was described in 1656 by Sir John Haington, an English courier and godson of Queen Elizabeth I.

Another query that might come to many people who are wanting to know all that there is to know about outdoor toilets is: can an outdoor toilet be used as a source of recreation? Many would answer, NO, but the truth is YES. Again, I was privy this new way of passing time when I was alone after getting home from school and before my parents got home from work.

When you read this, you will automatically-assume that I was the ploy inside the Devil’s Workshop and we all know where this goes, but honestly, I was not up to making trouble. It was more of a survival gesture in order to help me face the fear of being alone in the big house that my dad rented as he sharecropped for a neighborhood woman and when I would get home from school, I did not want to set foot inside this house because I could hear strange noises emitting from the walls and floos and I dnot want to be attacked by ghosts or evil entities. Frankly, having to endure the trials of survival inside an outdoor toilet was enough.

So one day while I was on the school bus, a plan hatched. I talked my good friend, Dwight Williams, a quiet boy who loved the outdoors, if he would enjoy a little “outdoor fun” with me. He grinned and agreed. So we got off the bus and without as much as one thought, I went for my dad’s Ronson’s Lighter Fluid, that my dad used to light his pipe and sometimes a cigarette. If my plan worked, Dwight would be enjoying my homemade fun and stay with me until my folks got home.

Well, almost. Dwight and I did head for our outdoor toilet and I told him that if we would look deep inside the hole, we could kill all of the maggots that we wanted if he would just watch me. I poured a lot of the lighter fluid down inside the Hole and with one match . . .Bam! The blue and red flame cane up and tried to lick us. We wisely jumped away and we watched the flame send many of the maggots to their final destination and then when I thought that we had used enough time in my new activity, Dwight had the great idea to walk home. Walk home?! You can’t do this! I argued, almost in tears. But he persisted and I persisted and even offered him several of my personal treasures such as my wrist bracelet that he could have Free if he only stayed unitl my parents got home but Dwight was shrewd. He stuck by his guns and started walking home. I asked him if I might walk part of the way to his home. He grinned and agreed.

I had walked halfway to his home and by the time that I had walked back home, I saw a blessed sight: my dad’s ‘55 Chevy truck that took him and my mom to and fro to work. I was so happy to see them. But the very first thing that my dad said when he got out of the truck was has people been burning brush around here, son?

I did not lie. No, I answered. Uhhh, maybe killing some insects? Dad frowned at me. Insects? Who would have less of a mind to kill insects by burning them? Uhhh, me? I said halfway hoping that he would believe me.

“You? He said bursting with laughter. That is as smart as trying to kill those maggots living in the hole inside our toilet! By the way, is that smoke billowing from inside our toilet?”

The conversation was then concluded.

December 21, 2019____________________________________________

Consider how the outhouse evolved from the woods or a ditch to itself and then to indoor plumbing.

© 2019 Kenneth Avery


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