January 3, 2014

Hippie Poshness as Determined by Outhouse Luxury


While some may consider all outhouses hideous affairs, there is a definite spectrum of comfort just as there would be for an indoor bathroom. Here are a few designs that existed in our neighbourhood, please use the rating guide below for easy reference.

The Swinging Bachelor- I used to visit this neighbor just so I could use his outhouse. This thing was built on a cement foundation, with a staircase leading up to the throne. It had a a door with a big wooden latch (outhouse doors are not ubiquitous), a heater, a Persian style carpet, a window for natural light and a real toilet seat that somehow didn't get cold. There were usually witty and urbane publications of a liberal political bent carefully placed in a special magazine holder. This man had no children. He had time to make his outhouse nice.

The Craftsman
- This one may have had a door, but I have many recollections of using it when the door was open. Probably because it got really dark in there with the door shut, and there was gaping black hole filled with unmentionable evil that threatened to swallow you as you did your business. This unit was made of dense thick wood that matched the main house. The seating comprised a thick bench of wood that had a reassuring solidity that could withstand a nuclear blast. The interface comprised the "proper" tear dropped shaped hole, with the elongated end at the front. Not dissimilar to a bed pans opening. It had some artfully twisted smooth elegant wood embellishments and little alcoves for decorations.

The Utilitarian - Doorless and small, but with a roof and a good solid seat that doesn't require contortions such as squatting. Opening faces away from main home to ensure privacy.

The Covered Trench (aka the van Houten) - This was the lowliest of the outhouses. The hole was not that deep to start with, probably due to the exceptional rockyness of the soil that even my fathers iron digging pole could not budge. Perhaps 5 feet or so, not deep enough for a coffin. The structural base consisted of logs laid over the ditch, which were covered with plywood. The hole, at floor level, was cut into improper rectangular shape (as opposed to tear drop, see above) right where the seams joined.   This ensured a bit of sagging when you straddled the opening. Comforting. This was not a sitting outhouse, it was a squatting outhouse though a low level seat had been fashioned from a broken RV chemical toilet. The roof was made of two premade slabs of shingle on frame and were leaned against each other like an A-frame. There was no door, but there was a back panel of plywood that protected you from bear attack while you did your business.

In defense of my father, he was trained as a geologist and picked up some basic wood working skills, whereas others inthe neighborhood could have claimed the titles of artist and Carpenter. In the style of true academics, He learned to build a house by reading a book. This outhouse structure was meant to be temporary, but became permanent when the pressures of maintaining a stable family income took over his life.

Things you probably didn't know about outhouses:

1) Most have some kind of odour, but the intensity can be controlled through chemistry, the details of which I have not bothered to learn. Usually there was bucket of ash or lime to sprinkle in there that had something to do with this.
2) Wood absorbs urine. Enough said.
3) Even people with flush toilets were subject to water availability in their wells and by the capacity and youth of their septic fields. Thus the ubiquitous quirky sign "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down". It's a bit ableist since it assumes you don't have health issues that seriously affect the hues of your waste.
4) In spite of the unflattering review I gave my childhood washroom, I would much rather use that than one of those horrible plastic port a johns.

Next time I'm in the area, I should go on a neighborhood tour to see which ones still stand.
This is why I value an indoor toilet. Next time I move, I want TWO bathrooms in my house.
Outhouse luxury rating scale. Where does yours fit in?

5 comments:

Alexander van Houten said...

Lye is the common anti odour agent, It also helps liquify the material and so stretches out the life of the excitation.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Hilarious. You forgot the Craftsman's extra toilet seat, which in winter lived near the heater and could be tucked under the arm and taken along.It was some white plasticky material.

Lizard Queen said...

That is an important contribution to where an outhouse would be placed on the outhouse scale.

Demetreus Blakemore said...

I'd much rather use an honestly dirty and smelly outhouse as opposed to a rest stop bathroom bathed in harsh fluorescence and reeking of antiseptic. That level of deceptively fake sanitation is worse than nature.

Lizard Queen said...

Hippy filth is organic.