Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Pathroom

Out here JOTOLR, we spent yesterday refurbishing the Outhouse which we prefer to use during the summer months rather than continue to fill the septic tank.  "Refurbish" means re-roofing--taking off the old rusted sheet metal and replacing it with one sheet of clear (light blue) polycarbonate for light and durability; and adding a couple of pieces of what is locally referred to as "tin" roofing--sheet metal.  Of course, during the first flush (sorry about that) of spring, MM had taken the time to paint the old thing.  I brushed down the walls and painted the inside to a bright white and yellow, with a royal (ahem!) blue toilet seat.  Oh, and BTW, we use a bucket rather than dig a pit.  The bucket fits neatly under the seat and gets emptied periodically depending upon usage rate.

Yesterday, we finished up the project.  The wind we've had lately had further loosened the roof to the point where it looked as if it would take flight.  At the close of the day, here's the lovely little building, spruced up and ready for summer.

I love using the outhouse.  The music of the rain and birdsongs makes a delightful contrast to the sound of five gallons of precious water being flushed through a drain and concentrated in places where we don't want water and hyper-fertility. 

The outhouse has been the butt (couldn't resist this pun!) of jokes, the object of ridicule and scorn, and on Halloween nights has even experienced transmigration and levitation. Outhouses were often hauled several miles distant simply for the "fun" of it!  Sometimes, with the occupant still inside, if those stories can be trusted as true.

In the book, Tisha, a story of a teacher in Alaska, the story is told of one poor soul who froze to the seat in that awesome cold! It was quite a production setting the prisoner free!

It used to be that everyone had an outhouse, including schools.  Here's one for both boys and girls.  Not sure what the hole at the bottom on the left is for!

Nowadays, however, Americans with their "tidy" mentality about bodily processes have all but shut off debate about the upside of using one of the oldest fertilizers in the world, still used today in other "less developed" places. (notice the language putdown of those who treat human waste intelligently).

Here's an outhouse (if you can believe...!) 7,000+ feet about sea level...hello?.....why would anyone concentrate human waste at 7,000+ feet?!  But you know, this really makes sense: 

In 2007, Europe's highest outhouses (two) were helicoptered to the top of France's Mont Blanc at a height of 4,260 meters (13,976 feet). The dunny-cans are emptied by helicopter. The facilities will service 30,000 skiers and hikers annually; thus helping to alleviate the deposit of urine and feces that spread down the mountain face with the spring thaw, and turned it into 'Mont Noir'.

Below is an outhouse with a view...and two stories...not sure I'd like to be on the first with someone on the second....

And a different approach to the two-story method...

Here's a Polish "squat" outhouse....no seat!

For other, more elaborate constructions.....take a peak over here:


Wikipedia has a site entitled "Outhouse" and a good bit of outhouse humor and lore is listed.  Under "Terminology" it mentions the name "thunderbox," used in Australia. (also, "dunny house").  Actually, when we lived in Australia, we had an outside toilet.  Mind you, it was a flush toilet, but the little house originally had had an outhouse (no-flush) but the town gradually crept in and eclipsed the property, and ultimately city fathers declared that "modern" plumbing was the way of the future (just outside of Cairns) so the old couple (about our age, now!) were forced to "modernize."  The thing I remember most about that "outside toilet" was my terror when I sat down on the seat to "use the facilities..." About three feet from my nose were five HUGE spiders on the opposing wall, each about four inches in diameter including legs--all eight of them!  In retrospect, I could call that experience "the scream heard round the world."

MM came running, shovel in hand, and dispatched what (according to our wonderful neighbors) had been "pets" of long-standing!  Thanks to my narrow-mindedness, we had murdered what had been the sole pest control contingent--these super-sized, but gentle beings.  I've never gotten over my shame.

The well-known crescent moon on American outhouses was popularized by cartoonists and has a questionable basis in fact. There are authors who claim the practice began during the colonial period as an early “mens”/ “ladies” designation for an illiterate populace. (The sun and moon being popular symbols for the genders during those times. Others refute the claim as an urban legend. What is certain is that the purpose of the hole is for venting and light and there were a wide variety of shapes and placements employed

For more informative and interesting discussions of outhouse lore and facts, go to:



  1. The two story outhouse, as any ex-serviceman will tell you, is standard in the services -- upper story for the officers, lower for enlisted...

  2. Elora -- i just read today that before the civil war farmers in KY did not use outhouses -- that there is little proof that they existed. They just headed out to Mother Nature's land. Good post -- barbara

  3. Great post! We had one at the lake cottage, located halfway down a hill in the bush - a little tin shed with great mountain views. The most memorable was at my aunts holiday cottage. Known as 'The Clapper' it scared the living daylights out of first timers - a little cover over the hole would collapse once a certain amount accumulated on it and drop to the hole below only to return to position with a thunderous clap! I do believe there's a even a NZ book devoted to dunny's and thunderboxes :D

  4. Vicki, all the more reason not to be in the downstairs when others are in the upstairs!!!!

    Makes perfect sense to me! Don't concentrate the waste. Hence: our use of The Bucket!

    Oh, Julia! You always have such cool things to say!! What a hoot!!! (The Clapper)

    Hey, was there REALLY a tornado in Auckland??? Is that normal??


  5. Hi, Elora! Sorry to be out of touch for a while---I haven't been much on the internet. But I'm glad to be back and glad to read the poop (sorry!) on outhouses. My Grandpa had one for years, but I must admit, as a child I wasn't particularly fond of using it. It was dark and spidery and quite a walk from the house, so I was relieved when they got indoor plumbing. My husband Tom also had one when I met him, but it was quite bright and cheery and I was fascinated by the beautiful dirt dauber designs on the walls. :-)

  6. Elora, a great and fun post...thanks. I remember the outhouses from my home farmplace though I don't miss using them! If I had a nice refurbished one like yours it might be different! Missed you later in the week. SW VA

  7. Nice picture of Monte

  8. Well.....I'll be danged! This deserves a comment unto itself.

    So it took a post on outhouses to bring you out of the lurking shadows, David! Great to hear from you! What a lovely surprise! My email is eloram@frontier.com

    Write and tell us about your family and your life over the past 20+ years! We're both--as you can see--still "kicking."

    For those of my readers who might wonder, David Moniot at the age of 19-ish, used to be a weary wage-slave on our 500+ sheep farm back in the 1970's. We hired him straight out of Mother Earth News! But over past years lost track of each other. Since his time on our farm, he's become an established architect, and a respectable member of society (we hope!)(we joke!)Do write and fill us in, David!

    This is the joy of blogs, dear readers! You never know who will pop up on the horizon!


  9. Insomnia had me galumping around on the net - on a whim I shot an arrow into the air . . . and hit an outhouse. Cathy and I live over in Fincastle. Matt's a high school junior. Our headstrong Maggie graduated last year and moved out last fall. Cathy works at the Botetourt County Library and I work as an architect in Roanoke. I dragged them screaming and kicking out of suburbia 7 years ago. We have 23 acres and I play on weekends with my antique tractor. 2 dogs, 2 cats and 17 million stinkbugs.
    Brought up Google Earth - we're only 50 miles ESE as a wayward crow would fly.

    Would like to pop over sometime and bet a nickle on something completely ridiculous.


  10. What a comment thread! Elora how lovely that you have connected. Yes there was a tornado in Auckland (Albany) and weather over the country has been utterly miserable the last week. We have gone from a summer without decent rain to having too much of the stuff, can't win! We had a 5.0 magnitude earthquake a few days ago centred about 10kms from here though fortunately it was deep. Guess New Zealand is living up to its nickname of the 'Shaky Isles'. Making me very wary about things on shelves, location of paintings on walls etc (i.e no painting above the bed anymore!) Hope all is well :D