June 16, 2021 | View PDF
People who read my column know how much I delight in all aspects regarding outhouses. My husband built me a double decker outhouse last fall, and I have a huge collection of outhouse items in my house. Over the winter, my neighbor friend gave me a small booklet written in 1929 by Charles (Chic) Sales entitled “The Specialist.” It turns out the specialist was a skilled hand at building privies in all shapes and sizes, and since he excelled at every aspect of building such structures, he had advice for people on every step of the construction process.
I eagerly read this humorous little tract to discover what my husband did right and what he did wrong, according to this old pro, when building our own little house of retreat.
As with any process, it turns out according to the authority on such matters that my husband did several things correctly, and he made a few major mistakes in our own outhouse construction. Firstly, the specialist gave a six-month privy service free of charge. My husband, whether he likes it or not, will give me a lifetime privy service free of charge, so I am one up on the expert in this particular circumstance.
Next, the specialist designed his latrine seats depending on the use of the outhouse. Families had comfortable seats in their little buildings, but thunderboxes used by field hands featured rough, unpleasant seats to discourage people from lingering too long and shirking their work responsibilities. My seat is quite comfortable, this little building is for family use only, so the specialist and I agree on that one.
The old timer recommended situating an outhouse somewhere beyond the woodpile. He explained that the women of the house would invariably pick up an armload of wood on their trip back from answering nature’s call to drop in the wood box for the house stove.
Notice he says ‘women’, not ‘boys’ or ‘men’ or ‘people.’ Unfortunately, the specialist hit the nail on the head with this one. We stack wood on our porch during the winter months for easy pickings. Every time I step outside in winter, for whatever reason, I always bring an armload of wood from the porch with me when I step back inside the house. My husband, however, walks into the house empty handed every single time. It doesn’t occur to him to bring in a few sticks of wood for the stove. Nope, the lady of the house keeps the wood box filled, the stove stoked, and the house warm, without fail. I don’t even have to walk by an outhouse to perform this chore.
For furnishings, the specialist recommended nails for catalogues and boxes for corn cobs. Fortunately, in this day and age, we don’t rely on either catalogues or corn cobs to complete nature’s call. I will place a nice cabinet with securely fitting doors to store whatever paraphernalia we may need for our double decker excursions.
Our upper-level structure has two nice windows providing an exceptional view of the valley. The lower level has one window fitted with frosted glass. The specialist recommended people have no windows whatsoever in their outhouses to discourage peeping Toms, or in our case, wandering witches from the Hansel and Gretel forest. I believe frosted windows effectively discourage voyeurs and at the same time allows some light on the situation, and if someone can levitate 12 feet off the ground to peer in the upper windows, more power to them!
The ace outhouse builder believed in carving stars or crescents into the door for ventilation purposes. Our door is one solid door, without the usual crescent to signify the purpose of our little outbuilding. However, my creative neighbor has made several signs to indicate to passers-by the purpose of our small honey bucket structure. ‘Taking Care of Business’ will hang over the door itself. ‘The Poop Coop’ will likely be hanging on the side of our privy, and ‘The Final Run’ will grace the narrow pathway leading to our comfort room. I also have a few framed outhouse jokes and a framed article written about the art of outhouse racing to hang on the inside of our structure that hopefully provides enjoyable reading material for those who use the facility.
According to the specialist, we did hang the door improperly. He believed doors ought to swing in rather than out. That way, a person could sit with the door open enjoying the sunshine, but quickly kick the door closed if he or she heard someone approaching. Our door swings outward, so we would need to tie a string around the handle to yank it closed if the need arose. With the population of our hillside, I doubt whatever way the door opens or closes will present much of a problem to anyone.
All in all, the specialist would probably approve of our final result, although I am sure he would point out several deficiencies that he spotted in design and construction. But I don’t care. I have what I want and I like it, and even experts in their field can be mistaken on occasion.