Sunday, October 11, 2015
Dig ‘em deep
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
Paterson squatted on the side of the excavation in his best Robert Duvall pose.
He was overseeing the digging of yet another government accommodation … an outhouse pit for the visitors who opted to avoid the improved restroom facilities within the campgrounds. The crew was a group of ‘casuals’ brought in on a fire bust. The duty was to keep them busy until they were needed for fire crew relief.
“What are you fellows doing?” a lady asked merrily on her morning nature walk along the river with her young daughter.
“We’re digging a shi … er … an outdoor hygiene pit, ma’am,” he responded.
“It certainly is deep,” she gasped as she peered down into the depths.
“Yes, ma’am, we need to get it down at least to running water,” he added before barking another order to the motley crew.
“Hey, you boys,” he began. “I want to see rear ends and elbows down there ‘cause if we have to shoot one of you I don’t want the skunks digging you up!”
“You have guns?” the lady asked with an immediate hint of alarm.
“We are all packing, ma’am,” Paterson smoothly remarked. “These men are all hardened criminals and we can’t take any chances.”
“Dangerous criminals?” the now concerned lady gulped.
“Yes, ma’am,” was the monotone answer. “For example, that man right there … he’s a serial rapist, ma’am, and, that man, he …” but, the lady was already leaving with her child firmly in tow glancing back in wild eyed alarm.
“Hey, knock off those smiles down there!” he immediately commanded. “Remember, I’m packing!”
Pine-Sol and high pressure water
The morning had started with yet another Duvall moment when John had reentered an improved restroom for final inspection after a high pressure hosing and a thorough cleaning.
“I just love the smell of Pine-Sol in the morning!” he reflected.
Our duty was campground patrol from the Cliff Dwellings to the Grapevine. Our transportation was the ’63 Ford one ton pickup that rattled your teeth, had no radio, and got about four miles per gallon. It was a step side beast that topped out less than 50 miles an hour, but sounded good speed shifting.
Paterson was riding shotgun sneering with authority while mouthing a stubby, unlit cigar.
The ‘crew’ was riding in the back or hanging on to the side of the behemoth in the style of those days without being hardwired into big brother OSHA. We made the decision that moving as many outhouses as possible was the order of the day. Our tactic was time proven. We would dig to running water and, with muscle, move the outhouse over the stabilized cavern.
Paterson was the expert on placement.
“Right here, boys,” he would announce pointing to the ground after careful assessment.
While the boys were digging, John would invariably make the rounds through the nearby campers commiserating with the masses and spreading good will. It was always with aplomb and belied the indignity of the job description. We made cleaning outhouses the duty of the fortunate and we cleaned them with proud confidence. When we walked away from a dirty crapper, it was gleaming.
“Yes, sir,” he would conclude. “There is nothing like the smell of Pine-Sol in the morning!”
The real thing
Freddie McCauley and Mel Tillis have the best outhouse stories.
Of the Tillis stories, two stand out with sheer greatness. The first was the story of the uptown lady who invariably trotted up the rise to the gas station outhouse while her car was being graced with full service. She would tippy toe up there and return to her automobile ready and waiting to speed her on her way. The outhouse was a two seater.
One of the hoodlums working with Mel was a radio whiz and the boys worked a deal up whereby they mounted a speaker under the side by side seats. Miss Uptown rolled in, gave the order to “fill her up and wash the windows”, and trotted up the rise to do her business. The boys gave her enough time to settle in and Mel got on the mike.
“M-m-m-mz Smith, c-c-c-c-could y-y-y-you m-m-m-move o-o-o-over to the o-o-other seat,” he stuttered. “W-w-we are trying to work down here!”
The lady burst forth from the outhouse, rushed to the car, and left in great haste.
The second story was similar, but this time it was the fat girl who got stuck on the seat. She was just immense. She waddled up the rise and the next thing the boys knew she was screaming for help.
Things went from embarrassment to dilemma when they opened the door to see her. She had spread a crack in the seat enough to get a crease of skin down in it and it closed on her when she attempted to lift her bulk.
She was trapped!
All modesty was gone and she was wailing for assistance to pry her off the seat. The boys combined couldn’t budge her. They finally called for a crane. They dismantled the outhouse enough to get a cable down to her. She really squealed when they eventually broke her loose.
Many people witnessed the event including the fire chief and crew, the sheriff, the mayor, at least six customers, the crane operator, a vagrant, and the gas station crew. It was the latter that helped the whimpering victim off the hill to push her great corpulence into an ambulance to take her to the hospital to determine the seriousness of her violated derriere.
The outhouse was out of commission for a few days.
Freddie’s story was at the old Wood’s place at Redrock. They were down there working cattle and he was cooking supper. It was in December and near sundown. From the kitchen, he noticed the Mexican cowboy enter the outhouse. He was then drawn to a commotion as the vaquero burst through the outhouse door with his pants still down and screaming “beboda (rattlesnake)!”
Perplexed about the whole thing, Freddie took his apron off, grabbed his flashlight and went to investigate. Something wasn’t adding up. It was too cold for a rattlesnake, but there was surely an enraged snake sound coming from the now dark outhouse. He approached the open door with caution and could definitely hear a buzz.
He became convinced it was a snake.
His search revealed the sound was coming from the pit. He eased up there, and, sure enough, at the bottom of the six foot pit was a mad rattlesnake coiled and ready to fight all comers.
“Don’t you think you should help me before I die?” the vaquero pleaded in Spanish.
Had the snake been on the seat, bit him, and then fallen into the pit?
The search continued, but light went shed when he found red threads hung on a twisted wire that held the seat cover against the wall of the outhouse. Aha! The vaquero had indeed disturbed the snake lying in the bottom of the pit when he unloaded on him, but the “bite” occurred when he jumped up and impaled himself on the “wire fangs”. He wasn’t bitten at all! Freddie chuckled and headed back to the house to tend to his supper still on the stove.
“Aren’t you going to help me?” the vaquero wailed.
“Naw, snakebites on the back like that are always fatal no matter what you do to them,” he told him as he strode away.
For years, Nana and Boppy maintained their old outhouse even after they had indoor plumbing. It was behind the chicken house. The Monkie Ward catalogue was there for nostalgia and entertainment as was a corn cob hung on a wire. The toilet paper hung on a roller just like in town.
I spent enough time there to generate lasting memories. On lazy summer afternoons, I’d sit there looking at the catalogue listening to the drone of a few resident flies. In the winter, the visits were briefer.
It wasn’t an unpleasant experience at all. The place never smelled like the commercial outhouses of today. In fact, the noticeable smell was the mothballs used to keep black widows and snakes away. It was where nobody bothered you and lots of thinking could get done. It was swept and clean like the rest of Nana’s world. It was convenient. You never had to go to the house to get trapped into doing something useful. It was hugely practical and nearly maintenance free.
The concrete form that provided the cavity frame and the seat base is still there. Perhaps that will be my special inheritance bequeathment. I could move it and build a modern day counterpart at our Howard Pens … which sounds like a plan to me.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Have you ever thought what the conversation must be like while sitting side by side in a two seater?”