After spending two years worth of weekends and holidays on Straight Creek Valley
Farm without the comforts of indoor plumbing and only the fields for our toiletry, we
decided to take the time to build an outhouse. It was odd, but I actually found that I
enjoyed the primitive skill of walking out to the edge of the field, spade in hand and
digging just the right hole in just the right place. I had many a wonderfully beautiful
moment, watching early morning birds soar high in the sky overhead, laughing at field
mice skittering through the grass, and feeling the wind on my cheeks. But once we had
built our cabin, and could sleep with a roof over our heads, we began to feel civilized,
and along with that feeling of civilization came the desire to build an outhouse. I
promised myself that I would still wander to the outskirts of the field, spade in hand,
even after the outhouse was built, but once the outhouse was christened, I never did
pick up that trusty spade, other than to work in the garden.
We decided to build the outhouse just like a miniature replica of our cabin. It’s inside
walls were lined with pine bead board paneling. It had a pine plank floor, a green tin
roof and cedar siding. I have no doubt that it iwa the most beautiful outhouse in the
county, if not the world!
We did our research before starting the outhouse's construction and learned the story
behind the crescent moon cut into most outhouse doors. Apparently, years ago, men’s
outhouses were marked with a shining sun while women’s were marked with a crescent
moon. Thus men and women would know which house was intended for their particular
use. Well, legend has it that the men folk proved to be true to their nature and did not
keep their outhouses clean and tidy. Accordingly, the sun marked outhouses fell into
disrepair and eventually fell into the holes over which they stood. This left only the
women’s crescent moon marked outhouses for all to visit and enjoy. So today, all
outhouses are adorned with the crescent moon.
I have also learned, from personal experience, that the moon cutout serves a very
important practical purpose. It allows light to enter the outhouse by day, and even by
night. It was quite lovely to visit our outhouse after dark and sit back to watch a beam
of moon light fall through the crescent moon in the door. Even on a cold winter night,
moonlight through the outhouse door could warm my heart with a smile.
So we set out to build our outhouse. We decided that we would build it in our city
driveway and then carry it on our trailer out to Straight Creek Valley Farm. This way we
would not waste precious weekend farm time on the outhouse project. We did not draw
up specific plans, but designed as we went, making the outhouse fairly large, so that
we could accommodate our bulky overhauls in the wintertime and not feel cramped.
We also wanted there to be room on the outhouse bench seat for appropriate reading
material, toilet paper and antibacterial hand cleanser, and we wanted there to be room
on the floor for a bucket of lime.
We learned, once again through our research, that lime is good for killing offensive
odors, but we also learned that lime should be used with limited caution. It actually kills
the good bacteria that eat the collected waste and turn it into clean smelling dirt. We
learned that a healthy outhouse pit should be somewhat damp, for the bacteria like
moisture. Thus, when the outhouse pit got even a bit smelly, I would simply dump a
bucket of water down into it’s dark interior and give the bacteria a healthy drink. We
only had to use a little lime and occasional buckets of water and our outhouse, used
regularly on weekends, always smelled quite fresh.
The outhouse's actual dimensions were four feet by four feet square and it stood eight
feet tall at the front. The tin roof sloped back to seven feet at the rear. We built the
roof with a slight overhang all the way around, for both aesthetics and function. The
little house was thus really quite roomy.
Building the outhouse in our city driveway was fun. We parked our sixteen foot flat bed
trailer on the level part of our driveway and simply built the outhouse on the trailer.
Neighbors would walk by ask what we were doing. When we said “building an
outhouse” they simply smiled, nodded knowingly, and kept on walking as though
people build outhouses in their city driveways all the time. When the outhouse was
finished we strapped it securely to the trailer and hauled it out to Straight Creek. We
could see heads turn as we drove by. One of our neighbor farmers stopped by one
day to tell us that a friend of his had told him that he had seen some city people driving
by with an outhouse they bought at the store! We considered it a compliment. Our
outhouse looked good enough to be considered store bought, but nope, we built it all
by ourselves, completely by hand.
Once at Straight Creek Farm, we set our backhoe to work to get the hole dug and to
set the outhouse in place on top of the hole. We dug a four foot trench, five feet deep
and two feet wide, the width of our five toothed backhoe bucket. We do have a
narrower three toothed bucket, but the five toothed bucket seemed a perfect width. We
then lay pressure treated two four by fours across the width of the four foot long
trench, so that we could sit the outhouse on the boards. We figured that this would
help with outhouse stability. We did not want our outhouse to fall into its hole!
Our next task was to get the outhouse off of the trailer and over it’s hole. Our 580 D
backhoe went to work again. We propped the front edge of the outhouse up and
slipped the front edge of the backhoe’s loader bucket underneath. We then tilted the
outhouse forward until it rested against the back of the loader bucket and securely
strapped the outhouse to the bucket. Greg, my backhoe operating husband, then
gently raised the bucket up and drove the backhoe over to the hole. He then gently
lowered the outhouse into place so that it was just over the four by fours. We undid the
straps, tilted the outhouse off of the front end loader bucket so that it’s rear edge
rested on the four by fours, backed the backhoe out from under it, and lowered the
front of the outhouse so that it rested securely on the four by fours. The whole process
went smoothly and our old backhoe earned a very warm place in our hearts. We highly
recommend rescuing an old backhoe, repairing any leaky any hydraulic lines and worn
electrical wires, and putting it to farm work.
Our outhouse looked lovely, worked wonderfully and sat proudly at the top edge of our
field, out between the cabin and the bee hives. I remember one particularly beautiful
outhouse moment as I sat there, early one morning. I left the door propped open so I
could look out across the filed. The sun was just coming up over the top of the hill
across the creek. I watched as a large doe bounded gracefully from left to right across
my view of the field, framed by the outhouse door. Then a young yearling skipped from
my left to my right, following the doe. Just as the first yearling passed out of my view, a
second yearling bounded across. I smiled and then outright laughed as our miniature
farm dog, an elderly Chihuahua, colored just like the deer, scampered across my
outhouse view. I wondered if the Chihuahua was pretending to be a yearling or if she
thought that she was chasing the deer off of her turf. What better way to start the day
than with laughter only I could hear. Thanks to our outhouse!
|Now you may have noticed that I have referred to the outhouse throughout this web page in the
past tense. That is because we had to remove the outhouse from our property when we built the
septic system. OUTHOUSES ARE NOT LEGAL IN THE STATE OF OHIO. I thought of starting a
movement (pun intended) of outhouse aficionados, gathering signatures, and fighting to change
the law, but my thought passed, at least for the time being. Still, as I enter many restrooms,
holding my breath and leaving as quickly as possible, I think of the injustice. Our outhouse was
clean and sweet smelling and It just does not seem fair that a beautiful outhouse, standing
peacefully in the middle of sixty three acres, would be criminal. But it is. So now we enjoy the
indoor luxury of an indoor flush toilet. I must confess, however, that over the past few years that
we have been living at Straight Creek, I have thought of getting back out the garden spade and
heading out into the fields. I have yet to do so. Progress, I suppose, is hard to let go of. Still,
sometimes I wonder at the price, and I can't help but wonder if it really is progress after all.