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SEPTEMBER 29, 1997


My post outhouse period was a holy terror

  By Oscar Roloff
   In 1938 I left the safety and privacy of our one-holer farm outhouse scene to enter naval service to become acquainted with a warship's "head." Was a far cry from my outhouse past.
   In the "head" there were a series of four stand-up urinals that were real close together. Thus while urinating, the shoulders of the one on the right and the left would be touching yours. No privacy whatsoever that a back-house outhouse had provided.
   But hear this: Behind the urinals was a long metal trough that always was "a' running" to carry the water along with other material down to the other end of the trough. Here a larger pipe would bend downward to ultimately slush everything alongside the warship's outer skin to end up into the sea.
   Often the stench was notable. Bothered fish too. But what bothered me was the lack of space as one sat down to "go." One sat on two bolted boards. Those would be what the "user" sat on. Boards like that were on both sides, eight inches apart. In fact, there were boards for eight people to sit on. If a sailor was large, often parts of his body would touch yours.
   I didn't cotton to that. An outhouse's inside was often eight feet or so wide. Plenty of room. No touching one another.
   Now guess what I noted? There was no Sears or Wards catalog. Instead they had something new that I'd never before seen or used. They had rolls of white paper to use. The paper was so thin that one had to be careful to fold it three or four times.
   In fact, one could hold up the white paper and read a newspaper through it. With our farm catalogs, one sheet was enough. Often only a part of a sheet was used. Also, one catalog would last over a year. And they were free.
   A burn trick
   For us newcomers, the old timers played this dirty trick. When we'd sit down to "go" they'd grab a fistful of that white paper, light it and carefully ease the burning paper into the trough. As it slowly wended its way down the trough, those of us seated would suddenly feel the heat. Up we'd jump and yell while others laughed in glee.
   This "head" business required a lot of water in both the urinal and trough situation. Furthermore, sailors used that white paper with no concern cost-wise. The Navy bought it by the boxfull.
   Outhouse days
   They never required painting. Lasted for decades. Offered much privacy and not a red cent was ever required to buy paper. Those two large companies furnished them free. Though it did bother them when they heard how they were being used.
   More urinal doings and goings
   When one would enter the men's restroom at the Colonial Inn at Fall City, Wn., one would note they had a daily posting of the newspaper on the wall above the urinal. Go'ers read 'em. In fact, I've taken pictures of men "going" there and reading the paper at the same time.
   Other urinal postings
   Over the years I've collected urinal posting signs, such as what was on the ceiling above, "Why are you looking up here when you should be paying more attention to what you are doing?
   Right in front of one urinal was this sign, "Please be careful, the man next to you may be barefooted." This one in a restroom at a Bothell restaurant where there were many business cards posted on the urinal wall. Only thing preventing more cards was because there weren't anymore thumb tacks. One card urged more thumb-tacks be made available.
   The SpanAm War of 1898, was tough on some soldiers who really had to "go" in a hurry while aboard the ship Miami bound for Cuba to oust Spanish troops, for the 12,000 Army men there were 12 toilets. Lines were long and pain abundant.