YouTube’s Jeff Williams tours the Sutro Tunnel with Chris Pattison


Chris Pattison, historic site manager for the Sutro Tunnel restoration project, gives a tour of the property to Jeff Williams, a popular YouTube blogger who specializes in history, gold mining and geology.

  • To learn more about the Sutro Tunnel restoration project — as well as to donate to the effort — please be sure to visit the Friends of Sutro Tunnel.
  • To learn more about Jeff Williams, please visit his website.
  • To read Dennis’s July 4, 2022 update on the project, please visit the Nevada Appeal.

Farewell to the outhouses

Every year in October, Virginia City celebrates its annual outhouse races. The 2018 races will be held Oct. 6 and 7. Potty humor abounds at this Virginia City tradition dating back to the day when outdoor plumbing was outlawed and angry residents took their outhouses to the streets to protest. These days, teams of three are pitted against each other in an all-out potty race to claim the latrine title. The parade of outhouses begins each day at high noon with races immediately following. The races challenge teams of three costumed outhouse racers to zip down C Street, the town’s main drag, and hit the toilet paper finish line first.

I want to do a short “ode to the outhouse.” By all reports, this is much preferred to an odor from the outhouse. I happen to be an old codger who still remembers when there were still outhouses being used in various places around the Silver State for their intended purpose with no thought of being used as a racing machine. Though not used for racing, as I recall, they sometimes were used for the “runs.”

I’m here to tell you the invention and widespread use of indoor plumbing and crappers has been one of mankind’s most welcome inventions. No longer do we need to use a rolled newspaper to clear the cobwebs and spiders from around the stinky throne before being seated. No longer do we sweat in a stinking sauna in the summer and freeze our buns off in the winter. One downside is we no longer have the convenience of being able to drop empty beer bottles, soiled underwear, chicken bones or corncobs down the poop chute like we once did. If you told someone in the 1870s the day would come when the privy would be located in the house where people lived, cooked, ate and slept, they would have called you insane.

I must admit I’ve been known to be an outhouse hole diver on some occasions in the past. It’s widely known by construction people in the area that old outhouse holes are prime locations to find antique bottles, tableware and any number of other artifacts that were tossed into the holes with the other crap in days of old. I have a nice collection of these tainted treasures on display at my home — outside, of course, because my wife doesn’t allow them inside for some unknown reason.

When I first moved to Dayton several years ago, there was still standing a fine, old two-story outhouse behind a rooming house in old downtown Dayton. There was a ramp from the second story of the adjacent Union Hotel that allowed access to the upper level. I never did understand how the person in the bottom level avoided getting pelted from above. The old timers obviously had a system figured out.

The double-decker, two-story outhouse in Dayton, Nevada. Photo courtesy of the Western Nevada Historic Photo Collection. Photographer: Daun Bohall. Click the photo to view the original image. 

At my uncle’s ranch in Paradise Valley, there was a big three-seater at the nearby fishpond campground. This obviously was for families who liked to do everything together.

A favorite trick played by youngsters, especially at Halloween, was to lift the outhouse of an unsuspecting neighbor and moving it back a few feet from where it usually sat. When the neighbor, or the neighbor’s kids, stumbled out in the evening darkness to take care of business, they would end up falling headlong into the stinking pit, much to the delight of the perpetrators.

When I worked for the Nevada Department of Transportation several years ago, we were repairing the railroad crossing at Virginia Street in Reno. The contractor had set up a portable toilet alongside the railroad tracks with the door facing Virginia Street for the convenience of the workers. On one windy day, a big, burly construction worker paid a visit to the outhouse. As he sat there with his pants around his ankles, a train came by and the crossing arm came down, stopping traffic on Virginia Street. Suddenly, a strong gust of wind hit and blew the porta-potty door open. Poor Jim just sat there with his pants down while people in all the cars stopped at the crossing laughed and honked their horns with glee. He couldn’t stand up without everybody seeing everything, so he just sat there taking their abuse until the train passed several minutes later.

The modern age has brought with it a whole new set of problems with regard to outhouses. Now we have convenient plastic huts filled with blue liquid that splashes up on your bummy whenever you drop in a bomb. And don’t even think of asking your coworkers to help fish out your cell phone when you drop it down the hole. Don’t laugh — it happens.

Sometimes, the sick humor people write on outhouse walls can actually put a smile on your face when everything else seems to be going into the toilet. One of my favorites is, “Room for rent, Inquire downstairs.”

OK, all this is sick, but where else on earth do people make a contest of racing down the street seated on a toilet?