Tom Ross: Ponder the purpose of the two-seater privy

Water main break underscores how much we take conveniences for granted


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

Find more columns by Tom here.

I know of an abandoned old homestead in Northwest Colorado with a fascinating collection of log and frame buildings, all of them in outstanding condition with the exception of the privy.

My favorite relic on the homestead is a tall gate fashioned from juniper posts. It sits in the middle of a fallen-down wire fence. The gate is complete with wrought iron hardware I have to think was fashioned in a forge at the remote ranch.

My second favorite structure on the homestead is the privy, even though its walls are about to blow away in the wind.

What's to like about an old outhouse? Well, to begin with, this particular unit is a two-seater (left and right, not upstairs and downstairs, silly).

It's difficult to come upon a two-seater outhouse without wondering, "Why?"

Most likely, the father of the family built the deluxe model so it would be possible to take two toddlers out for a midnight pee together. That arrangement would lend moral support on a cold dark night in rattlesnake country and save a second trip for the parents. Of course, there's always a possibility that Mom and Dad used the outhouse simultaneously, too. Just think, they could have held hands.

Many of us who work and/or live on Steamboat's west side were sharing some silliness Tuesday and Wednesday as we left our homes and offices and went outside in search of a vacant portable john.

By now, everyone who lives at the mountain has read in the newspaper that a ruptured water main at the library construction site left almost all of us west of 11th Street without the ability to make coffee, process the coffee and then eliminate the coffee. That is to say, we had no safe water and were strongly cautioned by city officials against making water indoors.

At the newspaper, that meant heading outside for some fresh air and a stroll across Curve Court to the Ace at the Curve parking lot, where a bank of portable toilets awaited us.

It was no big deal, but we newspaper employees formed a fairly obvious parade back and forth to the comfort station.

Somehow, when we get up from our desks in the office building, it's not so obvious what our destination is. After all, the lunchroom and the employee entrance are all in the same direction as the restrooms.

So, we giggled at one another this week as we sauntered off to answer the call of the wild.

I think I can safely report that Wednesday afternoon marked the first time in his life the editor ever thumbed a ride in order to use the bathroom.

If nothing else positive came out of last week's water main interruption, we were reminded of how much we take modern conveniences for granted.

My own parents spent their early childhoods in homes with limited indoor plumbing. The toilet and the mail order catalog were located out back.

Somehow, they grew up to lead productive lives.

Back to my favorite two-holer outhouse in the middle of nowhere. Upon close study, it was apparent that whoever built the seat did so with great care. The edges of the oval cutouts were planed down with a hand tool to reduce the potential for splinters and just to make them more comfortable.

Life in Northwest Colorado is softer than it was 80 years ago.

- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.