Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.

The Little Shack Out Back


A coworker and I were discussing the logistic problems of having only one bathroom in a house, even if only two people live there. Especially if one has few schedules to keep and likes to make a little mischief.

It got me to thinking about the days before there were bathrooms inside houses. When you had to take a hike to get to the john. My parents experienced them more than I did, and their parents even more. And, of course, through the years the subject has come up from time to time.

So I have a question for you today, and I really hope you’ll answer it. Ready? Okay, here it is.

Have you every used an outhouse?

An outhouse is a small structure, separate from the house, placed over a hole in the ground, also known as “the facilities.” Please don’t confuse it with a porta-john from a catering service. They bring a fiberglass building with some kind of chemicals below to take care of most of the odor, and usually replace it once a week or so.

I’m talking about the old wooden structures.

A hole in a wooden seat (really, a hole in a board) was made for your convenience. Instead of toliet paper, you used a Sears-Robuck catalogue. 😦

 This picture is of a two hole outhouse. If one hole was larger, it was for adults, the other smaller one would have been for children. If the holes were the same size, I don’t know why there would have been two.

I read that a half moon cut in the door is the sign of an outhouse for the womenfolk. A full moon means it’s for the men. (Makes me wonder if that’s where the idea of mooning people came from.)

Imagine–two privies!–one for men and another for women, and a yard big enough to accomidate them. Had to be the rich folks in town.

BTW: Most outhouses weren’t as pretty as the log cabin one above. Most looked more like this–

 When we were kids, Old Ford still had an outhouse or two in town. I had a couple of onery cousins who loved to tip them over on Halloween. If I remember the story right, a church in town had a parsonage with an outhouse.

One Halloween, my cousins trick-or-treated a while, then decided to make some mischief. They shot out a streetlight or two, then decided to do a little small-house tipping.

They trekked over to the parsonage and snuck around back. When they got there, they very quietly crossed the yard and with a hard shove, turned that outhouse over.

What they didn’t know (but learned very quickly) was the preacher was USING the facility at the time!

I heard (but I’m not sure if it’s true) that the next Halloween, the preacher was ready for them. In preparation for the big night, he moved the outhouse over just a few feet. Then, when the evildoers came sneaking through the dark to tip over the little-house-out-back, they didn’t see that it had been moved. They fell in the yuck-filled hole.


Antique hunters love to find old home sites. They especially look for the spot where the outhouse was and dig it up. Why? Because before dirt was thrown in the hole when the privy was moved to a new spot, the hole was often packed with the day’s non-returnables, which are valuable now–old bottles.

A few years ago, clever homeowners collected outdoor johns–just to have that rustic look in their backyard. They didn’t use them for the purpose they were intended. (As far as I know, anyway.) I even found a website that sells outhouse decor. (Switchplates, shower curtains, towels, etc.)

Outdoor privies have always deeply impressed me, but not necessarily the good way. Why? (Glad you asked.)

  1. They stink! Actually, stink is a mild word for the way an outhouse smells. It’s awful. GAS-tly!
  2. Spiders love them. If you look closely, spiders don’t have noses. If they did, they wouldn’t hide in an outhouse. But they do. All kinds of spiders (and other horrible nasty biting, stinging ground crawlers.)
  3. There’s almost never electricity in an outhouse. I don’t know why, unless it’s because they have to be moved from time to time. At night, it’s really dark in one! How’s a girl supposed to see a spider or other critter without light?
  4. In the middle of a dark night (especially in winter) an outhouse is a long, long way from your bedroom.
  5. In the hot summertime sun, the facility is much too close, especially if the prevailing wind is from that direction. (Blech!)

So, how about you? Have you ever made that fun trip to the little girls’ (or boys’) back house?

 If we still used them today, do you think they might look more like this?

From Larry Lawrence–

I told you it was cold in the winter! 🙂

Santa doesn’t mind. (The elf does!)

I saw these at Lowes last fall. So funny, but really not the way I want to decorate for Christmas.


Author: Susan Shay

For as long as I can remember, I've loved two things--reading and people--and that led me to become a writer. Many of my stories are set in Small Town Worlds. I'm a wife, mother, sibling and an aunt. I have a deep faith in God, and an exciting life in Christ. Maybe I shouldn't be (after all, he's God!) but I'm constantly amazed at the things He's up to. :)

10 thoughts on “The Little Shack Out Back

  1. I had an outhouse until I was 14. You described them well. It didn’t have electric because we didn’t have electric anywhere.

  2. When I was five we lived way out in the country near Cleveland. Our water lines broke and we had a (for real) outhouse in the back yard. I remember using it during the day but at night if I had to go Mom had a big pot that I used. I remember the awful smell and the turtles that enjoyed whatever down below. Ewww…Dad had to put some white looking powder on the mess down there. I really hated going in there. They had to haul water from town for awhile and we took baths in a big metal tub. We also had a pot belly stove in the middle of the house. Those were the days my friend….

  3. Sometimes on Sunday after Church, Mom would let Bea, Marilyn and me go home with Grandad Fisher and Amy(his wife). We called her Grandma Amy, she was really good to all of us grandkids she inherited when she married Grandad. They had an old outhouse and we LOVED to use it. They had indoor facilities but we preferred the one outside!!! Since they didn’t use it, it didn,t smell too bad at all. But the one thing we did love to do was to draw water from their water well, now, that was fun!! We would wind and wind the rope and up would come the long steel water tube filled with cool, fresh water. That was the best water I’ve ever tasted. Oh yeah, those were the days!!!

    • What fun memories, Sue. An innie and an outtie, and a real working well. How cool is that? I wish our kids could have had the childhood we did. We’ve lost so much while we gained a bunch. Too bad we can’t keep it all–kind of like your Granddad Fisher. 🙂
      Where in Old Ford did they live?

      • We had an old well too. With a hand pump. I remember getting in trouble once cause I kept opening the pump. That’s my only memory of my dad ever scolding me.

        • Wow, Terri. I’ll bet you never got spanked.
          I was scolded and spanked enough to make up for what you missed! LOL. And with grandparents living next door, I had double trouble!!!

  4. I think Aunt Carol had one at her cabin in New Mexico. I didn’t enjoy using it. Did you ever go there?

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