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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Outhouse Races

Air Date: Week of

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CURWOOD: If you live in one of those places where winter seems to stretch on endlessly, you can probably sympathize with the folks of Republic, Washington. Each winter, the town of 1,040 people puts on a festival to break up the monotony of gray, frozen skies and long, cold nights. There are some events you might expect, including a chili cook-off and a snow sculpture contest. And then, there's the annual outhouse race. Producer Bill George is our man on the scene.

(A flame pulses on and off)

GEORGE: In this one-stoplight town today, outhouses are a serious business. Some shops have closed for the event, where contestants will push their homemade outhouses down a one-and-a-half block course. The team from Northern Construction is heating up wax and applying it to their skis, which actually are four-inch plastic electrical conduit tubes.

MAN: (on loudspeaker) Five minutes to the first heat.

GEORGE: Race official Bob Zipperer explains the rules.

ZIPPERER: Each device must slide over ice and snow on skis, runners, sleds, or skids. No wheels. Two, must have a seat no more than 36 inches above the ground, with an appropriate hole. Toilet paper must be on board. Reading material is optional.

GEORGE: All drivers must wear a helmet and remain seated throughout the race. At least two people must push. Besides limiting cabin fever, the race has great social benefits.

ZIPPERER: We've got loggers, miners, environmentalists, businesses, kids, all of them come together and it puts a more human face on people, you know? And it maybe eases some of the tensions of politics and those kinds of things.

GEORGE: Some outhouses look more like dogsleds with toilet seats. Grandma's Mercantile, a secondhand store in Republic, boasted the classic crescent moon design with a few extra added features.

WEBER: Rather than just a toilet seat, I had the toilet seat bolted to a toilet so we just brought the whole thing.

GEORGE: You've got momentum going for you here.

WEBER: A lot of mass rolling down that hill. (Laughter)

GEORGE: And what will happen to the toilet after the race?

WEBER: We have the toilet for sale in the store. I figured we would just use it for the weekend and put it back in the store.

GEORGE: And you can resell it.

WEBER: Yeah, all this stuff's for resale, including the antennas for the TV and the lizard out in front.

GEORGE: That's a stuffed toy lizard dangling from a wire, along with ice skates and a set of bicycle handlebars for the driver. The driver, Steve Weber, is wearing a teal bathrobe, a helmet covered with a wig, and bright curlers. A cigarette hangs from his mouth. (To Weber) And did you do any training for this?

WEBER: Yeah, I drank a lot of beer before I came. (Laughs)

MAN 1: Keeps the guy from getting too stiff or he crashes.

WOMAN: Yee-hah!

MAN 1: Are you ready?


MAN 2: (on loudspeaker) On your mark. Get set.

(A pistol shoots; adults and children yell, "Go! Go! Go! Go!")

GEORGE: A few yards from the finish line, it looks like Northern Construction used too much wax.

MAN 1: Go, man, go!

MAN 2: They had it and they crashed!

GEORGE: After many eliminating rounds, there are only two teams left: defending champion Ferry County Food Co-op is up against C.S. Construction.

MAN: (on loudspeaker) You're on your marks.

(A pistol shoots; the crowd yells)

GEORGE: Sprinting down the icy street it was outhouse to outhouse as fans were on the edge of their hay bales. And then, just as they got to the end of the racecourse, C.S. Construction plunged ahead for the victory.


MAN: (on loudspeaker) We have a new winner this year!

GEORGE: The winning team received a check of $75 and a trophy crowned with a roll of toilet paper. The toilet seat from their outhouse was taken back to Republic's only Mexican restaurant, where it had been sorely missed during the chili cook-off. For Living on Earth, this is Bill George in Republic, Washington.

(Music up and under: R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Band, "Little Rascals")

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

(Music up and under: R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Band, "Little Rascals")



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