Tag Archives: Hoover Dam

Toilet Paper Hero of Hoover Dam

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IMG_3567I first learned  of the Toilet Paper Hero of Hoover Damn while reading a back issue of Sunset magazine.

I was delighted to learn the statue won the Reader’s Choice Award for the West’s Most Outrageous Roadside Attraction, beating out The Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, CA; the 22 foot-in-diameter donut atop the Randy’s Donuts building in Inglewood, CA; Spuds Drive-In Theater (complete with a “two-ton tater sitting in the bed of a candy-apple 1946 Chevy truck”) in Driggs, ID; the International UFO Museum in Roswell, NM; and the Hole n’ the Rock in Moab, UT.

At the time I read the the short blurb about the Toilet Paper Hero, I had toilet paper on my mind.

I was a camp host in a National Forest, and one of my duties was the upkeep of restrooms.

If, when you think of restrooms, your brain conjures images of flush toilets and sinks with running water and soap and paper towels nearby, you are not thinking of my campground restroom experience. The campground I was hosting had pit (also called “vault”) toilets. Nowhere in my campground nor in any other public campground on the mountain was there running water. The toilets I maintained didn’t flush, and there were no sinks, no soap, no paper towels.

In my five months as a camp host, I cleaned human feces off restroom floors and walls, chased a family of mice from a restroom, and dealt with a lot of toilet paper. I immediately knew that the Toilet Paper Hero was my kind of working class champion.

I was excited to see the Toilet Paper Hero was associated with the Hoover Dam. I’d been to the Hoover Dam, and I knew it was close to Las Vegas, NV. Since I was planning to visit friends in Vegas when I left California, I decided I’d make a pilgrimage to the home of the Toilet Paper Hero in Boulder City, NV.

I left Vegas by 7am on Saturday morning. I’d planned my route in advance, but had not been able to find an exact street address for the statue, nothing that was easily plugged into Google Maps. All I knew was that I had to take US 93, then turn onto Nevada Way and drive into downtown, looking for the corner of Nevada Way and Ash/Wyoming Streets. (Directions courtesy of http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/23150.)

I almost chickened out. I came to a fork in the road where I had to decide if I was going to go into the unknown (AKA downtown Boulder City) or just bypass the town and head toward the Hoover Dam and onward to Arizona. Since I wasn’t 100% sure of my directions, I was a little nervous. What if I got lost? What if I made a fool of myself?

Oh, come on! I chastised myself. You can do this! It’s the Toilet Paper Hero, for goodness sake. You’ve been looking forward to this for months.

So I did it. I found the Hero and made his acquaintance and took some photos.

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This is the informational plaque which stands next to the Hero.

The statue was created by artist Steven Liguori. According to http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/23150,

In 2007, Boulder City commissioned local artist Steven Liguori to immortalize “Alabam,” one of the unsung workers who helped to build nearby Hoover Dam.

Steven had earlier sculpted a heroic-size statue of a high scaler, one of the Dam’s most glamorous and exciting workers. But he felt that the unseen people of Hoover Dam deserved to be honored, too. When Boulder City launched a project for public art, Steven submitted his proposal for a statue of Alabam. The city, to its credit, accepted it.

Steven sculpted Alabam as he looked in old photos from the 1930s. The eight-foot-tall bronze statue — mixed with copper salvaged from the Dam’s electrical grid — shows Alabam wearing a fedora, overalls, and thick gloves, with a broom slung over his shoulder like a combat rifle, and a large bandolier of toilet paper rolls strapped across his chest. The man definitely had a sense of style.

IMG_3554Alabam was unveiled on a Boulder City street corner on June 29, 2007.

The same website says,

Alabam was a specialist. His job was to clean the outhouses of the vast construction site: sweeping refuse, tossing lime into holes, and restocking the always-diminishing supply of toilet paper.

Not much is known about Alabam. He was among the older workers. “Maybe his name was John or Bill, but there were lots of Johns and Bills at the Dam,” said Steven. “He was probably from Alabama, so they called him ‘Alabam’.”

IMG_3553In a job site filled with draftsmen and construction designers, Alabam referred to himself as “the sanitary engineer.”

“Alabam’s role might not seem important, but it was,” said Steven. Workers would start the day with a big breakfast at the mess hall, then pack a big lunch to take to the construction site. “But once you got to the Dam, you were stuck there all day.” The outhouses got used — a lot.

“Can you imagine cleaning latrines for 7,000 men in 120 degree heat?” Steven asked. “Can you imagine the smell? Oh my god!”

I really love that this statue is a based on a real person with a real personality, a man who had the sense of humor and the sense of his own worth to call himself “the sanitary engineer.” It would be a cool piece of art if it were a fictional representation of all the men who cleaned outhouses at the building site of the Hoover Dam. However I like it so much more knowing it is based on an individual, a real person who, like me and my co-workers, lived and breathed and sweated and was dirty at the end of the work day.

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I’m glad I overcame my silly little fear of the unknown and stopped by to visit with Alabam.

IMG_3572All photos in this post were taken by me.

Hoover Dam

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We’d been in Vegas.

By “we,” I mean me, Mr. Carolina, Sweet L, Robbie, the Fighting Couple, and their two dogs. By Vegas, I mean Las Vegas, as in Nevada. We’d left New Mexico and were heading to Mesquite, NV, where there was supposed to be a Rainbow Gathering.

It had been my first time in Vegas. We pulled in around 11pm, and to my amazement, easily found a free parking spot. The Fighting Couple stayed in the van with the dogs, allegedly sleeping, but probably bickering too. Mr. Carolina, Sweet L, Robbie, and I spent a few hours on The Strip, spending no money and marveling at the insanity of Las Vegas casinos. (At least I was marveling. That place is over-the-top extravagant, and we were only seeing the first layer of opulence.)

It was around two in the morning when the boys and I got back to the van. Mr. Carolina drove us out of town and into the darkness of the desert.

Suddenly, out of the darkness was much light. We were at the Hoover Dam. Of course we wanted to see it, even if it was the middle of the night, and apparently we could. There is a parking/observation area that is open to visitors 24/7.

Mr. Carolina nosed the van toward the security checkpoint at the entrance, but Mr. Fighting Couple saw a sign saying vehicles were subject to search. He had illegal drugs on his person and freaked out. He told Mr. Carolin to turn around, Turn Around, TURN AROUND, so Mr. Carolina made a U-turn in the nighttime empty road.

Sweet L started talking reasonably. We were already there. Didn’t we want to see the dam? The security guards weren’t going to search the whole van in the middle of the night. Didn’t we want to see the dam?

I, for one, did want to see the dam. It was right there, and we were right here, and maybe I’d never get another chance to see it. I voted to visit. And maybe I had extra sway because it was my van.

So Mr. Carolina made another U-turn. All of this U-turning was happening in view of the security checkpoint, and we must have looked hella suspicious.

We pulled up to the security checkpoint and stopped. The guards eyed the van and all of us within it with skepticism. They said they wanted to look in the back of the van, asked us to open the back doors. I jumped out, ran around to the back, opened the doors. One of the guards joined me behind the van. He took a perfunctory look inside, made sure we were not blatantly transporting bombs. We were sent on our way with the stern warning, You CANNOT sleep here. I couldn’t even be outraged because, yes, we did look like the type who would try to camp illegally at the Hoover Dam.

After all that, the dam itself was a bit anti-climatic. Sure, it was big, in a sort of H.P. Lovecraft giant monster scary sort of way. I was glad to see it, but it was just a dam, after all.