Tag Archives: pit toilets



According to the National Day Calendar website, this Sunday, November 3 is National Sandwich Day. What will you do to celebrate?

In recognition of this popular food, today I’ll tell you a little story about a sandwich. It’s kind of a gross story which also involves pit toilets. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

I’ve heard it said that humans can grow accustomed to anything. Anything? Well, probably most things, including the gross and the stinky.

Pit toilet with lid down.
This photo shows an actual pit toilet.

When I worked on the mountain, pit toilets at the very busy trailhead and the campground next to it had to be pumped several times between the middle of May and the middle of October. The truck that came up to pump the toilets was the same kind that removes the waste from porta-potties. A long, flexible hose was dropped down into the chamber (also referred to the pit or the vault) below the seat. A pump on the truck sucked up all the waste materials from inside the chamber and deposited everything into a big holding tank mounted on the truck. When the tank was full, the truck went down the mountain to deposit the waste I-don’t-know-where.

A sign  reads, "For better smelling restroom keep toilet seat down." Two drawings of the side view of a pit toilet show that with the toilet lid down the "smelly" stays below the toilet and then vents up and out of a pipe, but when the lid is up, the "smelly" fills the toilet room.
Even keeping the lid down couldn’t control the bad smell after the pit toilets were pumped.

The pumping process stirred up all the decaying waste material and created a HORRIBLE smell. If you’ve never encountered a large concentration of decaying human waste, let me tell you, it smells really bad. It stinks to high heaven. To put it simply, it smells like death, and death does not smell one bit pretty.

I wouldn’t say I grew immune to the stench of toilets being pumped, but at least after the first couple of times I encountered the process, I knew what to expect. As GI Joe taught us, knowing is half the battle.

Most of the visitors to the trailhead and campground were city folks; many of them had never encountered a toilet that didn’t immediately flush their waste away. On a regular day, the smell from the pit toilets was often enough to make them mighty uncomfortable. When the city folks were present for the pumping or its immediate aftermath, they were quite surprised and quite disgusted and quite unhappy.They had no idea shit and piss could smell so nasty.

One day the pump truck came up the mountain. We could practically smell it before we saw it.

Small building with two doors, each with a restroom sign next to it. Two metal trash cans sit outside the building.
This is the building in the middle of the parking lot that housed the pit toilets.

Here we go, I thought. I knew the visitors were going to be melodramatically grossed out, and I was sure to hear complaints.

The pump truck went down to the middle of the parking lot where the two pit toilets were located. I couldn’t see the two men at work, but I could hear the pump and smell the funk. Yes, as always, the churned up human waste smelled horrific.

Finally the pump was switched off and the quietude of nature prevailed. I knew the stench would settle, but at the moment the entire parking lot was enveloped in an awful aroma.

The truck came around the curve leading to the parking lot’s exit, and the driver stopped it near me. Groan. The driver hopped out with clipboard in hand and asked me to sign the form stating he and his partner had been there and done the job. I agreed, wanting the reeking truck away from me as soon as possible.

Sign reads, "Keep this toilet clean." The sign gives instructions (with corresponding drawings) on how to properly use the pit toilet. Instructions include "Sit on the toilet during use. DO NOT stand on the toilet. DO NOT use the floor. Use the toilet. Put used toilet paper in the toilet. Do NOT put trash in the toilet. Use the trash can."
My favorite sign explaining how to use a pit toilet.

Just before I signed the form, I glanced over at the truck. What I saw gave credence to the idea that humans can grow accustomed to anything. The other pump truck worker, a young guy probably in his early 20s, was sitting in the passenger seat munching a sandwich.

The tourists were reeling, practically dry heaving and passing out, and this guy was sitting in the stink truck, nonchalantly having lunch. I wondered if he had no sense of smell or had simply become so accustomed to the stench that it was basically background noise–or perhaps more accurately, background stink. In any case, he seemed to be enjoying his sandwich, not at all bothered by the odor that was causing the rest of us so much grief.

I took the photos in this post.

How to Use a Pit Toilet



This photo shows a pit toilet. Today I am going to tell you how to use one.

I shouldn’t have to explain to grown people how to use a pit toilet, but so many folks seem baffled when confronted with a toilet that doesn’t flush. Really, people, the process is the same, whether the toilet flushes or not. In the name of public service, today I will lay down instructions for pit toilet use.

#1 Knock before you enter. When did knocking on a closed door fall out of favor? People seem to either reach out and try to open a closed door or simply stand in front of a closed door waiting for someone to exit. (Sometimes no one is behind the door.) Has peeking under a stall to check for occupancy taken the place of knocking? Since pit toilets are totally enclosed, peeking won’t work. If you want to know if someone’s in there, you’re going to have to knock.

#2 Lock the door behind you. If you don’t, one of those people who opens doors without knocking is probably going to walk in on you.

#3 If you fail to lock the door behind you and someone opens the door while you’re taking care of business, try not to fly off the toilet in mid urine stream. Shrieking is permissible, but remember, it’s your own dang fault. You should have locked the door.

#4 Sit on the toilet. That’s right, sit. Sit all the way down,with both cheeks on the seat. It’s no dirtier than a city toilet. If you need to protect yourself from germs, bring disinfectant in with you and spray down the seat before you sit.

#5 If you must make a seat cover from toilet paper before you sit, deposit said seat cover into the toilet before you leave. You may not want your butt to touch the surface of the toilet seat, but the person who uses the toilet after you does not want to touch toilet paper your butt’s been on.

#6 By sitting (not perching, not hovering), your excretory openings should be pointing down, so your waste materials will fall (thanks, gravity!) and not end up splashed all over the inside walls (known as risers in the pit toilet business) of the toilet. The person who cleans the toilet will be grateful for your help in keeping the risers as clean as possible.

#7 Men, don’t spray urine everywhere. I don’t understand why men get urine on the floor and on the outside front of toilets. (I know this is not only a problem when pit toilets are involved.) My best advice to men: Pay attention to your aim.

#8 Toilet paper goes into the toilet, not on the floor.

#9 Trash (feminine hygiene leftovers, beer cans, whatever) goes in a trash can. Do not leave trash on the floor. Do not throw trash into the toilet.

#10 If you get some bodily discharge (blood, urine, feces, mucus, whatever) on the toilet or the floor, WIPE IT UP completely. No one else wants to touch it.

#11 Close the toilet’s lid after you stand up. Closing the lid keeps the stink in and bugs out. If you can’t bear to touch the lid with your hand, use your foot. Whatever way you’ve got to do it, CLOSE THE LID before you leave.

#12 If you are in a place with a pit toilet, there may not be running water. If hand washing is important to you (and it should be!) carry hand sanitizer or a jug of water and soap so you can scrub up after your visit to the pit toilet.

There are many situations in life when do unto others… applies. Pit toilet use is definitely one of those situations. Do your best to leave the restroom in a condition that wouldn’t make you gag if you walked in.

Locked Door


I usually only share stories I’ve witnessed, but my co-worker told me this one immediately after it happened, and it’s too good to keep to myself.

Our restrooms are in a small building in the middle of the parking area.IMG_6725

On one side of the building are two doors. Each door opens to a wheelchair accessible room housing a pit toilet. The doors remain unlocked unless someone goes into the room and locks the door behind him/herself.

IMG_6727 Next to each door is a sign. Each sign has the word “Restroom” on it, as well as pictures to communicate the restroom’s suitability for all genders, as well as folks who use wheelchairs or other devices to help with mobility limitations.

On the other side of the building is one door, which remains locked unless someone with a key (me, my co-worker, our boss) unlocks it. My old boss called the area behind the door the “B room,” and my new boss calls it the “breezeway.” It’s essentially a small storage room where we keep cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and extra day passes. There is no sign of any kind outside the B room.IMG_6724

One Friday, my co-worker walked down to the building in the middle of the parking lot to do the midmorning cleaning of the restrooms. He went over to the side with the door to the B room to get the supplies he needed. As he approached the door, he saw a woman or middle age leaning on the door to the B room. She was slumped over and mumbling to herself. When she saw my co-worker heading in her direction, she told him, Somebody’s been in there a long time!

My co-worker had to bear to her the bad news that no one was ever going to come out of the room, that, in fact, there was no toilet in the room. He escorted her around to the other side of the building where her urgency impressed the people in the queue, and everyone agreed to allow her to jump to the head of the line.

I took the photos in this post.

Little Girls in the Restroom


On Sunday, I worked in the parking lot until 3pm, then headed back to my campground.

I thought I would find the campground empty. I didn’t have any reservations and Sundays don’t tend to be busy with people without reservations looking for a place to stay.

Instead, when I got to the campground, I found several cars parked on several sites. Most of the activity seemed to be concentrated on site #7, where eight or ten people were standing around.

Of course, they watched me with great interest as I drove past them to get to my site. I could see them looking in my direction. Their interest increased as I attempted to back into my site.

In the grand scheme of my life, I haven’t been driving for very many years. I never received much instruction in backing up. I really only learned to back up last summer by backing into this very same spot everyday after working in the parking lot. My backing abilities are still hit or miss, especially when I have such an attentive audience. Luckily, I missed hitting anything (the logs at the front of my site, the water tank, the picnic table, the fire ring), but I did a lot of backing up-pulling forward, backing in-pulling forward before I had the van where I wanted it.

Upon exiting the van, I grabbed my clipboard and approached site #7. One woman stepped from the group. She must have been the appointed representative.

I gave her my standard, Hi. I’m the camp host. Are you folks wanting to camp?

She said no, they were just having a barbecue. Apparently they’d been looking for a place with shade to have a barbecue, and the woman at the store where I use the internet suggested they go to my campground.

Technically, it’s a campground and not a day use area, but I’d be a real mean lady if I chased people out when the entire campground is withouth campers.

I was a bit worried this group was going to cause me trouble or leave a mess. Everybody looked pretty drunk. One older guy was curled up in a fetal position in the hatchback storage compartment of a small SUV (or maybe it was a minivan). When I said to the woman that they seemed to have a man down, she told me he had back problems.

The woman said they were just wrapping up their barbecue. When it was determined that they’d be gone within an hour, I said Enjoy your afternoon and went back to my van to deposit my clipboard.

I could hear voices coming from the nearby concrete restrooms. Campers don’t realize how well voices from within those restrooms carry out into the world. I don’t know if it’s the concrete or the vent pipes or what, but it’s obvious when someone in the restroom is talking.

It doesn’t happen often, as most people utilize the pit toilets alone and do not talk to themselves while doing so. The usual scenario for voices coming from a concrete restroom is that of an adult patiently helping a small child navigate the tall plastic seat over the scary hole.

The voices I heard didn’t sound like the adult and child interaction I usually hear. There was no patient, reassuring drone of an adult. There was no mostly incoherent babble of a toddler. What I heard sounded more like straight-up conversation.

I had to pee anyway, so I decided to investigate.

The door on the left was not closed all the way. I’d noticed this door had been closing like this, with

I took this photo to show how the door to the restroom was not completely closed.

I took this photo to show how the door to the restroom was not completely closed.

no gap between door and frame, but not fully closed, as if the occupant let the door shut behind him or herself, and the door didn’t shut all the way. The door was not flush with the frame. Usually people who are going to use the toilet are careful to close and lock the door when they go into the restroom, so I expected to find empty the room with the door not properly closed.

I knocked anyway. I always knock before I enter a restroom, even if I think I’m the only person in the campground. I don’t want to see anyone’s personal business. I don’t want to cause any embarrassment.

I knocked, then pulled the unlocked, not completely closed door open. I found the source of the voices I’d heard.

There were three little girls in the restroom. All three were standing up in a tight little huddle. All three were facing the open toilet.

Two were probably between the ages of nine and eleven, the third probably a couple of years younger. The little one and one of the older girls had long, dark shiny hair and brown skin. The other girls was pale, with apple cheeks and freckles. When they realized the door had opened, they turned around and walked toward me.

What are y’all doing in here? I asked.

I was just going to the bathroom, Freckles lied to my face.

I didn’t say the several things I could have said to call her bluff. I didn’t say, You weren’t sitting on the toilet or You have your pants up.

Instead I said, Next time, you should probably lock the door.

She said, It’s not working. I tried and tried, but it wouldn’t lock.

Liar! I didn’t call her a liar, but I knew she was lying.

First of all, I know what girls (and women too) do if a bathroom door doesn’t lock: we station a friend outside the door as a physical barrier to anyone who might try to get in. Females have been carefully trained to fear strangers seeing us performing elimination functions.

Also? There was another toilet room right next door. If the first door she tried didn’t lock, she would have probably gone next door.

Finally, the lock did work. I reached over and pushed the button on the handle and said mildly, Oh look. It’s working now. Then I said, OK. Bye.

The girls filed out of the restroom, and I closed the (locked) door behind me.

No one had been using the restroom. They were just checking out the pit toilet. Fair enough. I guess they’re kind of interesting if you’ve never seen (or cleaned) one. But lying right to my face was really uncalled for. (I wonder if that technique works on her mother.)


Feces on the Floor


The day started like a normal Wednesday.

I’d slept really well, after hardly sleeping Sunday and Monday nights. I woke up around 6:15. Even after two days off, I wasn’t raring to go, but I rolled out of bed and put on my uniform. After sweeping the restrooms, I cooked and ate my breakfast. Then it was time to get the company truck and go on patrol.

On Wednesdays, the hosts at the two other campgrounds on the mountain have the day off. I have to drive to both campgrounds, make sure the garbage cans aren’t overflowing, check-in any campers who have recently arrived, and put toilet paper in the restrooms if necessary. I also have to drive through the group campground to make sure no one is squatting there. And, because my co-worker at the parking lot also has the day off on Wednesdays, I have to clean the two restrooms there.

On this particular Wednesday, I first went to the closer campground, planning to go to the farther one late in the afternoon, after I’d put in my time at the parking lot. After picking up the trash and talking to some campers, I got in the company truck (a Ford Ranger, which is like driving a sports car to me after lumbering along in my van) and did my rounds through the (empty) group campground. Then I headed to the parking lot to pick up the trash and clean the restrooms.

Both trash cans in front of the restrooms were full, so I pulled out the bags and replaced them with new ones. Then I psyched myself up to clean the restrooms.

The restrooms in the parking lot get a lot of use. My co-worker jokes that if the trees are the most popular attraction, the restrooms are the second most popular attraction. Because the restrooms get so much use, they tend to be dirty and smell terrible. Also, people throw a lot of toilet paper on the floor. I’m grossed out when I have to pick up toilet paper, and I don’t know where all it’s been. (I might feel more grossed out if I knew exactly where the toilet paper has been.)

I opened the door of the restroom on the left and was greeted by the sight of a pile of feces on the floor eight inches from the toilet. Who does such a thing?

I can only imagine two scenarios. The first is a human being walked into the restroom, closed and locked the door, pulled down his/her pants, and shat on the floor. The second is a person allowed his/her dog to enter the restroom and defecate on the floor.

Who does that?!?!?

I’ve tried to think of a reason why it might seem acceptable to shit (or allow one’s dog to shit) on the floor of a public restroom. I’ve got nothing.

To put it delicately, as opposed to situations where I’ve discovered feces on the toilet seat and on the restroom wall, it did not appear that the person who shat on the floor had experienced an emergency situation. This floor shitting appeared to be a deliberate act.

And if a person somehow thought it was ok to let his/her dog defecate on the restroom floor, the human should have picked it up.

The reason why didn’t really matter, as I had to clean it up regardless of the circumstances that put it there. I rolled up my sleeves, took off my ring, and steeled myself to do what had to be done. I grabbed a thick wad of toilet paper and removed the fecal matter from the floor. The good news was that it had been sitting there a while and was firm–and to be a bit graphic here–crusty. More good news was that I didn’t notice any smell.

After I picked up the feces, I sprayed everything down with a chemical cleaner we use called TNT. It’s supposed to kill germs, so I sprayed it all over the floor and all over the inside and outside of the toilet. Then I used water from the tank in the back of the truck to give everything a thorough rinse. There was some fecal crust adhered to the floor, so I had to grab a stiff bristle brush from the truck and use it to scrub away the crust. I was grateful for the brush’s long handle.

Finally my work there was done, and picking up the toilet paper from the floor of the second restroom didn’t seem so gross.

I’ve had many shit jobs in my time, but this job (that I actually like) has required me to deal with the most literal shit.

Some People Are Just Idiots


IMG_3178Today I gave two of the restrooms in my campground a scrub down cleaning.

I was at it at a little after six in the morning. The first thing I did in each restroom was use a big garbage bag to cover the toilet paper so it wouldn’t get soggy. Next I used soapy water and my brand new scrub brush to thoroughly clean the toilet (lid, seat, risers), the floors, the walls. The insides of the toilets were still pretty clean after the scrubbing I gave them a few days before, but I swished the toilet brush around inside and made sure everything looked really good. Then I hauled a bucket of water for each restroom, sloshed the toilet, floors, and walls to rinse away the suds from the Micro-Muscle cleaner.

I swept out the water as best I could, but the floors were still wet and slippery. I left the restroom doors open to help with the drying process, but set my bucket in one of the doorways and propped my broom diagonally to block the other.

IMG_3176If you were staying in a campground and walked up on a restroom with an obstacle in the doorway, a wet floor, and black plastic covering the toilet paper, what might you think? Might you think you should use the restroom on the other side of the campground? And if you didn’t know the location of another restroom might you ask the camp host–who was outside puttering around on her own campsite–where you might find another restroom?

Not my campers. Oh no.

Four of the seven people staying on the side of the campground with the toilets I’d scrubbed not only bypassed the obstacles in the doorways, but moved them completely in order to close the door. Four people also moved the black plastic over the toilet paper. Not a single one asked me if there was another restroom to use.

The only conclusion I can draw is that these people are idiots.


(These are one set of restrooms in my campground. I took these photos.)