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