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News / Life / Clark County Life

Everybody Has a Story: Outhouse on the move at bean farm

By Stella Mortensen, Cascade Park
Published: April 20, 2024, 6:02am

I was 12 when I got my first job. It was the late 1950s and I got paid for picking beans in Willamette Valley fields after school let out for the summer.

My alarm woke me at 4 a.m. I hauled myself out of bed and stumbled around the room, pulling on my clothes. I wasn’t hungry at that hour so I nibbled a bit of breakfast, grabbed my sack lunch and walked to the bus stop. I waited, drowsy, with a few other pickers in the dim dawn.

Soon a dusty yellow former school bus rounded the corner and squeaked to a stop. Mr. Ed, the driver, was a crotchety guy, sullen and reserved, but tolerant of his busload of frisky kids. Sometimes, I saw a wee smile on his face.

Mrs. O’Holleran, the field boss, supervised our group with an ever-watchful eye. Mrs. O’Holleran was a force to be reckoned with. She was 40ish and could out shout anyone. Her short, round stature and small hands gave no hint of her no-nonsense nature.

The bean field was a family operation. The farm owner had boys around my age who were strong, robust workers. They operated equipment, tractors, sprinklers, trucks and the forklift, which moved crates and stacks of pallets along the dry dirt roads.

The forklift even moved wooden outhouses. These outhouses were the classic wooden one-holer. (I always thought there should be a crescent moon carved above the door.) Only one sat over a hole, apart from the others. (It was unisex, by the way.) The others were lined up along the road, waiting to be swapped in when the first got too stinky.

One of the farmer’s boys, Sam, was charmingly bashful with a sunny head of blonde hair and deep blue eyes. He rolled his checkered shirtsleeves up to his biceps and swung on and off the farm equipment like a pro.

The farm was a well-run, organized business, and Sam understood the value of a quality job.

“It’s not worth doing if it isn’t done well,” his dad said, and his family lived that every day.

So when Sam came across Lee in the fields, he was pissed. Lee was part of our picking crew but instead of putting in a decent day’s work, Lee spent time hustling the girls and was a master at concealing his antics between the beanstalks. Lee was a bad boy who slicked back his hair, swaggered rather than walked and rolled his smokes into his T-shirt sleeve.

Lee often was a ringleader. If trouble was near, so was Lee. He was a classic bully who could turn his nasty temper into threats about things he would do when you weren’t paying attention.

Sam’s jaw clenched when he was around Lee for more than one reason. Sam had a huge crush on Bonny, a sincere, brown-eyed girl who seemed to attract many of the guys. Sam wanted Bonny all to himself, but so did Lee.

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Sparks flew between the boys. When Lee started coming onto Bonny, that really ignited Sam. While Lee flirted, he looked in Sam’s direction with a sly smile. Sam seethed.

A few days later when Lee headed for the outhouse, Sam waited for him to slam the door and get settled.

In a flash, Sam jumped on the forklift, fired it up and drove straight for the outhouse. He lumbered along at a rapid clip and lowered the forks as he traveled. He came at the outhouse from the front, slid the forks under the little wood shack and lifted it three feet off the ground. The hut rocked back a bit, then settled against the forklift as Sam spun the wheel, turned the vehicle around and charged down the road. He picked up speed as he traveled along, moving faster than any forklift I’d ever seen.

It looked like Sam was taking Lee as far down the road as he could. Far enough to disorient him and embarrass the hell out of him. Strangely, I heard nothing from inside the privy. I tried to imagine what Lee was doing while he was in the air, but I couldn’t.

Way down the road, Sam seemed to regain his mind and slowed. Although he wanted to annihilate Lee, he decided to just scare the crap out of him.

Sam putted at a slower pace, drawing out the torture. Every now and then, the forklift hit a pothole and the little shed seized a bit. Each time, I thought I heard Sam yell a few curse words at the wobbly latrine. He jabbed his fist in the air and raised off the metal forklift seat for an instant. Still, there was only silence from inside the loo.

Quite satisfied, Sam let the toidy down. After a few revs in neutral to drive home his point, he backed away and left the shanty teetering on a dirt mound by the side of the road. He turned the forklift around and bounced back along the route in a powder of dust.

After some time, I saw bad boy Lee stagger out of the precarious potty, but by then Mrs. O’Holleran was yelling at us all.

“OK everyone, quit gawking and get back down your rows!”

Lee disappeared for the rest of the day. He and Sam avoided each other after that. Lee lost some swagger and Sam had more bounce as he went about his chores.

But neither one got the girl.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.