The Black Forest Outhouse Race


outhouse_3_.jpg (38240 bytes)There have been many races to the outhouse but very few races which pitted one outhouse against another, but they had just such an event in Black Forest, Colorado where I used to live. There is an old saying that if you put wheels on it, men will find a way to race it.

They say the west was built by the Winchester rifle but I contend that it was really built by the outhouse. The outhouse was usually the first thing built when a settler claimed his hundred sixty acres and was often the last thing standing after they were gone.

Outhouses were the focus of one of the many make-work programs that FDR established during the Great Depression. Like the CCC, WPA and NRA, this program had its own initials, the FFPFA (Federal Farm Personal Facility Act). A government-funded truck loaded with lumber and half a dozen men would arrive at a farm or ranch, inspect the outhouse and if it failed to meet government minimums, they would tear it down and build a new one -- whether the people wanted a new outhouse or not.

Black Forest is situated atop an 8,000 foot glacial moraine which extends some 30 miles out from the front range north of Colorado Springs. The ridge was left there about 10,000 years ago when the last ice age began to retreat. Being 3,000 feet higher than Denver and 4,000 feet higher than Pueblo, the ridge produces its own weather patterns. It's not unusual for it to be raining or snowing in Black Forest but clear only a few miles on either side.

The 1500 residents of Black Forest live on five or more acre plots hidden among the dense stand of Ponderosa Pines, which when viewed from a distance appear almost black, giving the area its name. Most of the people who live there are as individualistic and private as is the area where they live.

The recorded history of Black Forest goes back to 1850 when the first homesteads were filed on land within the forest. Up until that time a few ranches ran cattle on the grass outside the trees and the forest served only as a lumber source. Several saw mills were operating within the forest by 1880 but the demand for cross ties for railroads being built through the area around 1890 resulted in the forest being almost totally stripped away. With few worthwhile trees left to be cut, the area was forgotten until around 1920 when land developers saw its potential as a resort area and established the Brentwood Country Club and Cabin Sites. It was located on the east side of the Colorado City/Elbert Road which cut through the forest, later to become known as Black Forest Road. People who built summer cabins in Brentwood and the few local permanent residents built the first signs of a community, a log church and a community building at the intersection of Shoup and Black Forest Road. Both are still in use.

As the number of residents in Black Forest grew, a few small businesses sprang up to serve them. There was a grocery store and a restaurant and bar called the Black Forest Inn built across the street from the log church and community center. Another small grocery store and a bar called the Painted Pony was built at the intersection of Black Forest Road and Burgess a mile to the south.

As time went along, more people came to the area until the population was something over a thousand by 1976 when Colorado celebrated it's first Centennial as a state. Many of the people who lived in Black Forest were retired military and had organized a VFW post which met at the Community Center. They decided to throw a watermelon feed for the people of Black Forest, as much as a membership drive as a local celebration of the Centennial. A vacant lot near the Painted Pony Bar was picked as an ideal location for the event. The problem with the site was with all the beer and watermelon that would be consumed, there would be a dire need for toilets. This was when someone suggested that they move the two outhouses, which had served the community center for years until a sewer system was installed, to the location of the celebration.

It would have been a simple matter to load the outhouses on a trailer and move them but they saw an opportunity to bring the people of Black Forest together for a common event. They issued a challenge to everyone who was not members of the VFW to a race to see who could manually move an outhouse a mile to the new location. Each team would consist of 20 men and one woman. The men would form four relays of five each and the woman would be the passenger (occupant) of the outhouse. The race would start in front of the Black Forest Inn and finish at the Painted Pony with each relay team pushing the outhouse for a quarter mile.

The outhouses were mounted on freight carts with small steel wheels and barn door handles were attached in various spots as handholds for the pushers. A seat belt was installed for the passenger and she was fitted with a crash helmet. Someone evidently saw the potential for less than a safe passage for the occupant.

The two teams gathered in front of the Black Forest Inn at the appointed time on Saturday morning, all duly fortified with Colorado Kool Aid, and prepared for the big race. The relay teams were in position and the race was started with the wave of a toilet plunger.

The first obstacle they faced was to negotiate a square corner to get onto Black Forest Road. The pushers found that the steel wheels tended to slide sideways almost as easily as they would roll forward, resulting in a general tangle of arms, legs, feet with several toes being run over and one of the outhouses laying on its side. The race was halted to upright the toppled toilet and they were off again.

Immediately after the turn, there was a steep downhill where gravity took control and soon the outhouses were racing pell-mell down the hill, dragging the pushers who were hanging on for dear life. Just as they reached the bottom of the hill, one of the outhouses broke free of the pushers, veered off the road and tumbled into a gully. A wrecker had to be called to drag it back to the road so the race could continue. At this point the occupant decided that she had enjoyed all the fun she could stand and refused to ride it any further, so the rules were modified to allow a replacement for anyone who could (or would) not continue. The race continued up a long, steep hill where exhaustion and not a runaway would determine the winner. The VFW'ers ultimately won and a great time was had by all.

The event was so much fun that special racing outhouses were built and plans made for the next year, except five teams would be allowed on each side. They would run head to head races and the fastest time would be the winner. The outhouses would be shuttled back to the start for each heat. The TV show, "Real People" even came to cover the event. A team of cadets from the Air Force Academy showed up and soundly thrashed everyone else.

As is often the case when a community comes up with something that is successful, outside interests jump in to take control and usually ruin it. The Black Forest Outhouse Race suffered the same fate. The Cancer Society in Colorado Springs talked the VFW into allowing them to run the event, promising them all sorts of things. They immediately trademarked the name and turned it into a fund raising event by advertising it on TV, charging entry fees for teams, selling T-shirts and soliciting donations from Black Forest merchants.

They were successful of sorts; they drew an estimated 30,000 people into the small community, raised a considerable amount of money and left mountains of trash for us to clean up. There were reports of vandalism, trespassing on private property and a fight between two rival motorcycle gangs. The residents of Black Forest rose up in an angry protest against holding the race there again and it was moved into Colorado Springs where it lasted two more years before being disbanded for lack of interest.

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