- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2003

Fireworks, fun and food won’t mean much today unless families have somewhere to “go.”

That’s why trains of temporary bathrooms, or “johns,” will be waiting along the National Mall for this year’s Fourth of July celebration, where attendance is expected to reach the hundreds of thousands.

And hundreds of portable bathrooms will be there to accommodate them.

The job is labor-intensive, and one company, Chantilly-based Don’s Johns, has taken on the task of delivery and removal.



Each unit weighs about 70 pounds and requires heavy lifting — moving it on the truck, sliding it off and placing it on the ground. After the placement, a truck fills the toilet with sanitation liquid.

“This job’s not for everyone,” said Charles Alsberry, who’s been working at the company for more than seven years. He works with a five-man crew to deliver, set up and remove the johns.

They have delivered 500 bathrooms since Saturday. Tomorrow they will go back and remove them, along with the contents.

It smells bad and it’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it.

“The worst part is coming back with the pump truck,” he said. “It’s more about people leaving a mess than anything,” he said, adding that people leave beer cans, trash and other nonhuman waste.

“Basically,” he said, laughing, “it stinks.”

Every day in the past week, his crew left at 5 a.m. to deliver bathrooms to locations near the Washington Monument and the Capitol. Several snags, such as weather, increased security and regulations for placing the toilets on soggy ground, put them a bit behind schedule.

But by Wednesday afternoon, in the rain, Mr. Alsberry’s crew finished the job.

“We had to move a few units because they were in the wrong place; but other than that, things went smooth.”

Ranging from the classier VIP trailers, with toilets that flush, private stalls and sinks with mirrors, to a beige “deluxe” model — with a hand sanitizer and urinal — to the average green john, there will be a bathroom to accommodate all shapes, sizes — and status.

The two VIP trailers will be used by the performers near the Washington Monument. The typical green and brown units are the most common, however, and will be used mainly by visitors.

Mr. Alsberry said it is the company he keeps that makes the job not as bad as it may seem. He works with two cousins and friends from his hometown of Winchester, Va.

“The best part is that I really get to do pretty much what I want, as long as I finish the work,” he said. “I’m my own boss.”

Don’s Johns is what employees call a “family business,” and the owner, Thelma Rainwater and her granddaughter, Kristie Dunston Harrell, run the company.

Mrs. Rainwater began the company in 1964 with her husband, Don. Back then, they were the first in the area to have a sanitation business, and one of the first in the country.

“We didn’t expect the business to grow so fast,” Mrs. Rainwater said. In 1977 her husband left and she took over the business.

“He didn’t want to keep anything, so I bought the other half,” she said.

Since then, the two women have kept the small business growing and Miss Dunston Harrell has helped her grandmother keep everything up to date.

“They are really great to work with,” Mr. Alsberry said.

Today’s event will end, no doubt, with the debris of revelers — wrappers, cans and bottles — but it will be the beginning of a cleanup job for Don’s Johns crew.

“This is one of the biggest events we’ve ever done,” Mr. Alsberry said. “I hope it doesn’t get too messy.”

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