RENO, Nev. (AP) - Bill and Jodee Gravel found a strange site by accident when they made their way to Virginia City.
The married couple, originally from Valencia, California, travels full-time in a recreational vehicle around the country. Mr. Gravel thought it’d be nice to see the small mining town, so the two headed for Geiger Grade. They arrived to see the town in a raucous attitude getting ready for the 26th annual World Championship Outhouse Races.
Around 2,500 people lined C Street to watch the event, which is as literal as it sounds. Twenty-six teams of three built mobile outhouses on wheels to race across a finish line made of toilet paper, all the while imbibing and enjoying the historic flair for which the town is known.
“I’ve seen bathtub races a long time ago, but never anything like this,” Mr. Gravel said.
After seeing such a peculiar site, the Gravels decided they had to stay to see the circus.
“They put a lot into it. A lot of creativity, a lot of energy and probably a lot of alcohol,” Mrs. Gravel said.
Pat Logan of Virginia City said while celebratory in nature, the outhouse races actually started out as a political rally of sorts. The town passed an ordinance decades ago banning outdoor latrines, much to the chagrin of some of the town folk.
Peeved citizens decided to protest by dragging their outhouses in front of the courthouse. Thus, a tradition was born.
The history is one of the reasons Logan decided to enter the races. He’s never won in four years, but said there’s some practicality behind keeping them going.
“Anything we can do to bring in tourism is a good thing,” he said.
Katie Demuth, tourism manager for Virginia City Tourism Commission, said the races are one of the biggest boons for the small town.
“It’s one of the better weekends for our town,” she said. “Street Vibrations and the Camel Races are probably the biggest, but we get between 3,000 and 4,000 people a day with this event.”
Oftentimes those visitors turn into competitors themselves, such as Liz Cadigan of Reno.
“It was my birthday last year when we came down and we watched it,” she said. “I … never made it to the event. We came last year and the whole time all I could think about was, ‘Why aren’t we doing this?’”
The same goes for Penny Morris of Silver Springs. She started racing in 2008 after visiting with her son, who demanded they build an outhouse.
“It has to be a functional outhouse,” she said. “If you were to have to go to the bathroom, you could. If I ever find anyone going in there though, they’re dead meat.”
While the drinking, shopping and general buffoonery are what typically bring people to the races, Tom Pharris of Reno said he brought his brother to see something else.
“Just the diversity of people,” he said. “You have the motorcycle gangs, the families, grandmas and grandpas. I’m surprised we’re not having a gunfight in the middle of the street today. It’s just fun.”
Jess Horning, the event organizer from Liquid Blue Events, said the races fit right in with the personality of Virginia City.
“It’s very quirky,” he said. “Everything we do up here is quirky.”
Events like the races are imperative for the Virginia City economy, which thrives on tourism dollars, Demuth said. They try new ideas to keep everything fresh, such as the first Undie Run Relay this year, where contestants dress in underwear and race while drinking beer.
Demuth said that’s how they keep people coming back to the town.
“You have to sell this as an experience within the experience of Virginia City,” she said.
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, https://www.rgj.com
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