Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
sponsored by the Utah State Board of Education, the BYU-Public School Partnership and the Utah Education Network

Margaret Clark Journals

May 31, 1997

Location: Scottsbluff - 541 miles left, Nebraska - Location: 41:52:00N 103:40:00W Elevation: 3880 feet

Summary: Learning the 4 P's of the wagon train.

Journal entry: So today our trek took us from Bayard to Scottsbluff. My day started a little earlier than usual. I reported to the porta-potty boardroom at exactly 10 minutes to six and helped change the garbage sack in the porta potties and add new toilet paper. Today I became knowledgeable about the workings of the Mormon Trail porta-potties. I chose to start with the porta potties since I consider this the upper most thought in most people's minds while on the trail. Especially if the need arises. Since my journaling will cover the actual day-to-day workings of the Trek, what better area to begin than with the brave three-some who tackle the task with vim and vigor and toilet brushes at the incredible hour of 6 o'clock in the morning. And this morning, they were amazingly full of humor. We chuckled and laughed through the whole day.

Driving the first eight potties (4 male; 4 female) is Eugene and Opal Layman. They are (were) tour guides at the Pioneer Visitors Center in Florence, Ne. Many weeks ago they were asked if they would drive the potties for a day.....one day!!! Ha! Ha! And here they are 6 weeks later. I asked Gene what stirring experiences he had had in his life that qualified him to do this important task. He said he was an industrial electrician in his former life and just has had on-the-job training. He says he feels as qualified as anyone and demonstrated his abilities at attaching the sewer hose and pulling the latch. He did that well. I complimented him. He does a cute little monkey dance when he is happy. Opal did accounting work in her previous occupational life. I asked her if she has any practical applications from accounting to porta potty management. She says it has helped her keep track of each potty and she can count them from one to eight. Such great talents. I was so impressed. We laughed through the next half hour of dumping, hosing out, filling with water and chemicals, restocking, sweeping, scrubbing the seats, etc. disinfectant spray and so forth. They really looked clean and best of all....they smelled clean. Gene left to get the second set of eight potties. They cannot be retrieved until after 7:00 when the train pulls out. Opal and Lorraine (the driver of the second set of pots) and I were standing around discussing the intricacies of porta potty management when Opal announced "Here he comes."

I said to her "Here who comes?"

She said "Here comes Gene with the other set of pots." Well I turned around and saw nothing and gave her a rather quizzical look. She said "Can't you hear them?"

"Hear them? You can hear them?" Well I just about had a rolling fit of laughter on the ground when I looked up and sure enough! There they were. We all had a good laugh. Sort of like the mommy at night that can hear the baby cry and no one else can. The same process was repeated with the second eight potties, all the water jugs were filled with clean drinking water, we piled into the trucks and headed out to the trail.

These three people work with such efficiency. They have the routine down pat. I asked where they have dumped in the past. The communities have been very willing to cooperate in finding dumpstations, sewer manholes, state parks, RV parks. In Lisco where the flooding was quite severe they were very kind to let them dump in an already overfull septic system.

I rode with Lorraine. She usually is alone and takes care of one set of eight pots by herself. Lorraine has been a part-time school secretary with the responsibility of computers. She has also done janitor work in the schools. She and her husband were missionaries in Nauvoo when they were released and asked to help camp jack for the wagon train. They are originally from Fruitland, Idaho, which is about 50 miles west of Boise.

We drove 4 miles from camp. In this 4 mile distance the potty drivers had the awesome task of keeping these 8 little houses on the road. And that was quite a trick. Maximum speed is not very maximum. If you go even just a little too fast, you can fish-tail the back set of pots and lose it. This little trick was done a few weeks ago by a younger, less experienced driver. He got going too fast, the back potty hit a bridge, and there was a bad clean-up problem.

The trick on driving porta-potties is the 4 p's: Prayer, Porta-potty, and Prefer Pavement. Lorraine especially stresses the prayer. I asked her how she keeps these babies on the road. "Prayer" she said with a smile. We had to pass cars, walkers, handcarts, wagons, horses and anything else that gets in the way. It was OK on the paved road, but when we hit the skinny little dirt roads, the task was much more challenging. We got to the first potty break site, checked and wiped the seats, took the bungee straps off of the toilet paper (if you don't secure the TP rolls, they will unroll on the road and loose all the paper on the floor). I was surprised, but the train was right behind us. We had barely gotten the tasks done when the people arrived. There was not time to do anything else. Lorraine says that sometimes before the first break she does have time to enjoy the serenity of the countryside, but not very often. It is then that she has thought about the incredible accomplishments of the pioneers and what they accomplished, and they did it with so little! She says she really feels the spirit of the pioneers when the handcart and walkers pull in. She has a great deal of caring for their aches and pains.

The wagons pulled out and the handcarts pulled right in. There was a huge number of walkers today--270. It took a long time to service them. It is going to be a hot, hot day today, so Lorraine guards the drinking water and makes sure it is not wasted for washing hands. The walkers move out and we go to work again.

We have to put bungee cords on the TP, and lock each door, then away we go.

The hardest task is passing the train. It takes usually a half mile to pass the walkers and at least a mile to pass the wagons. The shoulders on the road are non-existent and you can't honk(you'll scare the horses). It is quite a delicate art to driving these children. I told Lorraine they reminded me of my children: they follow right behind you, you have to clean them up and service them and you can't live without them. They can be such a pain, but you just can't live without them.

The next break is a little more delicate. The pots have been used, so whatever splashed out and around has "brown flecks, blue flecks, and white flecks." (This is a quote). So, Lorraine dons her gloves and bucket and basically washes down the seats again. I empty paper, sweep the floors, and take the bungee cord off. I look up and lo and behold there comes the wagons. It is incredible. There is no time for anything else. This is a full-time job and these people are volunteers!!!! They are either touched in the head or feel a serious need to be doing this for the wagon train. Lorraine has tears in her eyes when she says she feels the spirits of the pioneers out here on the train....even when she is just caring for a set of porta potties. Gene and Opal admit that they know the camp is kept cleaner, the spirit of the train is stronger, and the people are happier when they have clean porta-potties. I can see what they are saying. They say they would never have chosen to do this job, but it is important, and they will do it. Gene kind of laughed. He said that 6 weeks ago he was doing security for Pres. Hinckley and shook the Prophet's hand; the next day he was cleaning porta potties. He said with a smile, if it's the Lord's work, it doesn't matter what you're doing.

We did lunch break and one more break before the train hit Scottsbluff for the night. I have a much greater appreciation for the work these wonderful sisters and brother do. I even volunteered to help out in a pinch if one of them is unable to do it for a day. But they say that as soon as we hit the Wyoming border, they may be out of a job. Well, whoever takes over is going to have to be pretty darn good to beat these three troopers. I thanked them for their dedication. ..... and headed home for a shower...a good shower.