In Episode 242, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger head to Bristol, Vermont, to climb inside the town’s annual Fourth of July Outhouse Races. For more than 40 years people have been racing outhouses down West Street, in an event that’s grown to legendary status. Joining us on this adventure is Cameron Perta, who has competed in several outhouse races, and won the 2019 race. But how did it all start?
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JEFF: And we’ll park right here on West Street by the Bristol Town Green.
[CAR STOPS, DOORS CLOSE]
RAY: Bristol, Vermont, is a picturesque New England town for sure. Between the town green, the white-steepled church, the cute little shops, it’s got it all.
JEFF: It does… but you seem kind of antsy, Ray.
RAY: Yeah, I really need to find a bathroom before we start poking around town!
JEFF: It WAS a long drive up here. The good news is, you’re in luck! West Street is full of outhouses!
RAY: Great… but I don’t see any.
JEFF: Yeah, that’s the bad news… we’re a little early. They all come out for the town’s annual Fourth of July Parade. We’ve come to Bristol, Vermont, to experience the Outhouse Races!
JEFF: Hi, I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Welcome to Episode 242 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about 15 minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
JEFF: Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England, one story at a time. We love finding the haunted, the out of this world, or the just plain weird that makes New England unique. We’re a community of seekers of the strange, and we don’t just meet here on the podcast each week, you should also join our super secret New England Legends Facebook group. And be sure to subscribe to our podcast wherever you get your podcasts, because it’s free, and we don’t want you to miss a thing.
RAY: Now, before we go searching for some outhouses in Bristol, Vermont, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals!
JEFF: Ray, YOU know that Nuwati Herbals has so many great teas for every part of your life.
RAY: They do.
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NUWATI_242: Things not moving like they should? Then Nuwati Herbals can help you answer that age-old question: what does a bear do in the woods? Drink our gentle laxative tea Bear in the Woods, and you’ll find out!
RAY: Yes you WILL! Nuwati Herbals also has Tea Pee Tea to help support a healthy bladder. And like all of their teas, it’s made with all-natural ingredients.
JEFF: Ray, I’m sensing a theme this week as we explore Vermont looking for racing outhouses.
RAY: You may be right.
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RAY: Okay, Jeff, so Bristol, Vermont, holds Outhouse Races?!
JEFF: They do. And they’ve been holding these races every year since 1980. That’s more than four decades that they’ve been racing outhouses in town.
RAY: I guess New England has New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon… and now we’re learning we also have West Street in Bristol.
JEFF: Yeah, the speeds and scale may be different, but the stakes are still very high.
RAY: I can imagine the bragging rights alone on winning an Outhouse Race must be huge.
JEFF: You bet! So I think we’re going to need a little help on this adventure. So we called in a ringer.
CAM: My name is Cameron Perta, I’m a teacher at Otter Valley Union High School, and I’ve competed in the Bristol Outhouse Race.
JEFF: He didn’t just compete. In 2019, his team was the winner. Then he lost in 2020, but came back last year ready to reclaim his… uhhmmm… throne?
RAY: Ugh. I get it. Cam grew up in Lincoln, Vermont, which is the next town over from Bristol. But he went to high school in Bristol. So he’s a local guy. He ran his first Outhouse Race in 2015… Cam, how did you do in that first race?
CAM: We lost very badly. We came off the line and we did not have the right movement paradigm established. We started to go, and the outhouse – it’s on wheels, as you know – and the outhouse did a full 180 from the jump. Because we had an uneven force on it, and so we never really even started to compete.
JEFF: Cam is a competitive guy. He’s a coach, he plays sports, but all year long he keeps at least part of his mind on the annual outhouse race.
CAM: I’m a pretty active and fit guy. I go to the gym, I play basketball, yada yada yada, but beyond a shadow of a doubt, Outhouse Race is the most physically grueling thing I do all year without question; not even close. I ran so hard, I pushed myself so much, that I threw up after the race.
RAY: All my life, I’ve only known outhouses to just sit there. They serve their purpose, they’re emptied, and we all move on with our lives. Sure, sometimes the most-awful prank can happen when someone tips one over, but I’ve never heard of racing them.
JEFF: There’s a lot to discover on how we got to this moment, Ray. So let’s go back to 1980, and see how it all started.
JEFF: It’s early July of 1980. Jimmy Carter is president. “Call Me” by Blondie and “Funkytown” by Lipps Incorporated are all over the radio, and here in Bristol, Vermont, a new tradition is about to be born.
RAY: Enter Larry Gile. Gile is a Bristol local whose heard about Outhouse Races taking place in other parts of the country. There was one in Canada that ran for a while about ten years ago in the early 1970s. Gile wants to bring that type of race here so he organizes the event. The big question is this: will anyone want to participate?
JEFF: Gile comes up with the rules. Each team has to construct an outhouse that resembles the traditional one-holer. Teams will consist of five people, one of them has to sit in the outhouse as the passenger, while the other four push and pull the outhouse around the Bristol Town Green.
RAY: It’s important to note that the rules also state that the outhouses need to be on four caster wheels, you know the kind that swivel 360-degrees, like you might see on a pallet in a warehouse or something like that.
JEFF: I wonder why caster wheels?
RAY: Gile likes the caster wheels because they’re harder to control.
JEFF: I love it!
RAY: There are a few entries for the July 4th race. It’s a novelty. A laugh. But locals want to see it.
JEFF: July 4th is a big deal in Bristol. There’s a parade, there’s picnics and games, it’s something the whole town comes out to see, and this year, they can add an Outhouse Race to the lineup.
RAY: There’s a team that call themselves the Unknowns. They hijacked an outhouse from nearby Starksboro. The problem with their outhouse is that the floor had rotted away, so they flipped the outhouse on its roof and mounted the casters there. Then there’s the Water Closet Blues Band with their setup. And Bud House, some beer buddies who built their own entry.
JEFF: The race route is one lap around the Bristol Town Green. It’s about 1,350 feet or a quarter mile around the Green along North Street, Park Street, then down a lane to West Street. There are hundreds of people lined up to watch this spectacle.
RAY: There they go!
JEFF: This is hilarious! Boy, they’re hustling out there.
RAY: Ohhhh but it looks like Water Closet Blues Band is pulling ahead!
JEFF: And the Water Closet Blues Band is the winner!
RAY: Throughout the July 4th party in Bristol, folks can’t stop talking about the Outhouse Race. It would seem a tradition was just born.
JEFF: From here we’re going to leap ahead one year to July 4th, 1981. Larry Gile is still in charge of the Outhouse Races, but this year there 14 teams who have each paid $10 bucks per team to enter. The Water Closet Blues Band is back to defend their title, there’s a team called Whew!, there’s Honey Bucket, and the all-women team called Royal Flush.
RAY: There’s prize money for the winners too! In addition to the entry fee, people bet on the teams and all of the money goes to a local charity.
RAY: Gile realizes that you can’t have 14 teams racing at once. They’d kill each other out there when they collide. So they’ll have to run in heats. And each heat is do or die. Win, you move on, lose, and you’re out.
JEFF: Some of the outhouse designs are totally awesome! These folks are going through a lot of trouble. The Royal Flush looks like a playing card on the side, and there’s the captain holding a toilet plunger. Others have guitars mounted on the side, and then there’s the Night Train Express team. The problem with their outhouse is that they mounted handles on the sides of the outhouse for the runners to hold. Judge David Henderson quickly steps in.
RAY: Judge Henderson points out the handles are a violation of the rules. He also points out that the judges can absolutely be bribed to look the other way, but there have been no good offers yet. So the handles are removed before the race.
JEFF: This race is already starting to earn nicknames. The favorite I overheard is the Dysentery Derby.
RAY: It looks the outhouses are in place…
RAY: And the race begins.
JEFF: Heat after heat competes until it’s the finals. The Water Closet Blues Band is still alive and poised to repeat.
JEFF: There’s no substitute for experience, and the Water Closet Blues Band has it all. They finish the race in a record-breaking 1 minute and 24.7 seconds. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: So the Barre Vermont Times Argus newspaper quoted Larry Gile back in 1981. When asked what’s the point of the whole thing he said quote, “Some teams have fun saying they’ve pulled an outhouse around the park. Not too many people can lay claim to that. But then he added… Of course, there’s not too many that want to.”
RAY: For more than four decades this race has been happening every July 4th. It’s only gotten bigger, and more organized. In fact, now the town of Bristol supplies the racing outhouses, which are basically three-foot by three-foot frames on platforms with caster wheels. The teams are no longer five people, they’re now three. One rider, and two people pushing or pulling. And you get your outhouse frame the day before the race.
JEFF: Let’s bring back Cam Perta as we get ready to hear about the 2021 outhouse race.
CAM: The town provides the outhouse. Because it’s kind of a big to-do about outhouse modifications. They don’t want to release them too soon because they don’t want teams to have an unfair advantage. So what usually happens is the town has them, prepares them, and then you only have access to them, like, the day before the race.
RAY: In addition to decorating your outhouse, it’s also a good idea to practice, because you need to get the hang of the way it moves. You need to push and pull just right. Plus, and this is a pro-tip from Cam, where you are on the street matters. The road has a crown to it, all roads do, so water and ice slide to the sides. If you’re in the middle, that’s the sweet spot. If you’re on either side of the middle, you need to contend with a slight angle.
JEFF: Also, the race course is no longer around the park. It now starts at the crosswalk in front of St. Ambrose Catholic Church on West Street, and finishes about 500 feet later at the traffic light at the North Street intersection. The shorter race means more racers and heats are available. And as we said earlier, it’s a very big deal.
RAY: So, it’s July 4th, 2021. Cam Perta and his team are getting ready for the big race. They’ve decorated their outhouse with a local theme. Some stickers from local businesses and shops. But their focus is on speed, not frill. Cam, tell us about your team.
CAM: I’m a teacher. I actually had one of my former students, Hayden Burnhardt come run on our team. And his girlfriend, Gracie Coolidge was our rider.
JEFF: We should set the July 4, 2021 scene. There are a lot of people gathered along the street to watch the outhouse races. The local news is there, television news affiliates are there. People are livestreaming the race. There’s a lot of folks betting on the race for charity. And all eyes are on you. Sure, it sounds silly, this isn’t the Olympics, but in a town like Bristol, win this thing, and you’re a celebrity for the day, and you can brag for a year. People take it seriously. People like Cam Perta and his team.
RAY: Cam, how does race day start for you?
CAM: I’ll give you my whole pre-game routine. So I wake up, and usually race day; I have a little weight room in my house. I start off with some light squats. Kind of get the blood flowing, the body ready to go. So I do some squats. I’m ready to go. And then the nerves kick in. I usually stay in Bristol on race day, so I walk from my house in Bristol and I go to the Bristol Bakery for a little pre-game fuel. Oatmeal. Water. Banana. That’s what I do. And I walk there, and then I run to the race start line. Again, to get the blood flowing. The race doesn’t start until about 8:00 o’clock, I’m usually fueled up, done my squats, done a quick pre-game run; 7:30 easily ready to go.
RAY: And now there’s nothing but time and nerves until the race starts. You need to wait for your heat to get called. You know each race is do or die. Win your heat, you move on, lose your heat, and you’re out. Cameron Perta is ready to retake his throne as Outhouse Race champion.
CAM: First you look out over all the distance you have to cover, which is overwhelming, and then you look out at all the people who are there. And you’re like, “Oh my God!”
JEFF: It’s time for the first race. There are eight teams in 2021. Each race is head-to-head. You must win to go on. The first race is against one of his best friends.
CAM: A lot of trash talk going on. Really bragging rights for the year. And so we step up there, Hayden, Gracie, and I come through. We win the first one. Yes.
JEFF: So they take care of business in that first race and win by a hair. They get to move on. Still, it’s exhausting. But now they have to recover, because the next race is happening in just ten minutes.
CAM: And there’s a reason I use oatmeal, bananas, and water, to fuel up properly, and if I do throw it up, it’s easy coming out.
RAY: But breakfast… so far… is staying down. Still, he’s got to lie down if he’s going to have the strength for the next race. Ten minutes goes by quickly. It’s not enough recovery time, but too bad. It’s time for the second heat.
CAM: Second heat, we were racing against some of the varsity soccer players. Good athletes. I actually coached them in soccer. Fast kids. But we got lucky in this one. The nerves are still there, and here’s where experience kind of kicked in a little bit. These guys, it was their first time racing. And they get going and immediately go off course. So not much drama there. The first we won by a sliver, head-to-head, close matchup. This one, though, never was close. They went off course right away, and that was it.
RAY: So Cam and his team luck their way into the finals on this one.
JEFF: So this it. The final heat. Win, and you’re a champion for a year. Lose, and it’s over. No chance for redemption for a whole other year. They approach the starting line.
CAM: I’m nervous about this one. And not because of the usual reason, I want to do a good job, but they’re looking fast. They’re looking strong. And so pre-game I’m looking at them like, Man, we gotta really dig for this one. And my legs already feel like jello. We get to the line, and a bad thing happens. Unfortunately, we’re never really in the mix. So with the outhouse race, it’s hard to overcome a team. We did it in 2019. We came from behind. But that’s not the norm. You want to be ahead and stay ahead. That’s how you win. Off the line, we’re beat. We’re already behind from the jump. And I’m diggin’, and diggin’, and diggin’ until there’s nothing left. And visually it was a close race, but as someone with experience in the event, and who was in it himself, they got ahead and stayed ahead, and we never really had a chance to challenge them. At the end, I pushed myself to the point where I could barely stand. And I collapsed onto the grass, and then I threw up in the grass.
JEFF: So ultimately, you came in second place.
CAM: Yes, second place. Second place.
JEFF: So it’s fair to say you finished Number 2 in the 2021 Outhouse Race.
CAM_13: Yeah. Number two. Yup.
RAY: It IS kind of epic to finish Number TWO in an outhouse race.
JEFF: That it is. But you know who’s number one in our book? Our Patreon Patrons! For just $3 bucks per month you get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. These are the folks who help us with all of the on-going costs of bringing you a great new episode each and every week. If you’d like to join our inner circle, please head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
RAY: Also, be sure to tell a friend or two about us. Share your favorite episode on social media. YOU are how our community grows.
JEFF: We’d like to thank our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals. Thank you to Cameron Perta for being our guest this week. If you’d like to see some photos and videos of the Bristol, Vermont, Outhouse Races, head over to our Web site and click on Episode 242. And of course our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.