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Ohio Farmer Wins Outhouse Makeover

An ailing retired farmer who refused to give up his outhouse after authorities declared it to be a public nuisance finally got a new one.

Elbert "Lew" Preston, 79, stood his ground long enough for a nonprofit group to come to his aid and build him a sturdy new outhouse with a waste tank underneath.

"There she is," Preston said as he showed off the new outbuilding. "She's a lifesaver."

The wooden outhouse, with the traditional crescent moon on its door, replaces a 1960s-built version that had run afoul of public health officials in Clermont County, east of Cincinnati. While the old one was over a hole in the ground, this one sits atop a concrete base and a 1,000-gallon tank.

"It's too nice and complicated to be an outhouse," Preston said. "I call it a privy."

Preston, a former trustee for Washington Township, challenged the board of health for months before seeking help from People Working Cooperatively, a nonprofit founded in 1975 that has done thousands of projects for low-income, elderly and disabled residents in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. Past jobs have included replacing roofs and building wheelchair ramps.

This was its first outhouse project.

"That old outhouse wasn't up to code," said Steve Green, project manager for the Cincinnati-based group.

Marty Lambert, Clermont County's health commissioner, said the main concern was making sure the waste was being contained, as opposed to going into a hole in the ground.

"It looks like he has a very nice privy," she said Monday of Preston's new outhouse.

Preston lives near a busy shopping area and has 175 acres of potentially lucrative real estate, but didn't want to go to the expense and complications of installing a septic system. He said he can't afford repairs on his home.

"It's hard to believe someone lives that close to all those stores and still uses an outhouse," said Dave Castellini, an engineer for the city of Cincinnati who was part of a five-man volunteer team that built the new privy in one day.

Preston, who is slowed by diabetes and has colon problems and a pacemaker, said he never saw the need to replace the old outhouse - which once was picked up and carried into his garden by a tornado without major damage.

"I moved it back and it was as good as new," he said. "I figured it would last me for the rest of my days."

He's certain this one will. He said the tank must be pumped out every two years, and he doubts he'll live long enough to reach that point.

He's used an outside toilet since settling in Washington Township 40 years ago and likes the privacy of a privy.

"When you're in a house, sounds carry," Preston said. "Everybody knows your business."