North Dakota man who digs at outhouse sites to present program in VC

He said he began digging through the trash dump in the shelterbelt on the family farm at age 6.

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VALLEY CITY — Tom Askjem will speak on "Beneath the Prairie: Privy Digging" on Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Barnes County Museum here.

The program, which begins at 7 p.m., is part of the Barnes County Historical Society Lecture Series Season 22.

Askjem, 31, lives on a farm near Buxton, North Dakota. He said he began digging through the trash dump in the shelterbelt on the family farm at age 6 and found many 7UP and Coca-Cola bottles that were left behind by the previous owners. He later learned that old outhouse sites can be a treasure trove for history.

At age 14, he said his father was clearing the woods with a tractor when he noticed stove ashes and glass coming out of the ground. Askjem said he recalled reading that stove ashes were often thrown down old outhouse sites to neutralize the smell years ago. He said he used a shovel to begin digging and found many pieces that dated back to the original days of the farmhouse including dishes, bottles and many undigested seeds. After finishing that site, he got permission from local farmers to dig on many abandoned farm sites around the area. Many of them have since been ripped out for farmland, he said.

At age 20, he met a man who had recently moved back from Colorado who had excavated outhouse sites there for 20 years or so. He learned the man was one of his father's friends from childhood. That friend taught Askjem everything he knew about digging in towns and he said he's dug roughly 1,400 sites literally from coast to coast.


The public is invited to this free presentation at the Barnes County Historical Society, 315 Central Ave. North, Valley City.
All lectures in the series are held at the Barnes County Historical Society Museum and are held in conjunction with VCSU.

For more information, contact Wes Anderson at 701-845-0966.

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