A central point of social life on Yo2 was the dish pit.
I suppose it was technically the dish line, but the pit itself seemed to be the focus of attention. I got to dig the dish pit when we set up camp. It was about two feet deep, three feet wide, and six feet long. It felt like I was digging a grave until I got down to slick rock.
When the pit was finished, we set up the dish line. This was a waist high table that went the length of the pit. There was a specific protocol for washing dishes. Three big metal tubs lined the left side of the table. The first tub was for hot soapy water. The second was for a hot bleach water rinse. The third was for a cold water rinse. To the right of the tubs was plenty of flat drain board space.
Hot water for washing the dishes came from the two thirty gallon metal cans we kept on a grate over the campfire. These were called ‘jungle cans’. Water had to be hand pumped from the line running down into camp from Vogelsang Creek into buckets. The buckets were hauled over to the jungle cans and dumped in until the cans were full. A fire was kept burning under the jungle cans all day. Right around meal times, the fire would be stoked to boil the water in the cans. After a meal, water would be ladled out of the jungle cans into buckets and hauled over to the dish line. Hauling water back and forth between the pump, the jungle cans, and the dish line was only one of the KP’s daily jobs. A little soap was put in the first tub. A capful of bleach was put into the second tub. Then hot water was poured into those two tubs, and cold water into the third.
When the dish water was ready, the KP would holler “DISHES!!” That was our cue to assemble on the dish line. There needed to be at least four or five people on the line for the dish line to work—one at each of the tubs, one person drying, and one person running the dried dishes to the cook tent to be put away. The more people who showed up at the dish line, the faster the process went.
After the dishes were all washed, the tubs would be tipped up and dumped into the dish pit on the other side of the dish line. The pit filled up with water surprisingly fast. With the slick rock on the bottom, there was no place for the water to drain. The dish pit quickly became a nasty, greasy, spaghetti-sauce-red cesspool. The pit itself became a place to stay away from.
Every once in a while a dish would slip out of someone’s hands and fall into the dish pit. The person who had dropped it would become the next contestant on our Backcountry game show, Rake the Dish Pit. Mark Guthrie was our best announcer for this show.
“Ohhh, it looks like Matt is our next contestant on…Rake…the…Dish Pit!”
Matt grabbed the rake kept near the dish pit for this purpose. Mark kept calling the play-by-play as we continued washing.
“OK, Matt has the rake and makes his approach. He saw where it entered the water. Did it sink straight down, or did it spin away? Matt carefully chooses his footing. Not too close, Matt! We wouldn’t want any accidents here on…Rake…the…Dish Pit!”
The audience (us dishwashers) hollered, “Yes, we do!” “Fall in, Matt!!” “You can do it!”
“And Matt’s rake enters the water. Can he reach the bottom from there? Looks like Matt’s rake has touched the bottom, but not quite far enough. Gonna have to get a little closer to the edge there, Matt. Be careful! And here he goes, fishing around. And he’s stirring…stirring…and it looks like Matt has made contact! He’s dredging…pulling…can he get it out folks?”
“Fall in!” “Somebody push him!”
“He appears to have hooked something. And here it comes…he’s got it…and…it’s…it’s a coffee mug! Well, that’s not what Matt dropped in there! Where did that come from?! It looks like Matt is our bonus prize winner on…Rake…the…Dish Pit! Stay tuned as Matt comes back for his bonus round.”
Quality control was always important when washing dishes. Each person in the line was the QC inspector for everybody in the line ahead of him/her. If a dish came through with a little bit of food still stuck to it (which we learned from Moose is called ‘spooge’), whoever caught it would call “Quality control!” and toss it back into the first tub. If a dish got to the draining board with any soapy water still on it (soap residue on dishes could cause the runs): “Quality control!” and the dish would be tossed back into the rinse water. If there was still water on the dishes to be put away: “Quality control!” and the dish would be tossed back onto the drain board.
Dishes were washed by the crew twice a day, seven days a week, all season long. We saw a lot of each other in the dish line. Hikes were planned in the dish line. Current issues and abstract philosophies were discussed in the dish line. Tall tales were told in the dish line. Lives were changed in the dish line.
And life was good.