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January 27, 2023

1/13/2023 1:53:00 PM
Old outhouse sites yield best 'fishing' results

Perhaps what Mark Youngblood does in his spare time would best be described as fishing, underground.

His hobby is to excavate by-hand for vintage bottles.  The fishing comparison is found in the need to scout the most promising location, focus on environmental indicators and great patience for a lot of trial and error.  Youngblood will pull from a dig-hole many, many  catch-and-release bottles before landing a keeper.

Like many sportsmen, he also has been known to pay somebody to clean-up his trophies so he can display them and tell their stories.  Vintage bottle revitalization involves a specialized  technique that nestles the bottle in a spinning horizontal turnstile, buffing the exterior with a  tiny copper wire brush, bringing back the luster from underneath layers of corrosion, soils and gunk. It can run about $30 to bring a bottle back to its original glam, said Youngblood.

 The embossed wording on the bottle is the prize, as it opens up its history.  

Certain names appear often, certain industries used specific bottling types.

Youngblood has found that those involved in local community lore are only too happy to supply him with timelines and vital background on most any bottle lettering.     
For Youngblood now, the thrill is mainly in local brewery, whiskey and beverage containers and druggists’ own medicinal bottles.

Youngblood targets the outhouse site of older homes or town plats as a productive place to excavate; because it was where drinkers could take a swig far from prying eyes.  It was where hazardous medications could be disposed of safely. One of Youngblood’s dig sites yielded an opium pipe.  

He also has pulled up small dolls and doll heads and false teeth, and of course loads of broken dishware, utensils and household goods.

The outhouse has been gone for a century and that is plenty of time for any of the bad stuff to have broken down and become organic compost.  He assures outsiders there is no smell or nasty materials remaining.  

The hole itself is only three or four feet square but he goes several feet vertically.  

Multiple ‘digging for bottles’ videos Youngblood posted on-line have views in the thousands on YouTube.  He walks viewers through a methodical approach he has perfected that is both calming and yet anticipation is building at the same time.  

Youngblood searches an old house’s yard by feel, once he has permission to be on-site.  He doesn’t rely on any ground penetrating scopes or advanced technology.

 “Even if the ground was disturbed 150 years -back I can tell by how my probe goes into the ground...  coal ash has its own sound...the probe has a dull point on it so it doesn’t go through cables or lines,” he explains.
The hole will be refilled and top soils and sod are repositioned so you can’t even tell where there was a dig.  He always lets the property owner retain an item (or a few) they like.  

Youngblood tells the Press he has gotten a kick out of “the hunt” since he was a gradeschool kid digging up vintage beer cans, “...it was a thing back in the early 70s,” he states.  He would be inspired when an earthmover was busy on a worksite and he could search once everybody left.

He also drove a trash truck for several years and would notice when construction equipment were at work and he could return to see what was in there after his shift.  

He came to learn that outhouses were to be his focus— where the odd container, broken items and even obsolete household items were dumped.  

His favorite targets are neighborhoods with homes from 1910 and earlier.  His hobby has taken him to other states,  and all around Minnesota, and he especially enjoys digs in Chisago and Pine counties and Wisconsin.  He has been in Center City, Rush City, Taylors Falls, the east side of North Branch.

He noted, “You never know what you’re going to find...six feet below them  people don’t know what they are walking over...they think there’s nothing in their backyard from an early house, but there generally always is.”

He has been harvesting items from below former privy locations now for 40 years, often with his buddy Brian Mann.

The two were giving a talk in one of the videos and they share the time when they found a child’s item that was marked with the name ‘Elsie.”  The homeowner had a relative with that name, in a nearby nursing home and she later told Mann and Youngblood tears came to the woman’s eyes when the homeowner showed that artifact to her.

So, if somebody knocks on your door and asks if they can dig where the old outhouse sat, keep an open mind and be prepared to contribute to local history.

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