Ode to the Ceramic Commode

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I dedicate this article and ode to all the toilets out there.

A few years back, several engineers were having lunch.  The subject of how toilets work came up.  Much to my surprise, no one knew how it worked.  I had an inkling of how it worked and suggested it worked via siphon.  That idea was quickly dismissed.  An electrical engineer suggested that it must contain an electric motor to pump the water out.  "Where are the wires?" I asked.  They sat there like a deer in the headlights but did not back down.  Typical engineer.  All but one agreed--me.  I slapped my forehead in disbelief.  They were all electrical engineers and/or programmers.   I was right, of course, but there is much more to it than that.  Unfortunately, I have a lot of experience with toilets now.  

Actually, I like plumbing.  Sorry, if I digress.  I used to have a very old house and had to modernize the plumbing.   It had the old cast iron drain pipe.  One tap and it would crumble to pieces.  And it had galvanized water pipes.  The hot water lines were prone to developing pin hole leaks.  They say it is due to lightning.  Anytime the water was cut off, rust broke free and caused havoc with the toilets.  Never figured out where it came from.  The pipes were nearly calcified through with a hole about the size of a pencil for the water to flow.  It would cause the water level control to leak, and I wouldn't know it until I got the next water bill up to three months later.  I learned to check the toilets often.

It had a basement used for the delivery of coal in the days of old.  I could stand in there, but the rest was crawl space, narrowing to about a foot on the back side.  The washing machine drain was on the back side.  The cast iron drain line gave way when trying to unclog it.  I learned how to install drain line and connect it to cast iron.  It was a pain to work on the back side, and I nearly blinded myself in one eye.

My last two houses in the US each had four toilets.  Each had set vacant for a period.  The water had been cut off.  The toilets didn't work properly, once the water was turned on.  I had to refurbish all of them.  I learned quite a bit since then.

The toilet is the most complicated device in my house.  I have quite a bit of automation.  I can open and close doors and turn on lights and other tasks by my command.  All I have to say is, "Ok Google, open the garage door."  "Aye, Aye captain.  Welcome Aboard," she replies.  All this technology, once set up, either works or it doesn't.  It's not that complicated.  A toilet, on the other hand, has several components that have to be regulated just right.  It does so many things and does it with such elegance.  It is an engineering dream.

It has an "S" or "P" shaped siphon.  There's vent to the drain pipes to prevent a vacuum in the pipes so the drainage can flow.  Water fills the bowl and covers the siphon hole to prevent gas and odors from escaping into the house.  There's the tank that fills with water that holds the potential energy to make the flush.  The water regulator controls the water level in the tank and the bowl.  If it fails, as it often does, there is an overflow pipe to take the overflow.  It's a failsafe.  As the tank fills, it also fills the bowl through the overflow.   It has to fill the tank and the bowl to the correct levels for it to work.   The flapper holds the water in the tank.  The flusher lifts the flapper.  Too little, the flapper closes before the water can escape.  Too much, and it leaks.   Around the rim, there are several jets where the water exits to form the swirl.  It must release the potential energy of the water stored in the tank fast enough to overcome the siphon.  Sometimes there is a jet facing the mouth of the siphon to give the debris a push in the right direction.  The volume of water must be sufficient to overcome the siphon for the water to be sucked out of the toilet.  It doesn't just flow; it is sucked out.  If the siphon isn't overcome, then the water flows out and the toilet does not evacuate everything or clogs.  There's a lot of crap that goes on that most people don't realize.

Please forgive my crappy ode to the ceramic toilet.  I make no claim of being a poet.  My apologies in advance to all the real poets here for this crap:

Ode to the Ceramic Commode

Sir John Harington,
Banished from the court,
For being a very lewd poet,
Invented the flush toilet.

Queen Elizabeth,
In Elizabethan times,
Told him not to return until,
He translated 40,000 lines.

He did that and more.
The rest is legend and folklore.
It was without precedent,
Some say it was heaven sent.

To the ceramic throne,
Where people go to be alone,
To make their daily sacrifice,
Upon the altar of stone.

A place where thunder echoes.
And the winds blow strong,
And golden showers rain,
In the salle de bain.

It's a complicated contraption,
With tank, flusher, and flapper,
Jets around the bowl.
Water to cover the hole.
Why would anyone,
Call it a crapper?

When the hemorrhoids come out and play,
And the paper rubs too much,
The bidet,
Sprays and cleans your butt.

When I was young,
I put down the seat,
And wet it,
Because I thought it was neat.


My mother had enough,

She clocked me upside the head,

She may have been rough,

It's one habit, I put to bed.

When I could hold it no longer,
I went to pee.
I chased cigarette butts 'round the bowl,
None could escape me.

When I have the urge,
I go for my daily purge.
Not only for my excrement,
But in a state of excitement.

When I was older,
I went there to think.
Sometimes I had to stop,
To let another one plop.

When I was in college,
And binge drank all day,
I visited the ceramic god,
To up chuck and pray.

My solemn promise I would give,
To never drink another drop,
If the ceramic god would me forgive,
And upright me back on top.

In the morning,
There is no substitution,
Than to go there,
For my morning Constitution.

I make my plans.
I solve the problems of the world.
I dream of kingdoms to conquer,
And of the only women that I love.

It used to be my sanctuary,
My place of privacy.
It was the last frontier,
Where no man dared follow.

But some fool did invent,
This contraption with good intent,
Now my boss gives me a call.
There is no privacy at all!

I have my revenge,
When they dare call.
It echoes, tinkles, and thunders,
When I am in the stall.


The ceramic commode,
In my humble abode,
Holds the place of honor,
In the room over yonder.


Rick Fontes Added Aug 25, 2017 - 11:21pm
Flying Junior Added Aug 26, 2017 - 1:56am
Too bad there's no failsafe when some dumbshit tries to flush it even when he or she already knows it's clogged!
Leroy Added Aug 26, 2017 - 6:16am
Thanks, Rick.
FJ, I hear you.  You just can't protect from stupidity.
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 26, 2017 - 9:27am
Living for any amount of time without a commode will make you appreciate them greatly rather quickly.
Dave Volek Added Aug 26, 2017 - 9:49am
Great article Leroy
There has been a lot of thought put into the modern toilet. Probably one of the greatest inventions to make the world a better place.
In 1992, I took a hike through the old city of Cairo. I saw lots of people throwing pots of water onto the narrow streets which were not paved in any way. It was a good not to ask too many questions.
Western civilization had a transition from when household wastes were thrown on the streets to be picked up by the "nightsoil man", who then carried the wastes out of the city. But one still needed to take the chamber pot from the house to the nightsoil wagon and enact the transfer. BTW, rich people hired poor people for this task. 
The toilet needs more honor and glory.
Leroy Added Aug 26, 2017 - 10:02am
Jeff, I know what it is like not being able the find.  They are worth their weight in gold when you need them.
I agree, Dave, the toilet deserves for honor and glory.  We should banish the word "Crapper" to describe it.  It is like a spouse, there in both sickness and health.  It serves all people equally, regardless of party affliliation, something our politicians could learn.  It takes our crap without complaining.  We should have a national holiday to celebrate it.
William Stockton Added Aug 26, 2017 - 10:36am
Nice Leroy.  Perhaps the toilet is a medical device and has saved more lives than any other single tech.
Jeff Michka Added Aug 26, 2017 - 11:53am
The very best toilet memory came courtesy of my wife, being in a bar/restaurant owned by two Swiss guys out in the provinces of the Philippines.  She hadn't see a flush toilet in several weeks, and when using the restroom in the bar came out with "I just saw Gawd" look on her face and exclaimed everyone present, "They have a toilet with a seat AND it flushed!"  The two owners were near and busted a gasket after hearing her, along with most of the patrons.
Leroy Added Aug 26, 2017 - 12:43pm
Good one, Jeff!
Leroy Added Aug 26, 2017 - 12:48pm
Thanks, William.  I hadn't thought about it in that way, and, you are right, it was a big step towards general cleanliness.
George N Romey Added Aug 26, 2017 - 2:25pm
There are some politicians I'd like to personally show the inner workings of a toilet up close.
Bill Kamps Added Aug 26, 2017 - 4:40pm
Nice job Leroy.
Even as recently as 2005, in Russia, in an office building, the "toilet" was nothing more than a hole in the floor in the restroom.  The remainder of the rest room, was actually rather nicely tiled, there were individual stalls, each with their own hole in the floor.
You are correct Leroy, I appreciated my commode all the more.
Leroy Added Aug 26, 2017 - 5:54pm
Bill, back in the day in France that is what the buildings had, except each building had one regular toilet.  We called the hole in the floor toilets rocket launchers.  When we got together, we discussed techniques.
That reminds me of the story my American colleague told me.  He swore it was true.  He had to go bad one day.  He rushed to the toilet, but it was out of order.  We ran to another building.  The toilet was clogged.  Another was occupied.  He went building to building in search of a regular toilet.  Finally, he found one.  The only problem was the footprints on the seat.
It also had outdoor urinals.  The custom in France is to shake the hand of your colleague when you first see them.  I could see one from my window.  One day a woman passed by a guy doing his business.  He removed his hand from his apparatus and shook the woman's hand.  That's culture.
Doug Plumb Added Aug 28, 2017 - 4:52pm
I was expecting this post to be somewhat commodious in nature by was surprised. I could almost say that I find your claim about engineers and toilets somewhat commodious, due to the small sample space :-)
Commodious is a term you find in old law books - books about common law.


adjective: commodious


(especially of furniture or a building) roomy and comfortable.

roomy, capacious, spacious, ample, generous, sizable, large, big, extensive

"a commodious armchair"




Doug Plumb Added Aug 28, 2017 - 4:53pm
sorry for spaces - just pasted that from G.
Leroy Added Aug 28, 2017 - 7:33pm
Doug, my college roommate was a toilet engineer, a.k.a., ceramic engineer.  I suppose I should have consulted him in the writing of this article.
Simply Jews Added Sep 12, 2017 - 3:14am
And you forgot to mention the creepy-crawly things that sometimes squeeze through the system...
Leroy Added Sep 12, 2017 - 10:34am
"And you forgot to mention the creepy-crawly things that sometimes squeeze through the system... "
Even with water in the bowl, even a few creepy crawlers can slip through.  They mostly come through the vents.  My toilet engineer former college roommate solved this problem with his latest invention.  If you live in the Florida area, you can buy it at the Home Cheapo and can request it from roofers.
Simply Jews Added Sep 12, 2017 - 11:04am
Oh, I meant rather the waterways. Check this out:
And snakes are quite adept in that too:
Leroy Added Sep 12, 2017 - 2:55pm
Wow.  I can't imagine running to the toilet only to find a rat or snake in the bowl.  I would ruin the moment, or should I say the movement.
Bill H. Added Sep 13, 2017 - 1:23am
Good one Leroy!
My toilet has been hassle free until about two weeks ago. First I had to replace the flapper valve, that also ended up requiring a new valve seat insert. Then about a week ago, the filler valve began shooting water up on the lid and onto the floor. I initially replaced the valve with a Fluidmaster valve that kept getting stuck and would not refill the bowl on about every third flush. I ended up replacing it with a Korky Valve that is much quieter and works perfect. A side note, I found that using silicon grease on the valve to bowl gasket and connection threads makes for a solid leak proof connection to the water source.
Leroy Added Sep 13, 2017 - 2:21am
Thanks, Bill.  Been there done that so many times.  I used to live in an old house with galvanized pipes.  Anytime I shut the water off and turned it back on, rust would clog up the Fluidmaster valves in my two toilets.  I don't remember the brand name, but I eventually changed to a low profile valve without any visible float.  Worked great.
I'll remember your suggestion with the silicon grease next time.
El Rondo Added Oct 10, 2017 - 3:29pm
Leroid, why are you still drinking out of the shitter? I know that is where you were born but at least you the dog's water bowl.

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