Cigarettes and Motor Oil Catch Outhouse on Fire

A man smoking in the outhouse forgets about the motor oil he dumped down the hole days earlier.

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Years ago my sister and her husband bought their little two acre "estate" with a small modern farmhouse, a little red barn, a chicken house and an outhouse. The previous owner built the outhouse for his hired men. The little two seater was out back and off to the right of the house with its door facing the wheat fields.

My sister hated it but my brother-in-law loved it. It was his Shangri-la, his library of Zane Grey books, catalogues, etc. My sister decided to make the best of it. She painted it, attached a rose trellis to the back, planted box wood, iris and tulips around the back and sides. A little pear tree already stood close to one corner. Nobody dared again to ask if she had indoor plumbing. I stopped there on my vacation. My sister was glad to see me. She was ready to can pears. The jars were sterilized, and the little pear tree's branches were bending down with big beautiful ripe pears.

Since it was a weekend we decided to relax and visit. Sunday afternoon we were sitting on the porch when we smelled smoke and heard my brother-in-law yelling for the hose. My sister grabbed the hose and ran around the house. There he stood holding his pants up with one hand, a Zane Grey in the other. The outhouse was on fire. The hose wouldn't reach. My sister was laughing so hard she was rolling on the grass. In time we got our wits together, attached another hose and put out the fire. There were no more pears. Later my brother-in-law admitted that while he was sitting there reading and throwing cigarette butts down the toilet he had forgotten that several days earlier he emptied a pan of motor oil in the outhouse.

Roth Silver
Spring, Maryland


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.