The Outhouse Project

About 1936 our family moved from Chicago to a small town in central Illinois where we were introduced to the “outhouse.” Ours was a classic – cold, drab and drafty.

It was while Mother was still unpacking boxes that my oldest sister decided to make the outhouse her “project.”

As Mother would empty a box, we were sent to fetch it out back to the work area. There my sister would cut open each box, lay it flat and measure out sheets of cardboard to fit and line the inner walls and door of the outhouse.

All this activity soon caught the attention of the local kids and they were having a high old time laughing at the “city brats” hard at work on the outhouse.

By using the unprinted side, Big Sis had a perfectly clean work surface – an ideal place to create a “work of art.”

Armed with pencil, poster-paint, brushes and imagination, her outhouse “mural” took the form of an underwater seascape.

Now the neighbor kids were watching with rapt attention as my sister started to draw all manner of exotic fish, seaweed, bubbles, coral and even a friendly sort of octopus. By the time she was ready to do the painting, my sister’s project had become a neighborhood effort, and every kid on the block wanted to join in the fun.

Oh, the benefits we reaped from that funny outhouse were endless. We made friends that day. Later in the fall, ours was the only outhouse left standing the morning after Halloween.

And…when winter came the cardboard acted as insulation and kept our top sides fairly warm. Of course our bare bottoms were still exposed to the elements, but somehow that “work of art” managed to see us thru till indoor plumbing came to town. 

Roberta Farrell
Gatewood, Missouri

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.