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Meet the rural WA town privy to outhouse races

Scenes from Conconully’s 36th annual event, one of Washington’s weirder sports.

Team Krap-N-Ator maneuvers the obstacle course in the Outhouse Races in Conconully, Wash. on Jan. 19, 2019. More than 2,000 spectators turned out for this year's event, with 15 outhouses competing in ten different race categories. (All photos by Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

CONCONULLY, Okanogan County — The rural town of Lind has its Combine Demolition Derby, Omak its Stampede and Suicide Race and at one time, Elma cheered on its slug races. In Conconully, a small town in Okanogan, the four-decades-old winter tradition is outhouse racing.

“Conconully is a great place for year-round activities, but we’ve found outhouse racing draws people to the community each year,” says Janet Warner, race organizer and president of the Conconully Chamber of Commerce. “It’s the tradition of it all that keeps everyone coming back."

The town’s population “hovers around 208 people,” Warner says. Last Saturday, more than 2,000 people packed Conconully to witness the annual weirdness, bond with family and catch up with friends.

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An outhouse and spectators seen through the window of Sit'n Bull Saloon & Cafe, one of the two bars in town where people congregated during the annual outhouse racing event. 

Conconully is almost equidistant from Seattle and Spokane, nestled between two mountain lakes and surrounded by both state and national forest lands — a winter wonderland of sorts. It’s composed of myriad small A-frame cabins. On Main Street, where the outhouse races take place, there’s a small and unassuming hotel, a corner quick-mart playing A River Runs Through It on television at the register, and two divey bars with bonfires and a beer garden.

Marilyn and Walt Womack helped found the Conconully Outhouse Races 36 years ago. 

“When we were young and stupid then we just did things for fun,” Marilyn Womack says, laughing, while sitting in a chair on top of a flatbed trailer along the approximately 100-yard-long race course. “We needed something to bring people to Conconully in the winter time. We formed the town’s first chamber of commerce in 1979, and thought a couple years later that we needed something silly to do during the winter that would bring people to visit.”

The race draws more than 2,000 people every year. Each outhouse must include a toilet seat, a roll of toilet paper and be uniquely decorated — think Star Wars, Grease, and Peanuts cartoon references. The outhouses sit on skis. Each three-person team consists of a sitter, who is required to wear a helmet, and two pushers who help hurl the contraptions down a 100-yard course. There is a total of ten different race categories, ranging from a kids competition to the bucket race, where pushers wear a bucket over their heads and must rely only the voice of the sitter for navigation.

According to Warner, some 40 people volunteered in this year's event, whether building bonfires, bringing in extra snow because the weather didn't cooperate, or creating the hand-crafted trophies for race winners. There’s no prize money, just community bragging rights.

Womack was a competitor in the early days. “I competed in the very first one, and I smoked then. The course was much longer and I was sucking oxygen by the end of it,” she exclaims. “We learned you’ve gotta build them light — the lighter they are the faster they go.” Lightweight construction is now a common strategy, another is getting good traction for the pushers. Some even attach ice cleats to their boots for that added edge.

The outhouse races have been an Ehlinger family tradition since the races began in 1983. “We’re well into the third generation of outhouse racers in our family,” says Marcie Ehlinger, who stood at the starting line on Main Street, cheering on her nephew and son who were racing in Ye Old Butt Hutt yet again this year. “For the longest time, we were the team to beat. We learned a strategy of bumping into our competitor’s outhouse at the start of the race to slow them down, and over the years it almost always wins us our races.”

Randy Hurley moved to Conconully more recently, in his retirement, and now invites his kids and grandchildren to visit, championing their outhouse, the Hurley Hut. “This is our second year competing in the outhouse races as a family. It's a great way to get everyone together and visit our cabin during the winter.”

“This has always just been an ongoing event,” says Warner, of the outhouse race’s longstanding history. “It doesn’t feel like we really plan on it anymore. It’s just known among the community and region that it’s going to happen each year at this time.”

May The Force Be With You outhouse sitter William Mallory is flanked by pushers Michael Quezaba (left) and Joshua Arzola (right) as they approach the finish line during the Outhouse Races in Conconully, Wash.  

Molly Hornbeck of Tacoma gives Masyn Fugate, 10, of Concrete a high-five during the opening ceremonies portion of the Outhouse Races. "This is such an awesome family outing," says Hornbeck who traveled across the state with her partner and kids to the event. "It's a good way to get out of town and experience something fun and different during the winter."

Canines are welcomed, and some are even dressed up to match their team's style. Hank Williams Jr., a two-year-old Blue Heeler from Darrington, is seen wearing Team Krap-N-Ator regalia. 

Greased Lightning's team pushes its outhouse down the course along Main Street during the women's division of the Outhouse Races. 

Onlookers watch the outhouse races with adult beverages in hand. At it's peak, attendance was a few thousand people, according to organizers.

Nolan Greene of Edmonds sits in the outhouse with anticipation prior to starting the Krap-N-Ator's round of the bucket race.

William Mallory of Everett (center) takes a spill while pushing Yvonne Bussler-White of Okanogan in May The Force Be With You team's outhouse during the bucket race competition. "It's impossible to see anything with that bucket on your head," Mallory later said. "I couldn't hear her telling me which way to turn." 

Craig Danielson falls in the snow while pushing Ken Fisher who is just barely hanging on. Meanwhile, Brian White of The Dr. Is In outhouse, aptly named by the Okanogan Behavioral HealthCare team, tries to get the privy to the finish line. OBHC returned for its second year of competition.

Brian White, a pushing member of The Dr. Is In outhouse racing team, faces a moment of defeat after his team's close finish in the Clydesdale (200 pounds or more) category of the Outhouse Races. This particular race was so close that its competitor ultimately conceded the win.

Brooklyn Hudson of Omak loads his outhouse Wheel of Destiny into his pickup truck while his 10-month-old dog Lykka waits at the conclusion of the Outhouse Races. 

Christopher "Kevin" Allen of the Colville Tribe visits with a friend in Sit'n Bull Saloon & Cafe after the conclusion of the Outhouse Races. "This is such a great way for people to come together each year and visit with old friends," Allen says. Allen works for the Bureau of Indian Affairs roads division on the Colville Reservation and recently received his last paycheck from the federal government while a government shutdown begins to enter its second month. 

Marcie Ehinger of Ephrata, and her family, have been competing in the Outhouse Races since the event began in 1983. They've collected a multitude of outhouse trophies over many years that they keep on a shelf in the vacation cabin they own in Conconully.

Ye Old Butt Hutt outhouse is seen in the garage of the Ehinger family cabin. The Ehinger family completed its 36th year of the event. Marcie Ehinger vows they will compete again next year. 

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Meet the rural WA town privy to outhouse races

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