- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

CENTRALIA, Ill. — George Borum readily acknowledges he has too much time on his 93-year-old hands. Step inside the widower’s garage, and you’ll see why. The unattached structure is packed, floor-to-ceiling in places, with an odd assortment of wooden handiwork created by Mr. Borum over more than a half-century.

By Mr. Borum’s count, there are more than 100 model outhouses — some as tiny as thimbles, others 3 feet tall — including a “flying” one with airplane wings and a pint-sized privy doubling as a lamp.

There are “knot people” fashioned from the imperfections of wood slabs and spears, walking staffs with fake shrunken heads and walking canes bearing the likenesses of former U.S. presidents.

Looking for a crosscut saw made entirely of wood? You’ll find it here, as well as ornately painted V-shaped projectiles Mr. Borum calls “Borum-o-rangs.”

He has made more than 150 wooden steamboats — spanning from a yard to 10 feet — and a couple hundred wooden knives, many resembling the kind Aladdin might have favored.

“His imagination is what floors me,” Mr. Borum’s 57-year-old son, Art, said recently while guiding a reporter and photographer through the garage’s trove. “He just does hundreds of things, and they’re all different. No two things are alike.”

The elder Mr. Borum considers the handiwork his calling. It began when he was 14, dropped out of school after eighth grade and started what would become his livelihood: painting commercial signs, often the Pepsi logo, on buildings for clients.

In his spare time, Mr. Borum dabbled in quirky creations, namely the replica outhouses.

“It was just fun to do it,” he says, figuring his fixation with outhouses stems from his childhood, when he tipped over the real things as pranks.

He has built more than 250 of the model johns, over time selling half of them. Those Mr. Borum still calls his own clutter his house and garage, where he’d been known to vanish for hours like a mad scientist concocting his next creation.

“He was always out piddling around,” Art Borum says of his father, whose work has been featured in the local newspaper and television stations as far away as St. Louis, about 60 miles to the west.

Through it all, the elder Mr. Borum’s wife was the picture of patience, putting up with the ever-growing collection of stuff for decades until her death a year ago — just days after the couple’s 70th wedding anniversary. Sarah Borum was buried on her 89th birthday.

“She went along with me on everything I’ve done,” he says.

As his wife’s health declined, Mr. Borum stayed in the house and out of the shop, unwilling to leave her alone. Time away from the power tools took its own toll on Mr. Borum, who saw himself weaken and his dexterity diminish.

“I can’t do it anymore,” Mr. Borum says, holding out his stiffened hands, now prone to carpal tunnel syndrome. “Do I miss the woodwork? Ohhhhhh, yes.”

But he still has creative outlets. His hands are nimble enough to draw prolifically, sketching everything from outhouses, naturally, to peg-legged characters, some with glasses or hats.

“He does everything to make you laugh,” his son says.

The elder Mr. Borum fancies “flourishing,” the pushed, sweeping strokes of colored pencils used to draw doves and other things of beauty. And he’s quite proud of his ornate, flowing handwriting, scrawling a reporter’s name on a living room blackboard.

Mr. Borum doesn’t throw much away, squirreling everything in boxes and suitcases with an uncanny knowledge of what’s in each.

“You ever see so much junk in one place?” he says, smiling, rapping a reporter’s knee with one of his homemade canes to amplify his point.

He has parted with some of his creations in recent years, selling a little wooden Old West village, about 100 outhouses and many of his handcrafted steamboats for a quick score — a couple thousand dollars, his son says — after Mr. Borum and his wife outlived their savings.

The value of Mr. Borum’s remaining collection, beyond the sentimental, is anyone’s guess.

“It would make a fantastic display,” says his son, who has approached folks in corn-pone places such as Branson, Mo., and Tennessee’s Dollywood theme park, but got a tepid response.

Father and son, though, are convinced that it’s a collection that is unmatched.

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