Fort Fun

Clubhouses and secret forts to play in.
January 14, 2009
I have been looking for new ideas for articles for awhile now and have come up short. I started reading articles in the archives. I would like to give thanks to these articles for my current inspiration.

Snow Day Versus Sick Day! 1 and 2 by Goblyn
Behold: Adventure Playground! by Hoju Koolander
Saturday Morning Cartoons by vkimo
The Retro Machine (Vol. 15) by Spencer

They all touch on one thing in common, Forts! From couches to snow I remember making forts and huddling inside them. There is something about a fort that draws children in. Maybe it is a sense of protection from the shelter it provides, maybe it is a sense of seclusion from prying eyes of parents or younger siblings that is the freedom of privacy . Maybe it is the exclusivity of belonging to a club or owning real estate that others aren't allowed in or parents are too big to invade. Maybe it is just the satisfaction of being comfy in something you built yourself. As my three year old is constantly begging me to make a couch fort, snow fort, or set up his Star Wars play tent; it is a theme that has been with me from childhood to adulthood. Pull on your snow pants and boots and let's head outside.


I remember making snowforts for the purposes of some epic snowball wars between neighborhood kids. Most of the time we spent so much time making the forts and fortifying them that we never even got to the battles before the sun had gone down and it was time to go inside. Curse the declination of the sun in it's diurnal arc across the sky as the Earth's axis tilts away from the warmth and light causing the days to grow cold and shorten as the winter solstice draws nearer. It means one thing, shorter play time after school.

The basics of snow fortification begins with the wall.

Usually the sad remnants of a toppled snowman the wall starts with snow boulders and chunks. Swept up against the rampart is as much snow as tiny arms can carry. Not too high to prevent visibility as the enemy advances but high enough to provide protection from bombarding snowballs. Fox holes dug into the side of the wall provide a defilade from enemy fire and a snug place to hide while waiting to exhaust the enemy supply of pre-made snowballs. My favorite tactic was to lob a snowball high into the air hopefully drawing the attention of my intended victim. While they are attempting to dodge or even catch the 1st snowball, the second one is launched immediately after the first one. The screaming perfect ball of slush and snow is hurtled as fast as my arm could throw straight and sure careening into upturned faces.

Once the enemy is conquered you are ready to make a snow fort. Most of the time it was easier to dig out a preexisting pile of snow than to build it up igloo style that way you didn't have to deal with as many cave-ins.

There was a parking lot next to an apartment complex that I lived in for a few years that would be plowed up into a gigantic pile. We would dig and burrow into it a honeycomb network of tunnels that would make the Vietcong proud. We even slept in it with a tarp and sleeping bags using all of the tricks learned on overnight winter Klondike boyscout camping trips. Such as using vents, sleeping on raised surfaces above the heat sources, entrances below the level of the main chamber, etc. We even tried to run several extension cords out there to a T.V. to try and play Nintendo but it didn't work out as well as we hoped.

We also booby-trapped it of course. Using the old pitfall method with punji sticks lining the bottom we skewered many unwary trespassers into our domain. Actually most of the traps were just pits and we never used spikes. We envisioned large gaping crevasses to gobble up our enemies.

The reality was more like this,

but we did have an ingenious method of disguising them. We would carefully cut a square of crusted over frozen top snow two to three inches thick and large enough to cover the diameter of the hole. The hole was about two or three feet deep and sometimes had a bucket of water in the bottom. We placed the "lid" carefully over the hole trying to avoid cracking it and swept the edges and brushed a quick layer of powder over it and it became invisible. Unwary friend's little sisters or neighborhood kids who trod on the trap suddenly felt the "lid" give way as they plunged a few feet to get stuck in the pit or cold wet socks.


Snuggled comfortably into a pile of cushions and blankets we hid from the world and watched cartoons.

I was a master at making couch forts and as I got older progressed into more elaborate designs and bolder construction projects spanning the entire living room. It didn't hurt that I am a twin and therefore had twice the muscle power to overturn couches and move furniture. I remember reading comic books deep inside a couch fort. There was the time that my brother and I were watching the movie Jaws on cable from the safety of our couch fort pretending it was a boat and the carpet was water. We had to leap from couch to couch and chair to chair to get to the kitchen. Climbing on counter tops and over refrigerators to replenish snacks from the kitchen to watch the movies with or batteries for our flashlights all without touching the "water" floor to avoid the great white lurking somewhere below.

If you lacked the muscle power to build couch forts never fear, you could still move cushions and lacking that a blanket and some chairs could make a blanket tent.

No matter how you made it you probably remember falling asleep inside it or begging your parents let you eat your dinner in it.


What good is an empty cardboard box you ask?

Even a toddler can see how much fun boxes can be. They are the first forts of our lives as babies who open then ignore expensive gifts delight in playing with box they came in. They are the primogenitors of all forts excluding the womb.

Calvin had several ingenious uses for cardboard boxes from a stand to sell everything from lemonade, a frank appraisal of your looks, to a swift kick in the nether regions. He also had an incredible flying time machine and a transmogrifier to change into whatever he wished. Necessity plus imagination truly is the mother of all inventions.

He made a Duplicator to create multiples of himself to go to school and do chores for him but ended up having to modify the invention with an ethicator enhancement to add ethics because his duplicates were as cunning and morally corrupt as he was.

We would scour the neighborhoods for large cardboard boxes and beg, borrow, or steal all of the refrigerator, washing machine, and other giant boxes we could find. We would then connect them and make tunnels and cardboard fort cities. They could also be drawn on with markers inside and out that enhanced the aesthetics and fun.


Toy developers were not ignorant to forts and made play tents and huts galore. There were many styles but one of the coolest I have ever seen has to be the one Spencer found for his Retromachine article vol. 15, the Castle Grayskull.

There were Strawberry Shortcake huts for girls,

and A-Team vans for boys. Check out B.A. Baracus AKA Mr.T bailing out looking for trouble! Plus every kid needs some dynamite to play with!

They even had McDonald's to play in.

TIPIS, TEPEES, TEEPEES or however you want to spell it

This is what I imagined my tipi would look like when I got one for Christmas one year. I thought man how are we gonna get this thing to fit in the living room and where can I get a scalp for my lodge pole?

It actually turned out much more like this one. I distinctly remember my tipi was chocolate brown and orange alternating vertical sections with squared off poles.

Yup. Back then you could buy your own indoors tipi to set up although they were mostly made in the late 70s early 80s so the colors came in either earthy seventies tones like browns, oranges, and avocadoes or bright neon eighties colors.

Most actually looked like circus tents rather than having come from a Native American village (First American for you Canucks). Although check out this guy with the polka dot lodge.


Playing house was for girls and usually reserved to doll houses or pretend play kitchens. These are my feelings in general as expressed by Calvin. However I did get the first kiss from a girl that I can remember from my neighbor whilst playing house in her basement at the tender age of 4.

Some lucky girls actually had playhouses. They first came in wood and some even had real planter boxes for flowers and shutters on the windows and stuff.

Later they came in plastic.


All members of G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy Girls)please assemble at the clubhouse. A boy's "playhouse" first off could never be called a play house because "play" is the last thing done there. They are for secret societies and exclusive club serious business only i.e. plotting, scheming, reading comic books, playing cards, and looking at nudie mags hawked from your old man. Secondly there has to be the added sense of danger to it like being put high up in a tree or in a vacant lot, field or by railroad tracks with broken bottles from winos and a no trespassing sign as the surroundings. Okay now you can call it a clubhouse, treehouse, or tree fort.

The gang from the Sandlot had a clubhouse.

In Stand by Me there is a clubhouse.

The Monster Squad meets in a clubhouse.

Bart Simpson has a treehouse.

Even the Goonies meet in the attic (off limits, filled with cool stuff). You pretty much could not call yourself a club or gang without a clubhouse of some kind.

Some kids built their own tree houses others had dads that built them for them. I was always a little leery if it was made by a kid and we were more than 10 feet off the deck. Standard things of course are boards nailed to the tree as a ladder, knotted ropes to climb up, coffee can telephones on strings, passwords, coded knocks, and trap doors.

My dad used to tell us of this one multilevel treehouse from when he was a kid. You see this carpenter's kid was playing in the rail yard and got stuck under a moving train car and had his legs severed. He was saved by the only conductor or engineer not wearing coveralls by applying a tourniquet with a belt he was wearing. After that the dad never wanted his kids to leave the yard again so he built this spectacular treehouse with swinging foot bridges, climbing ropes, platforms, and even a zip line to the garage from the highest level. There was even a dumbwaiter style elevator to get the crippled kid up there and all the ramps were wide enough for the wheelchair. My dad played pirates etc. for hours there and every year some kid named Stanley fell out of it and broke an arm.

Well that is enough reminiscing for today. I'm off to read some Calvin and Hobbes in a couch fort with a flashlight while eating cookies and chips. Until Next time!

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