When Erica Smith visited Cabin John Regional Park as a child growing up in Bethesda in the late 1960s, she was always excited and a bit frightened as she approached the tiny brick house with the crooked roof and twisted chimney pipe near the miniature train station. Her destination: the building’s vacuum-powered trash receptacle with the fiberglass pig face that spoke.
“Hi, kids, I’m Porky the Litter Eater, and I sure like to eat,” a voice would say in a deep timbre when Smith pushed a button on the building.
Park visitors can still hear that voice today when they use the trash receptacle. Press the button and Porky snorts and grunts, and then invites visitors to bring trash to its circular mouth, where a powerful suction pulls it in. Sounding like a ’50s TV announcer, Porky suggests, “You can find me paper, and cardboard, and soft drink cans, but never, never feed me bottles or broken glass. Glass gives me a stomachache.”
Children began feeding Porky after the trash receptacle was installed when the park opened in 1966, fulfilling the vision of Frank Rubini, associate director of parks for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) from 1957 to 1971. According to Jim Thomas, the first park manager at Cabin John, Rubini attended a national conference on parks and came home with the concept of the vacuum-powered “paper eater” with an animal head, an idea that had been gaining interest through the marketing efforts of a manufacturer. Rubini saw the potential: A charismatic garbage collector like Porky could ask children to “Find me some paper now, and watch me gobble it up,” turning young visitors into park stewards instead of potential litterbugs.
While Porky became the iconic litter eater of Montgomery County—and is the only one still entertaining county park visitors—he was not the first. After Rubini’s return from the conference, M-NCPPC employees first built Billy the Litter Eater, a vacuum-powered trash receptacle with a goat face, and installed it near the snack bar in Wheaton Regional Park in 1965. Porky was installed the following year.
Making Billy and Porky was a team effort, according to former M-NCPPC exhibits specialist Dan Rhymer. He modeled the animal heads from clay based on designs by his wife at the time, Kay Anglim Crane. Rhymer then made plaster casts for the fiberglass heads. Park carpenters and electricians collaborated on the mechanics, building sheds as airtight as possible to house the vacuum pumps and provide space for trash accumulation.
According to Thomas, Porky’s voice was provided by Ted Gurney, a caretaker at Wheaton Regional Park. Though the recording remains the same, it now emanates from a digital message repeater. Porky has been refurbished by teams of park employees multiple times over the decades, including receiving a new paint job and shed improvements this past winter.
Smith, who now lives in Germantown, recalls worrying that she might be sucked into the mouth of the pig along with her trash. Porky’s low-tech interior is actually much less hazardous than kids might fear. Originally, trash was sucked in and collected on a burlap tarp in the bottom of the shed. These days, debris falls into a bin in the small building.
Smith overcame her fears, making regular visits to feed paper and trash to Porky. Her feelings for Porky, which she describes as “a weird affection, mixed with apprehension,” mimic those of other visitors to Cabin John, where Porky is still gobbling his way into people’s hearts, reminding them that “I’m hungry…hungry…hungry.”
Some people didn’t follow the rules when it came to feeding Porky. Pete Gochman, who grew up in Chevy Chase and visited Porky in the 1970s, confesses that “as a troublemaker kid, I probably shoved rocks, sticks and anything else that was handy in Porky’s mouth. I think many kids did this as well.” As a result, Gochman jokes that even as an adult, “Porky sort of scares me, and I don’t like turning my back to him. …He looks like the type to hold a grudge.”