By Nancy Covert
What’s red, green, white, and black—trimmed with candy canes and an icicle fringe—and powered by a red-nosed mammal? Of course! It’s Santa’s Sleigh—and it makes its annual visit to Steilacoom on Dec. 3. That’s the date set for the Town’s Christmas Tree Lighting at Town Hall. [Download Santa Map here.]
Since the late 1980s Santa’s Sleigh has been a holiday tradition for the Town on The Sound. In recent years the sleigh—just too good to be a Steilacoom exclusive—has been sighted in Tacoma, Ft. Lewis, DuPont, Tillicum and Fircrest.
The story of the sleigh began back in the ’70s when the fire rescue vehicle became the power source for the town’s Daffodil Float.
When participation in that spring event faded, it sat around at the Public Works shop site until former PW Director Jim Richards and several public works crew members teamed up—on their off-duty hours—to transform the 1967 Dodge Van into a sleigh.
Terry Huber, the van’s perennial chauffeur, reminisced about the sleigh’s history and his role in the yearly tradition.
Doug Hale, Steilacoom Public Works water/sewer crew leader who’s also a talented artist, designed the sleigh’s body. It’s an impressive vehicle with large side running boards where volunteer Elves and Reindeer stand as it travels around town.
Besides being the feature attraction at the Town’s tree lighting, it’s also been featured in holiday events at Lakewood, Fort Lewis, and Tillicum. For a few years in the early 90s it was the grand finale in Tacoma’s December Torchlight parade.
After that the crew received lots of invitations from surrounding communities that wanted to feature the sleigh in their holiday events, as well, Huber recalls.
Getting back to the van’s transformation, Huber says that it was painted a dark flat “stealth” black shade. At night when the sleigh is illuminated—with LED low energy lighting—there’s the illusion that it’s actually “flying”. People often do a double take when they see the sleigh moving along, Huber adds.
Of course, most folks realize what they’re seeing once they recognize the red-nosed critter out in front that’s pulling the sleigh. A steady stream of holiday music accompanies the magical vehicle as it makes its rounds through the area.
Nowadays Santa’s crew is composed of high school Key club members. They enjoy the experience as much as the original crew once did. In recent years Frosty the Snowman has accompanied Santa, delivering toys, candy and holiday cheer in area neighborhoods.
There have been many memorable experiences during their visits, Huber adds. One recent incident was the year, he says, when a woman hailed the sleigh, brought her laptop outside and was able to project a live view of the sleigh to her husband serving in Iraq.
Most touching is the visits to neighborhoods where folks don’t have much at all—“they’re just so happy to see us.”
Applying the latest technology to the sleigh isn’t always possible, though. Huber says that “Armstrong” powers the van. It’s a challenge to steer.
Despite minor drawbacks, “it’s a touching experience for all of us as we visit each community.”
“They’re all happy to see us.”
Note: Santa’s sleigh arrives in Steilacoom at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 3 at Town Hall. The sound of a police siren heralds the arrival, and Santa, assisted by two students from Cherrydale Elementary School will switch on the lights to illuminate the tree.
Members of the 42nd MP Brigade plan to deliver the tree to town before Thanksgiving weekend.