Memories of a Truckee Christmas past
Once upon a time, when Truckee was in one of its smaller-in-size eras, a group of merchants and civic minded friends planned a Christmas party for those who were want to believe in Santa Claus.
It was truly for the very young with thoughts of being good – there would be a reward for of Santa Claus and his reindeer. For Truckee alone, however, one little detail would be different: Santa would arrive by a sled, drawn by a team of sled dogs instead of reindeer.
The driver was a nationally rated trainer and racer of sled dogs – none other than “our own” Lloyd Van Sickle. Santa’s sled would be laden with huge bags of toys, one for girls and one for boys, in front of him. Santa would arrive at a station erected and constructed for three baggage crafts arranged for by Mister S.P. (otherwise known to his friends as Earl K. Stice).
The ramps to Santa’s throne were constructed of 2-by-12s – two wide with 2-by-4 handrails from scaffold supplies of a building contractor at Donner Lake (one Rex Reid). The handrails were wrapped with red and white tissue paper in the spirit of the season, donated by Charlie Hellen, just one of the many things Hellen’s Variety took care of. The location would be the new center of the business block in front of Cabona’s, Goodfellows Coffee Shop and the Post Office (officiated at that time by Elizabeth Barleed).
This celebration was financed by donations from merchants, services, and the general population of our community. The Sacramento Bee heard of our planning along with the local movie house, and both would play a major role. The Bee would furnish ample numbers of large California naval oranges, Washington delicious apples, and 24-inch red and white candy canes, as well as a Christmas movie. The local movie house would open its doors and show the movie at no cost to all the boys and girls, as wells as their parents or chaperones.
The toys were purchased by Hellen’s Variety at wholesale and all were further discounted as much as Pearl and Sharlie could cause to happen. Memory failed me as to the Santa Claus at the time of the first year’s celebration. Truckee was fortunate to have two willing subjects: Johnny Richards of the Pastime Club and Gene Risdon of the “bug station.” The two shared honors for the event on different years. Santa would have a huge chair (almost a throne) to hold court. He would take a little one on his knee, let them tell of their wishes as they touched his beard, and he would direct one of his helpers to give him a toy, give the little one a big hug and a kiss as he wished everyone “Merry Christmas.”
As one of the organizers of the event, I, just the other day, contacted a friend of these many years, who remembers that first celebration so vividly and with such enthusiasm. I have asked a young girl of that year, none other than Stefanie Firpo (Olivieri) to hear me out in memory and detail. Her words: “It remains the most exciting and memorable event of my childhood. The thrill of seeing Santa Claus arriving by dog sled right on Main Street, drawn by sled dogs so well trained they seemed to know just where they were going.”
As a closing note, Main Street was closed and a detour from Highway 40 was affected using Jibboom Street from High Street on the west to Bridge Street on the east. The event made the news (Sacramento Bee) as the only place in the world where Santa arrived by dog sled. It was a gratifying reward for all who participated to see the smiles and expressions of the faces of the very young. The year was 1950. The perfect words even today: “A good time was had by all!”
Rex Reid, 88, has lived in Truckee since 1949.
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