GRANGEVILLE The scene last week resembled a kicked-in ant hill: People scurrying through the fire station’s truck bay, hauling frames of tinsel and vintage Santa statues, and tying on strings of multicolored lights to a maroon-red antique engine. The tradition is nearly three decades old for Grangeville Volunteer Fire Department members to turn their 1944 Buffalo fire engine into a colorful traveling holiday greeting card for the community.
“It’s definitely a group effort on keeping the old girl going,” said Andrew Lane, a GVFD firefighter since 2002, on volunteers decorating and maintaining the truck, and getting it ready for its annual Christmas runs – one of two events, including the July 4 parade, it participates in annually. “All the fire department members are pretty proud to be a part of it.”
The holiday season, as well as the truck’s first run for the year, kicks off at the Pioneer Park tree lighting ceremony this Saturday, Nov. 25. New for the event this year is a Christmas parade, starting at 5 p.m., that runs from North Idaho Street and up Main Street to finish at the park. The Christmas Truck, with Santa Claus riding atop, will be an integral part.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Beth Boehmke, a GVFD firefighter since January of this year, “and there’s a lot of tradition behind it.”
The Christmas Truck tradition started in the mid- to late-1980s with firefighters – after a department meeting one evening — putting some lights on the old truck, an effort that continued yearly and grew with increasingly more decorations and then a sound system to broadcast both music and Santa’s “Ho, ho, ho!” A Honda 3000 portable generator powers lights and sound.
Among the more notable decorations are the truck’s double Santa statues on back (“Some of the guys would say it makes or breaks the Christmas truck,” Boehmke said,) and the sleigh and reindeer, and candy canes that were built by inmates at North Idaho Correctional Institution.
The overall decorating comes together under direction by more tenured firefighters, Boehmke explained, who have been through the process a few times.
“It’s chaotic, but I think it’s supposed to be that way,” Boehmke smiled, on the truck decorating style. “It’s part of the tradition, part of the nostalgia.” For her, that nostalgia includes when her son, Mark, was a little guy, “and the look on his face, seeing it light up to see the Christmas Truck come down the road.”
Decorating has been a father-daughter time for Lane; Ava, 8, helped him this year in putting new garland and LED lights on the reindeer and sleigh decoration, and a couple of years ago she again helped in putting new garland to decorations.
“She loves it, she thinks it’s great,” he said of Ava. “I didn’t know whether she’d stay focused putting the garland on, but she was into it.”
This effort is supported by volunteer labor and donations, said Fire Chief Bob Mager, “so every little bit that people give us, that’s what helps keep it going.”
Such as tires, for example. The Buffalo received four new ones this year, provided as the result of a fund-raiser held last year by Grangeville High School graduate Katelynn Underwood for her senior project. And the truck was well-overdue:
“These were the original tires,” Lane said, “They were getting a little cracked, so it was time.”
“We appreciate what the community gives to this because it definitely is a good tradition,” Boehmke said.
The truck makes its Christmas debut at the park lighting, and from then on department members schedule time to run the truck every night through December. Different sections to town are hit each time, with some members hitting their favorite areas, such as in Mt. Idaho and the trailer park on Highway 7, according to Lane.
“And we go out in all types of weather,” he said. “My record is 2 below. That was pretty frosty.” With no heater, the only relief is the windshield that keeps the breeze off the driver, “so we definitely drive slowly as Santa doesn’t have that protection.”
Just for a nightly run, Lane estimates it takes $30 to $35 for fuel and miscellaneous supplies.
For Grangeville, the Christmas Truck has been well-received throughout the years, with members in past news stories recalling their own experiences of kids and adults running out – some with coats, and some with none … or even less – to waive to Santa.
For department members, according to Lane, their favorite part of all this is the kids.
“They come shooting out of the house and wave to Santa,” he said. And they’ll have people texting them on when and where the truck is going that night, “and they’re out there hunting us down. That’s pretty fun.”
The value of the truck the community is priceless, according to Lane, “and we’ve received so much positive feedback on going out and spreading Christmas cheer around. And it’s not commercialized, it’s not advertising anything. It’s just something fun to do.”
“It’s definitely given me more appreciation for the people putting this on,” Boehmke said, “and the effort that makes it happen. A lot goes into it, and I love the fact that we do it.”
“It’s an important part of Grangeville,” she said.