Come rain, sleet or snow, for 60 years the Pullman Lions Club has brought Santa to town, and this year will be no different, as Saint Nicholas is expected to arrive in town Monday.
Santa won't be riding in his usual sleigh, reserved for Christmas Eve, and instead will tour Pullman's four hills in a sleigh constructed by members of the service group more than half a century ago.
"There's been a few times the weather was so bad we didn't stay out long, but we've always attempted it," said Mike Sodorff, a Lions Club member who has participated and pulled the sleigh for more than 40 years.
Sodorff pulls the sleigh with his truck, and it's the reactions from the children that keep him coming back year after year.
"It's so special to see that first kid that truly believes in Santa Claus, their face lights up, it's a good feeling," Sodorff said. "It's kind of selfish because I like to see those kids happy."
Sodorff remembers when a gas generator was used to run the lights that brighten up the sleigh and a CD player to play Santa's favorite sound - Christmas music. Now, the sleigh gets its power from Sodorff's truck.
"It's not perfect, but when you got Santa Claus, no one pays attention to the sleigh," he said.
Les Davies has visited Pullman's four hills with Santa Claus for more than a decade. He said the sleigh first hit Pullman's streets in 1960, but the idea is believed to have sparked from the 1955 Lions Club Santa Train.
"I don't think we know anything about it and all those older guys are pretty much gone," Davies said. "We don't have much more detail than the fact it existed."
Like Sodorff, Davies said it's the excited children who can't seem to keep both feet on the ground that keep him coming back to the sleigh for four December nights every year - one night to travel each of Pullman's four neighborhood hills.
"The happy kids, the smiles, the kids that scream, 'Santa is coming,' that's what I enjoy most," Davies said. "After 10 years, it becomes a passion thing."
Davies said children bring letters, lists and smiles.
"They're handwritten, so they're difficult to read," Davies said. "I have to decode. Kids have asked for peace or happiness or to have a wonderful year, or 'I just want my family to have a nice year' - there's nothing better than making kids happy."
He said about 1,000 candy canes are handed out every year by Santa and his minions.
Davies said as Pullman grows, it gets more difficult to reach all the children in the city, specifically those on Sunnyside and Military hills.
It's likely a problem a Santa faces every year, too.
"You can't hit every house, that's the frustration," Davies said. "We hit as many as we can."
This year Santa's Pullman tour will begin at 6 p.m. Monday on College Hill. Because of Sunnyside Hill's growth, Santa will tour Pioneer Hill and the portion of Sunnyside Hill south of Center Street beginning at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday Santa will tour the remainder of Sunnyside Hill north of Center Street. And at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Santa will tour Military Hill. Each night, the festivities are expected to end at about 8 p.m. To see maps of Santa's route, visit dnews.com.
Josh Babcock can be reached at (208) 883-4638, or by email to email@example.com.