By Ned Boss
Retired Public Works Director & Mt. Shasta City Firefighter
Christmas In Mt. Shasta
It has been a Christmas tradition in Mt. Shasta for the Firemen’s Association to construct a float and sleigh so that Santa Claus could parade around town and greet the children, talk with them, and give them a candy cane. Earl Bassett, a long time resident and past fireman, remembers a Santa float in 1944 and did not think there was one prior to World War II. Louie Melo, also a past fireman, recalls that the float was initiated prior to World War II. I can only say that the tradition started in the early 40s and only Santa Claus knows for sure when it truly began.
What we know is that the first Santa float was built by Mt. Shasta City Firemen and was powered by the 1915 Model T Ford fire truck called Lulu Belle. Plywood shaped like a sleigh was attached to both sides. The top had a dome shape and garland strings were draped around the float. Two wooden reindeer with real mounted buck heads (yes, real deer heads!!) were attached to the front. Their legs were made of fire hose and would flop as they traveled.
In 1949, a complete new float was built by the fire department. It is believed that the float was built around the 1935 Chevrolet fire engine. A deck was placed on top of the truck with plywood siding painted white. Nine fabricated reindeer with real buck horns were attached to the top deck. A real sleigh was placed at the back for Santa Claus to ride in as he held the lighted reins to the jumping reindeer. The sides were painted white and framed with lighted garlands along with two lighted wreaths on each side. It is believed that Joe Melo was Santa, and Frank Melo was the driver. This Santa float was brilliantly illuminated and was considered at the time to be the most beautiful of their floats. It was so well liked that the Dunsmuir Fire Department asked if Mt. Shasta would bring the float and Santa Claus to the City of Dunsmuir to be displayed at the foot of Dunsmuir’s Municipal Christmas Tree at Florence and Pine Streets. The firemen agreed to do so. This float was only used for one year.
In 1950, a complete new float was constructed on a flatbed trailer. It consisted of three individual wood construction houses painted white. The same nine reindeer were mounted so that they were jumping from roof top to roof top. Santa Claus sat and stood within a simulated sleigh behind the reindeer and the reins were made of garland material. The float was pulled with a World War II tug tractor with an A frame roof, and it was driven by fireman Frank Coppi. Santa Claus paraded the city streets as usual except on a Saturday the float was parked in front of the Shastona Theater (currently the Elks Lodge) so that children could see and talk to Santa. The theater sponsored a matinee for the children so the parents could shop at the local stores. Santa Claus was Joe Melo (below, left.) Donna Brooks and her daughter Dawn look at Santa’s float (below, right.)
During the year of 1960, the Firemen’s Association built a new Christmas float. They built a wood structure that looked like a church with a bell tower and cross on the front of the roof top. A fire place chimney was placed at the rear of the roof top. The building was built over a World War II airport tug tractor, again driven by Frank Coppi. At the rear of the church building was a trailer with reindeer and Rudolph wore a lighted red nose. The reindeer were mounted on a snow covered deck with fir trees on the corners. Fir tree boughs were placed along the sides of the float. A trailer sleigh was attached for Santa and Mrs. Santa to ride in. By this time Santa’s elves were in need of new costumes. In 1965 Mary Lamanna made new costumes for the elves. They also needed some lively Christmas music on the float to create a joyous atmosphere. Ned Boss collected Christmas music and prepared a long play cassette tape. With the help of the local Radio Shack, they installed up-to-date playing equipment and outside speakers. This float was used until December of 1973, and it was retired because of its poor condition. From my research, I found that Joe Melo, Bill Walden, and Frank Scott were Santa Claus during this period. The only Mrs. Santa Claus we can find record of after 1954 is Helen Melo, Pat Barnum, and Helen Walden.
The Firemen’s Association has continued the Christmas tradition of the Santa Claus float throughout the years. In 1989, float chairman and fireman Cliff Bullerwell said the reason the Santa float had been successful was because of the hard work done by the past and present firemen, and the willingness of the community members in Mt. Shasta. Float donation boxes were placed around town and the community was very supportive. Local clubs have also supported the Association with donations for the Santa and his elves. This helped with the costs of preparing the float each year, purchasing of candy for the children, float maintenance, and the updating of Santa and his elf outfits.
Many City Firefighters, Explorers, Association members, and local volunteers have been Santa’s elves over the years. Too many to mention here, but we thank them all!!
Santa and Mrs. Claus greeting children and people at the Mt. Shasta Shopping Center as the reindeer pull the sleigh through sleeting snow in 2007. Notice the 1935 Fire Truck behind the sleigh.