Jingle through city on holiday tractor rides

BUCKHANNON —Cruise through downtown Buckhannon and admire Christmas decorations, courtesy of city employees.

This holiday season, city employees will be offering Christmas wagon rides to residents on the three remaining Saturday evenings prior to Christmas — Dec. 9, 16 and 23 from 5 to 9 p.m. beginning in Jawbone Park.

At the city’s Consolidated Public Works Board meeting on Thursday, Nov. 30, public works director Jerry Arnold announced that city employees had volunteered to donate their time to take individuals and families on 15 to 20-minute “wagon” rides down Main Street and around well-decorated neighborhoods.

The “wagons” are actually city tractors laden with Christmas lights and greenery, Arnold said.

The city won’t be charging for the rides; however, riders are encouraged to make a donation, which will, in turn, be given to the Zach Post Memorial Food Drive in honor of the late Zach Post, who died by suicide Nov. 14, 2012, Arnold said. Post worked for the city waste department during summers while he was attending college, Arnold said.

“He was a really great kid,” Arnold said. “I’d like to see this be successful, and if people want to donate food, that’s fine, too.”

“This year is kind of the trial run for it,” Arnold added at Thursday’s board meeting. “We’re asking that the city give us the use of the tractors. We did put some canopies over them in case it’s raining. Brad (Hawkins, city street department employee) has got them all decorated up with wreaths and lights.”

Arnold said the city is collaborating with Zach Post’s stepmother, Misty Post, who has organized the fall and winter food drive annually since 2013. The city will give all funds collected to the drive, and Misty Post says she uses cash donations to purchase food from Save-A-Lot, which stocks the pantries of both the Upshur Parish House and the Salvation Army.

Arnold said caroling on the wagon rides is encouraged, and the city hopes to expand the event in 2018.

“We’re going to try to bring people to neighborhoods where it’s decorated best, but we will definitely go down Main Street,” Arnold said. “Next year, what we would like to do — if this is a success this year — is to have another component to it. We want to have a holiday decorating competition with forms here (at city hall) that you could fill out that you want to participate.”

Based on the forms it receives, the city would predetermine the route and then allow riders to vote for the best decorated house in pennies, which would also be contributed to a charitable organization, Arnold said.

“I think it would help to beautify Buckhannon a little bit,” Arnold said.

CPWB member Mark Waldo said the idea was a great one, board member Pam Cuppari asked if the city plans to provide photography services for families.

Arnold said he wants to start small this year.

“I don’t think so, but my wife wanted us to do cookies and hot chocolate, and I said, ‘I see a lawsuit right now with someone being scalded going down the road,’ so I said, ‘let’s keep it small and see how it’s received, and if it’s received well, we’ll build on it.’”

CPWB member and councilman CJ Rylands said the event could flourish.

“You’ll be surprised what works,” said Rylands. “When the Polar Express (in Elkins) started, they were stressing about selling 2,500 tickets … my cousins came from Florida, and nine people paid for this half-hour train ride for their kids and their parents and they had motel rooms. Now, [Polar Express] is selling 18,000 tickets.”

Although the city has a ways to go before its wagon rides reach that level of popularity, Arnold said Monday that the event was well-received Dec. 2, the first Saturday of wagon rides, with nearly 40 people turning out.

The CPWB approved Arnold’s request to use municipal tractors at the Thursday meeting.

In other CPWB business, the board approved the hiring of full-time employee Alice Teets; Teets will work part time as a parking enforcement officer and part time as a clerical worker for the utility boards.

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