The Lope: December 2009

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon Rising

The last moon of 2009 rose a few minutes ago here in Hutchinson, Kansas. It's the second full moon this month, hence the designation "blue moon."

As always, during a full moon, beware the werelope.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Snowing Again

It's snowing again in Reno County Kansas; it started last night and is not expected - at least in the Hutchinson area - to exceed two inches.

And here's an image from earlier this month: snow on my garden tiki (December 9).

Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix Christmas light show

The Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix is a Catholic religious order with a monastery in Carthage, Missouri. "Mother Co-Redemptrix" refers to Mary, mother of Jesus, and her role in redemption. The congregation is dominated by men of Vietnamese extraction. During the Christmas season, they offer a huge animated light display which is primarily biblical, but manages to work in the occasional pink panther on a scooter or goofy bear. In previous years they even had a Pokémon pikachu .

This video pans from the pink panther on scooter to Noah's ark to some pink flamingos:

Here's their Salvation arch:

David and Goliath is probably the most impressive of their biblical displays:

Moses directs cars to a parted Red's literally red:

And now Moses has the Ten Commandments:

They were shutting down the lights as I went through just at 10 PM on December 13, but you can still get a feel for their disco Noel:

The light show runs 5:30 to 10 PM through New Years Day.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Neat Christmas House in Webb City

I think this house in Webb City, Missouri, is worthy of note in that it uses what look like huge municipal Christmas decorations. That poinsettia is impressive.

KCS Holiday Express 2009

I caught up to the Kansas City Southern Railroad's Holiday Express train in Pittsburg, Kansas, near the end of its 2009 run. Read all about the train (and see me in green) in Memoirs of an Elf and Christmas Leftovers 2008.

Here's a video I shot last year of the engine and the flat car with Santa's sleigh and reindeer. It looked almost the same this year:

Except that this year they'd given Rudy the engine a red nose.

Of course, Santa was in the train listening to the wants and wishes of kids. Ahh, what major toy companies wouldn't give to be in on olé Kris Kringle's massive market research!

Some of the decor inside the train had been enhanced this year, such as the snow in this display.

Here's a video of part of the interior. It ends with detail of a mural in which you'll see a cat that was supposed to be an owl, or so I'm told:

Part of one of the cabooses is filled with Santas:

And there was a new mascot - Mortimer the KCS moose. Before you ask, I really have no idea where he came from...friendly, though...friendliest moose I've ever met on a train.

There were two model train layouts in the box car. Here's part of one of them. It features a model of the Southern Belle in its previous paint scheme. The Southern Belle is the KCS executive train that actually pulls the Holiday Express:

I didn't get to see the Southern Belle this year, but I did shoot some video last year that I haven't published until now. Here's The Belle, led by its vintage streamlined F-9s as it pulls out of Noel, Missouri, on December 7 of 2008:

My brother and I paralleled the locomotive for awhile between Noel and Joplin. The video isn't great, but admirers of "F-units" will enjoy the horn:

And here's the Belle blasting through a crossing:

I didn't have time to be an elf this year, but I missed it. The call of elfdom is strong in my blood, and next year I shall heed that call. I'm told I look good in pointy hats.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tidings of Automated Joy

Every few Christmas Seasons I feel irresistibly drawn to visit the "Falmouth house" as some locals call it - the much-decorated home of Mike Babick at 7611 Falmouth in Prairie Village, Kansas (Kansas City area). I published lots of pictures of it in 2005 and added videos in 2006.

I visited Mike (above, with Ace) again this year to record a few changes and add HD video. You can still see this attraction. Mike, a retired employee of AT&T, says he'll have the automations running through the first weekend in January. This is the 44th year for the attraction, by the way.

Here's Mike's home back in 2006. Note the many stand-up cartoon characters on the roof. Those are gone now, literally blown away by an early morning storm last December 28 at 5AM.

Mike recovered rather resourcefully, installing display cases on the roof this year.

The moon rose behind cases of animated figures. Mike is particularly proud of the fish on the right (another view). I'll have to remember the pirate on the left for next International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Mike's magnum opus is probably the garage, which he has turned into a Santa's workshop populated by a visual cacophony of elves and various forest critters.

This video clip starts in the yard and moves in to show Santa's workshop:

Here are some details:

Any workshop has to have elves.

There's a snowscape in the back of the scenario.

A canine ice cream server and, I presume, a customer, are located against the right-hand wall

Santa and Mrs. Claus rule the whole arrangement.

You can't have too many elves.

To the left of the garage is a manger, set apart from the more secular displays in both lighting and its stand-alone location.

Mike says the figures in the nativity are mannequins and that he added the motorization himself:

Every night during the Christmas season, Mike's house receives dozens - usually hundreds - of visitors.

There is so much traffic that the city of Prairie Village makes Falmouth a one-way street going by Mike's house for the duration of the Yuletide season. It even attracts tour buses.

This is a fairly complete video tour of the front of the house. It's long though - five minutes and eight seconds:

We were privileged to have a look into Mike's house as he talked about the history of his display.

A talking tree sits in the corner of the living room.

And now, some shorter videos - the frogs are another set that Mike automated himself, using stuffed animals:

He also motorized the Arabian scene:

Here are some display cases to the right side of the house, including Santa and Rudolf. I asked Mike if he knew who made the Santa and he did not:

I'll be back next year to see what Mike has added.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Houston Whiteside Holiday Homes Tour 2009

An automated Santa greeted visitors on part of the Houston Whiteside Historic District Holiday Homes Tour in Hutchinson, Kansas, on December 6.

The Houston Whiteside District contains a number of large homes about a century old. 506 East Avenue A is one of them and was on the tour. This photo was taken a few days after the tour because I couldn't resist the snow.

A tree molded around a clock in the entryway.

The dining room was a winter wonderland.

Upstairs, old department store Santas decorated a bedroom.

I've never seen this particular model of Santa before.

This is a Harold Gale Display company model 607. It was manufactured for many years and underwent a few cosmetic changes.

Here's what it does:

Back on the first floor, green ornaments on an aluminum tree add a touch of mid-century modernism.

Moving on down to 615 East Sherman, a basement room had floors nice enough to dance on, and that's just what they do.

The laundry room was cheery green.

This window is of course part of their everyday decor. I loved the colors.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Carthage Courthouse

The courthouse in the town square of Carthage, Missouri, is decked out for Christmas with light strands stretching from the four corners of the square across the street to the top of the building. Other views: 1, 2, 3.

And here's a video with the courthouse's chimes:

Grandma's House

Once in a very great while, one is privileged to find a Christmas display that is both innovative and emotionally touching. Such is the case in Hutchinson, Kansas with the lawn display of the Hankins' home at 25 Countryside Drive. Today I am updating my previous coverage of this, starting with the 2009 photo above.

As locals know, Dale creates automations showing kids riding various modes of transporation to "Grandma's House", the home of he and his wife, Betty. He tries to add one yearly.

Here's an HD video pass, walking north to south:

And here it is, walking south to north:

When I went to check out the Hankins' yard this month, I noticed the addition of "Riding a John Deere to Grandma's House"

Here's s video clip of the John Deere and last year's addition, the airplane:

Moving on across the corner intersection, one sees the home of Cheryl Cox, Dale and Betty's daughter. Her place, alone, is worth a drive to the neighborhood.

As I looked near her chimney, however, my heart sank.

Cheryl confirmed via email that her mother, seen in the 2007 photo above, had indeed passed away this past August.

She added: "We miss Mom dearly but put up the display for the community. Many people began asking after she passed away if we would still be doing the display. It just didn't seem right not to and I feel by doing so, we are honoring her memory. She always loved it so."

My sympathy, and that, I know, of many of my readers, goes out to the Hankins family, who have brightened our Christmas season for many years. I'm proud and delighted to live in a city with such people.

Some Joplin, Missouri, Christmas Lights

Really, the coolest Yuletide sight in Joplin is the window display in the old Newman's Department store Building which now serves as City Hall, but here are a few other shots I took when in Joplin earlier his month.

This is Main Street looking south from Fred and Reds, a chili restaurant.

And here's Wilder's, between 12th and 13th streets on the west side of Main.

This is El Rey, a small Mexican take-out place in the 200 block of South Main.

Lofts never look better than with Christmas trees. This is in the 200 block of East 4th.

Jacob Marley's Ghost?

I thought these guys had all gone away after Halloween. Perhaps I'm being followed by Jacob Marley's ghost. I wish it were Bob Marley's ghost; then I might get cool electric guitar versions of Christmas carols. Oh, the intruder is in Carl's display.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hyde Park Luminaria 2009

The annual Hyde Park neighborhood luminaria was held this past Saturday night in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Hutchinson Community College jazz instructor Daryl Batchelor and Dr. Robert Rate played Christmas carols on brass from the porch of Jim and Mary Lou Sunderland's house. Here's Jingle Bells:

Santa waves from a first-floor roof while his elves try to climb to the second floor.

These people were completists. They even floodlit their garage doors red and green.

The manufacture of blow molded Christmas decorations has declined the last few years due to energy conservation, rising cost of petroleum used in plastics and competition from lighted wire frames and nylon inflatables. It was nice to see this collection of blow molded Santas under the crescent moon.

Here's that group of Santas in the daytime. What is a group of Santas called, anyway?...a jolly?...a Kringle?

And now, to leave you in a festive spirit, here's "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" from Batchelor and Rate:

And here's our coverage from last year, when there was snow.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"It looks nice, Sparky"

Some people measure their Christmas lights in bulbs, some in dollars and others in the joy they bring. Though I think Carl Engelhardt of Blue Springs, Missouri, definitely fits in that last category too, he measures his in amperage.

I asked him "how many amps?"

"Let me bring up my Excel spreadsheet and I can tell you exactly how many amps I'm using."

That's Carl

The answer, by the way, is 92.2 amps on nine different circuits equipped with digital timers.

I asked Carl if he had any guidance for those who may wish to follow in his well-lit footsteps. He advises that he has the best luck following his own rule of 5. That is to say, he finds he can link five 100-light strands without blowing a fuse in one.

Carl is actually quite the environmentalist, which leads his son, Greg, to needle him with "every time you turn on your lights, another polar bear dies."

Carl's wife, Kris (seen with Ace and Carl in a 2006), supports Carl's amperage habit with a National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation flavor: "I stand out there in my sweater and say 'it looks nice, Sparky,' then go back inside because I'm freezing my a-s off."

BOK Center Lights

After a recent concert at Tulsa's BOK (Bank of Oklahoma) Center, I shot a video clip of the 'dripping' lights on trees outside. I'd never seen this effect before:

And here's another:

Stilled Star Still a Star

Part of the heavens no longer spins overhead.

The 50+ year-old lighted star atop the South Mound in Fredonia, Kansas, isn't spinning this season, but it is still lit. You can see what it used to do in the 2007 photo above, and read more about it in The Star of Fredonia and The Cross of Fredonia.

Yvonne Hull, Executive Director of the Fredonia Area Chamber of Commerce tells me that a motor issue has stilled the star. She says the Fredonia Lions Club (of which she is a member) needs $3,000 to replace the old motor with a heavier-duty one.

Should anyone feel like helping to set a star in motion again, Ms. Hull can give information as to how to donate. She can be reached at

Banking on Santa

Metcalf Bank's Giant Fiberglass Santa

Who wouldn't want to bank in a mid-century building with a giant Santa out front?

On a recent trip through the Kansas City area, I ran across a seasonal delight along one of my favorite stretches of mid-century architecture - a fiberglass Santa about 14 feet tall in front of the Metcalf Bank, 7840 Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park.

I called the bank for more information on the giant Kringle and heard back from Ben Craig, Chairman Emeritus who was president of the bank for 35 years. Craig told me the Santa was bought under his watch in the mid-1960s. He wanted something to draw attention to his bank because it was only a block away from a more-established bank in newly-incorporated (1960) Overland Park.

Craig added that they originally also used a Christmas tree proportionate with the Santa. He said it was a lot more of a maintenance and storage problem than the Santa Claus, so it was dropped. He thought this was actually the 4th or 5th Santa due to previous ones wearing out from being transported, but did not know the age of the particular one on display now.

Craig did not know the manufacturer of the Santa, but did mention it comes apart at the waist. It looks to me like the head is a separate piece as well. If anyone knows who made the right jolly fiberglass elf, please comment.

I didn't think to ask him why Santa appears to have two sets of eyebrows. Maybe the darker set is supposed to be shading?

I did ask about the building. Craig says it was designed by the architectural firm of Kivett Myers, finished in the Spring of 1962 and that the accordion roof was poured on site.

Giant fiberglass Santas sure beat those big nylon air-blown things you see today.

Winter Solstice 2009

The Northern hemisphere falls asleep in Autumn and wakes in Winter this very we weren't already calling it "Winter" when it was four degrees a couple weeks ago.

Anyway, shortly after I showed pictures of Morgan Reves' really cool crinoid Stonehenge from the Kansas State Fair in a post this past Autumn equinox, I was contacted by the managers of a website that re-affirms my belief in the Internet.

Clonehenge covers replicas of all things stonehengy. Here's what they said about the Kansas State Fair crinoid stem Stonehenge models.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hutchinson Symphony Christmas Concert at the Fox

A Christmas themed background enhanced The Hutchinson (Kansas) Symphony Orchestra's Christmas concert this past Thursday, December 17, 2009, at the Fox Theatre. Actually, the Fox's art deco ceiling fixtures often show only one hue of the several available via the many colored light bulbs installed, but since they were momentarily red and the background was green, I took a picture as the orchestra tuned up.

I'd never been to one of their concerts before, but decided it belongs on my list of "things you should do because if they weren't available in your town you'd complain, so quit yer bitchin' and go support people who do something to make the place you live more interesting." I could really stand to shorten the name of that list.

Guess what? The concert was really good, and a fine enhancement to the Christmas season. Their rendition of Sleigh Bells was particularly fun, with the improvised percussion clippity-clop and whip snaps (the later done with hinged boards clacking). Here's their website.

The marquee of the Fox is so colorful I'd almost call it a Christmas decoration in and of itself. I mean, it is advertising a Christmas show and there are municipal holiday decorations in the shot, so here you are:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

To a Different Road

It was a natural gesture of affection for artist Bob Waldmire. I doubt he even thought about what he held in his hand really was or really wasn't, but he petted and stroked Ace as if the jackalope was a warm and furry creature encountered somewhere along his beloved Route 66.

It was my pleasure to run around a bit with Bob in 2007. Read about that, here.

Bob was diagnosed earlier this year with colon cancer and died (peacefully, I hear) yesterday morning. This photo of him is not quite a month old, from "Bob's Last Art Show" in Springfield, Illinois. The catch line for that show was "Come as you are, leave different." In ways subtle and not so subtle, those of us who encountered Bob did in fact leave different, and better.

It's a tribute to his personality, I think, that something for which he was so well known - his van, which served as the inspiration for Filmore in Disney/Pixar's 'Cars' - seems like a minor footnote today. In fact, I'd forgotten about it until I'd almost hit the publish button.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Flying Saucers, Santa and Saturn Vs

A crashed flying saucer on a trailer advertises the Eccentrix retail store at 2609 East 7th Street in Joplin, Missouri, an address on one of Joplin's Route 66 alignments.

Eccentrix has had this UFO for a few years, and I used it previously in a post about the anniversary of the (supposed) Roswell, NM, UFO crash. I'd never seen the lights working until yesterday, when I shot this video clip:

I enjoy this UFO so much because of a childhood association. When I was a kid in Joplin in the 1960s, the space race was going full blast and several area industries manufactured parts for NASA. I was told that one such company was Fairchild Industries at 13th and Maiden Lane, just down the street from where my family lived. My dad said they made a battery component for the Lunar Module; I don't know if that was really the case, and it doesn't matter. What did matter was that Fairchild had a unique Christmas decoration: a UFO on the building's roof along with Santa.

A few years ago, I thought to see if the saucer or any pieces of it remained in the building, which had become the home of King Press. I was allowed into the storage area by the nice folks there and saw very dated Christmas lights but no evidence of "alien" presence. In a throwback to my childhood logic, I like to think it's now in area 51.

The memory of the Fairchild flying saucer evokes a magic time when the moon was still our future and reindeer shared the sky with the Saturn V.


It's 11 degrees in Hutchinson, Kansas, and the fahrenheit isn't finished dropping. It was even colder last week, when I shot this frost upon the window pane.

'Tis a good time to stay in, wear one's long undies and stoke the wood stove.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

KCS Holiday Express to stop in Kansas Today

The Kansas City Southern railroad's Holiday Express will be stopping in Pittsburg, Kansas at 4PM today. The train will be parked at Monroe and Elm Streets. I highly recommend this to parents as a way for kids to visit Santa, see a cool train and feel generally Yuletidy.

For lots of pictures and info about the train, see Memoirs of an Elf. The train will be making further stops in Missouri and Illinois; see the schedule.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Choo-choo at the Zoo

The Hutchinson Zoo is offering rides on a yule-decorated train tonight as well as Friday and Saturday nights from 6 to 8 PM. Adult tickets are $1.50 and kids ride for a buck.

Named "Prairie Thunder", the train replaced one of a smaller gage earlier this year.

The new cars are larger and more comfy, but be sure to bundle up as these are open cars.

Riders are taken from the zoo building, festooned for the holidays, around a long loop of track lined with lighted trees and other Holiday displays.

Christmas maven Patsy Terrell enjoyed a ride last weekend. This was somewhat symbolic and celebratory for me as the last time I rode the train with Patsy she had been diagnosed with an ovarian tumor, which thankfully turned out to be benign.

For another five dollar donation to the zoo, you can take home a picture taken with Santa, Mrs. Clause and an animal, When Ace was there, the animal was an iguana. Green iguana / red Santa...I guess that works. I've no idea what Ace asked Santa for.

There's also a lane lined with Christmas trees decorated by local non-profits.

You can vote on your favorite by dropping a coin in labeled jars.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Sacred and the Profane

Meet Mark Reddig. Mark and I go way back to our days at The Hutchinson News in the 1980s. He's still in the media, being the host of Land Line Now, a satellite radio program about the business of trucking.

Mark has always done Christmas a little differently - pink flamingos pulling Santa's sleigh, back when he lived in Hutchinson, for example.

Current case in point: This is the nativity scene in front of Mark's house in Independence, Missouri. But wait! Is that a star's a leg lamp. Mark calls this "the sacred and the profane."

The gifts of the Magi are too valuable to be unguarded, as this bunny with an M-16 knows.

Of course this is part of an admirably excessive light display.

Mark says this is 19,570 lights, 63.3 amps and roughly 7,920 watts.

See the three poles in back, behind the red white and blue yucca? Those are Festivus poles. Yes, "Festivus for the rest of us."

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Joplin Christmas Windows on Route 66

(additional videos added on Dec 2, 2009)

Back in 2007, I reported on a Christmas window display at the Joplin, Missouri, City Hall. At that time I was happy to see any sort of downtown Christmas display at all, and hoped to see an automated version someday. Well, the town of my birth has made me proud.

Monday evening, November 30 at 5:30 PM, newly decorated Christmas window displays were unveiled at Joplin's City Hall as part of the town's 2nd annual Joplin Holiday Experience celebration. Here, local dignitaries speak to the crowd of about 200 before the unveiling. Note the beautiful details in the awning of the old Newman Building. I love this fleeting part of winter evenings, when you still have some skylight.

The Newman Building was built in 1910 and housed the Newman's department store until the 1970s when the store moved to Joplin's Northpark Mall. It has since gone out of business, but it left us the great piece of architecture that now houses City Hall.

Here's the last part of the countdown and the opening of concealing blinds:

Admirers view the the displays, which were designed by Fred Lumley, a former marketing manager for Newman's "back in the day."

Here's a video I shot just after the unveiling:

And here's another, in which a woman and two little girls enjoy the display:

Christmas music was piped out onto the sidewalk. I love the ambiance this lends the scene; I felt eight years old, walking around downtown Joplin while waiting to see Santa:

Large toy soldiers are a consistent theme in the windows.

Here's a walk around the parts of the Main and 6th street windows that have automation:

One of the windows features an automated grandfather clock with a fast-spinning minute hand.

A model railroad erected by the Tri-State Model Railroaders is in one of the north windows. My old pal Jim Taylor was involved in the railroad display.

The carolers from the 2007 display are still present, though not grouped all together.

At the feet of two of the carolers is one of the windows' treasures - this Red Goose Shoes riding toy. A sign states it is from the 1920s.

Among the antique metal toy vehicles is this Keystone bus, also labeled as from the 1920s.

This is an atom jet car toy from the lost future of the 1950s.

A view through the front doors of the Newman building hints at its department store linage.

Year-round, the interior holds a Joplin icon - a Thomas Hart Benton mural.

Following the window ceremony, a Christmas tree was lit in Spiva Park, two blocks to the north and also on route 66. The tree, a large evergreen, was nice if not particularly ornately decorated. Someone thought to include a snow machine, which was cool. Now, if they could only station a bank of these high above on the Joplin Globe building, timed to go off every half-hour or so...

A young man catches the snow.

There was caroling around the tree, but the lighting in Spiva Park was too low for my Canon SX1is to pick up much in video mode. I did record a bit of audio and shot what I could - lights on the tree. If you think you might hear your own voice in the crowd, here's the link.

Christmas cookies enhanced the experience.

As I left the area, a back-lit, yellow-leaved tree caught my eye against the cooler-colored downtown landscape.