The Herald Bulletin

December 25, 2013

Local Santa restores 120-year-old sleigh

Man adds wheels, motor to mobilize carriage

By Kelly Dickey
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — With his long white hair and beard, jolly spirit and custom red suit, it’s easy to mistake Bill Wood as Saint Nicholas, and now the Anderson resident has the same mode of transportation.

Wood, who has dressed as Santa Claus since 2000, bought and restored an old Lull Carriage Co. sleigh after a friend found it on Craigslist in November 2012.

A year later, the sleigh has a new paint job, wheels and a motor. It wasn’t a hard decision for Wood to give it a modern upgrade.

“I don’t have a horse or reindeer,” he said. “To have something like this and have a horse for just one day a year, that (doesn’t) sound sensible.”

Instead, Wood took the wheels, motor and controller from a Quantum 600 power wheelchair to give it some modern mobility. His friend Craig Priest also helped with welding.

Before the modifications, the sleigh was already one of a kind. It has doors and three springs – unusual characteristics for a sleigh.

Wood called historians in Kalamazoo, Mich., where Lull Carriage was based, and said they didn’t know anything about the sleigh.

But Wood believes his carriage is the real deal because it has the company stamp on it. He estimates it to be about 120 years old based on when Lull Carriage was in operation.

His modifications will allow him to take the sleigh to Santa jobs, although health problems prevent him from working many. He’s also considered taking it to a car show.

But it doesn’t matter to Wood that he doesn’t have any definitive plans for the sleigh. It just contributes to his role as one of Santa’s helpers.

This year he made a little boy a believer when he showed him a picture of him and his sleigh. Throughout the years he’s worked hard to make countless children believe in Santa, including his own grandchildren.

Spreading Christmas cheer is just a part of who he is and what he does.

“Before he had long hair (and) a long beard kids called him Santa,” his wife, Jan, said.

The couple said kids approach him all year and ask to sit on his lap. He worked as Santa at the Muncie Mall for seven years and on the drive home he would use a voice recorder to document what kids told him that day.

The Kris Kringle doppelganger normally uses a walking stick to get around, but when he’s dressed as Father Christmas he uses a wooden staff with sleigh bells and a Santa on top that he carved himself.

He used to wear his Santa suit every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, and even though he no longer does, he’s still committed to the big guy in the red suit.

“Santa’s here,” Wood said while patting his chest over his heart, “before the suit goes on.”

Like Kelly Dickey on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @KellyD_THB, or call 640-4805.