SUNNYSIDE —Widespread reports of a cruising convoy of truckers rolling throughout neighborhoods beaming their joyful message of holiday hopefulness, radiated from every colorful bulb which adorned their festive rigs and trailers, have now been officially confirmed by local eyewitnesses.
As air horns blasted with excitement on the frigid Sunday evening, the mobilized tradition of ringing in the Christmas spirit were delivered in united luminance by the Lower Valley Christmas Trucks and navigated by Sunnyside resident David Ruelas.
Keeping warm and safe inside their home on 11th Street, Carol Stone and her husband Delbert were preparing for bed when suddenly, there was an intense stream of lights which appeared to shine past the drawn curtained windows. It caught their attention and kindling their curiosity, they peered outside.
Stone’s voice was filled with heartfelt range of emotion while describing the impact of the group’s presence and the gratitude she felt for making their season a brighter one.
“We saw all kinds of trucks but the one that we remember the most was the last one. It looked like a big city dump truck. And the guy driving it waved and he looked like Santa Claus, and it made me cry,” Stone brilliantly conveyed.
The couple are unable to get outdoors in the cold like they once did in their younger years, she said. To be able to experience first-hand the evening’s radiant spectacle, made such an uplifting impact on the couple’s quarantined state of mind that would not be forgotten anytime soon.
“Anytime I talk about it, it brings tears to my eyes. Because they made us so happy.”
The mobilized crew is routinely made up of members from both the Lower Valley and Upper Valley Christmas Trucks, two separate groups with one shared mission – to help spread holiday cheer while upholding the season’s spirited essence for giving to others from the day after Thanksgiving to Dec. 21.
“With the little bit of lights that we do have brings so much excitement and joy into a lot of people’s lives,” Paul Rickert with Ideal Lumber in Toppenish described. “And even in these times, I think we need it more than anything.”
Washington State Department of Health and Yakima County Health District’s COVID-19 health guidelines and ongoing restrictions caused Sunnyside’s Noon Rotary Club to cancel this year’s renowned 32nd Annual Lighted Farm Implement Parade.
Officials expected the downtown crowd size to be upwards of 30,000 people. However, the inability to employ protective face coverings and social distancing protocols, combined with forecasted warnings about a possible surge in confirmed coronavirus cases prompted organizers to call off the event on Nov. 3.
“There’s been so much disappointment this year that we don’t want to be a part of it. And so, we want to spread a little bit of cheer,” Dean McWhirk of Prosser stated.
He joined the Lower Valley group seven years ago and the truck he was driving was the third one he’s decorated.
“I keep changing vehicles, so we’ve got different looks,” McWhirk explained. “We’re all going to have fun moving past this pandemic.”
The merry band of truck operators remained committed and rallied around the theme, “the show must go on,” as members from both groups assembled at the Sunnyside Bi-Mart parking lot, starting at 4:30 p.m.
Upper Valley club member Butch Jarvis, Coca-Cola fleet manager for Yakima and Tri-Cities, noticed an array of lights on his rig that were not glowing once he arrived at the South Hill Road location.
Jarvis climbed up on top of the classic side-bay delivery truck from another decorated rig to troubleshoot and repair the electrical problem. The lights were part of his roadway exhibit featuring about 14,000 LED and incandescent bulbs.
The 70-year-old Army veteran and former helicopter mechanic crew chief from 1969-72, has been a part of the Christmas light procession for 18 years. He enjoys spending time behind the wheel and reliving his boyhood memories when Santa Claus would roll down his South Seventh Street Yakima neighborhood in the late 1950s.
“They would announce in the paper when Santa Claus was going to come down your street. He rode on a flatbed truck and everybody would run out and wave, and then he would be gone,” Jarvis recalled.
The scheduled visits are posted on their respective Facebook pages. In keeping with Yakima Health District coronavirus policies, cruising routes and times are informal which are subject to change due to weather conditions.
In years past, the group would stop afterwards to eat or stage their trucks for the public to congregate around and take pictures. That aspect of their community engagement role has been discontinued for now.
Ruelas, owner of Fast Mobile Service in Grandview, has been with the Lower Valley Christmas Trucks for three years. With the help of family and specifically, his brothers remaining after work, they spent over 200 hours decorating the 18-wheeler.
“Driving by someone’s house – if they’re having a problem and we make them smile for like five minutes or so, that’s our goal. To make a difference for the kids and the family,” Ruelas acknowledged.
The small business proprietor led the cruising group of nine Christmas trucks made up mostly of Lower Valley club participants and with his family aboard the attached flatbed trailer on Dec. 6.
They rode in an illuminated and festive themed sled attached to a lighted big rig replica, all in the presence of a majestically glowing Christmas tree.
Last year, the mechanic turned truck driver used about 400 gallons of diesel fuel taking part in the nightly outings, he said. The group doesn’t receive any payment or solicit funds for their illuminating Christmastime convoy.
His wife and four kids do not choose to ride inside the cab with him, they would rather be outside on the decorated trailer waving to residents watching comfortably with family members, inside or outside their homes or vehicles and socially distanced from others, according to Ruelas.
“We really love seeing the kids jumping all around and being so happy to see us. I mean, that’s something that pushes us to keep going and into next year.”