For those who missed the reindeer Jeeps in the El Dorado Christmas parade or just want to see them again this holiday season, they will have one more opportunity this Saturday in Rose Hill.
Blain Dodson and Josh Klein, the creators of the Jeeps, were invited to attend that parade for the first time this year. The reindeer Jeeps first made their appearance in El Dorado three years ago.
“It was kind of a fluke thing,” Dodson said. “We put a light bar on his (Klein’s) Jeep and
Santa hats on it and someone mentioned we should be in the El Dorado Christmas parade.”
They decided to do it and dressed the Jeep up like Rudolph, complete with antlers and red nose.
They used a strobe light and a balloon for the nose and wrapped the back of the Jeep with icicle lights. The antlers were built to shoot out snow and it played Christmas music. That was just the start of what would become a parade favorite for many three years later. The second year, several of their customers and family members who had Jeeps and saw their Rudolph Jeep wanted to be part of it.
“That’s why we created the reindeer Jeeps with the light show,” Dodson said.
They have continued to add to and improve on the display each year, such as making Rudolph a custom-made fiberglass nose after the first year and working on Santa’s sleigh this year, as well as other items.
“There’s not really a store to go to and buy Jeep light equipment,” Klein said, explaining that it is all custom made.
But it wasn’t just creating everything. A lot of thought and planning went into making it a successful display.
“We had to calculate how much power was available and how many lights to put in,” Dodson said.
They also had to find a generator that could power it because the display can go as low as using 5 watts up to 4,000 when it is completely lit.
In addition, each rein has about 50 wires in it and each antler is lit separately with its own wire going back to the central Jeep which is the hub. The whole display is run off of a laptop and other equipment in the first Jeep, which has had everything taken out of it but one seat.
They also built the electronics for the Jeeps, something they do for their business, CrossRoads Jeep, Inc.
“The first time we set it up it took four to five months to run all the wiring,” Klein said. “Everything is 110 volts, so we had to be careful about the wires.”
They use extension cords because they all had to be insulated. They also use nearly 1,000 zip ties to put it all together, as well as clamps.
Page 2 of 3 - “The day of the parade it takes us about all day to set it up,” Dodson said.
Because they can’t drive the Jeeps around connected, they have to disassemble it and reassemble it at the start of the parade route.
“It takes three to four weeks of preparation to get to that point,” Dodson explained.
When setting it up, they have to make sure the tow straps linking each Jeep are tight all of the time.
“How we move and stop is I communicate with him (Dodson) in the back telling him what speed to go,” Klein explained.
Klein will stay on the gas a little and Dodson on the brake. If they go slack then back tight, it could break the lights or wiring. The middle Jeeps don’t do anything but steer, which itself poses some challenges because if they turn too much one way or the other it could snap the rein lights.
Klein said they did about 20 practice laps late one night in the Butler parking lot to make sure they had it right. When setting up the display, first the tow straps are put on and made taught, next the wiring is added and then the lights on the back of the jeeps. After that the audio and data cables are added.
“Certain things have to be turned on in order,” Klein explained. “It takes several hours.”
Because the equipment they use is affected by movement, bumps, moisture and dust, they said they have never seen anyone else do a mobile show before.
“We communicate all the time,” Klein said. “It’s very stressful actually moving it.”
Once it stops, then they are able to enjoy the show themselves. They also like to use new songs each year. To prepare the songs, Klein said, they go through the song one note at a time at about 1/16th of the regular song speed. They have created four songs, although only two were seen during the El Dorado Christmas parade.
“And they’re over in just three minutes, but it’s worth it,” Klein said.
“It’s a lot of work and we start questioning why we are doing this, but when we are at the start of the parade and see it all set up it is worth it,” he said.
“And seeing the looks on the kids faces all excited,” Klein added.
“When I was a kid I remember the Christmas parade was a big deal, but it started dying off,” Dodson said. “We want to help bring it back.”
They are looking forward to being in the Rose Hill parade because since it’s not on a state highway they don’t have to get permits and aren’t restricted on time, so they will be able to stop and play all four songs during the parade, which begins at 6 p.m. They also are working on a fifth song to play in that parade.
Page 3 of 3 - Klein and Dodson would like to do as many shows as they can each year. They were invited to a few others this year, but they were the same night as El Dorado’s and they wanted to stay in their hometown. They also would like to do Toys for Tots but that is only during the day. Next year, they should have five shows if everything goes according to plan. The Jeeps are sponsored by Associated Home Care, which helps offset some of their costs. Klein and Dodson volunteer their time to put it together.
Looking to the future, they want to improve the Santa float further and possibly add fog and more lights. They also continue to work to make the sound better, using a DJ’s system this year for part of the sound.
“We try to give them something to look forward to every year,” Klein said. “We want to try to make it as nice as possible.”