The 8-foot-tall rebar and holiday-light Santa Claus on the edge of town gives a seasonal interpretation of the local speed limit.
“SLOW HO HO,” he broadcasts to all who pass.
Santa’s warning isn’t really necessary for drivers on U.S. Highway 195. A cavalcade of other holiday displays turns this no-traffic-light farm town of 360 people into a traffic stopper.
Stepping into its holiday tradition with a passion, the town south of Pullman decks its streets, lawns, town green and football field with enough illuminated Christmas displays to stall the turbines at the Post Falls dam.
Well, almost. As it is, Larry Kirpes sees his Washington Water Power bill jump about $100 each December.
Kirpes, a retired rural mail carrier, figures that over the years he has cut, welded and bent over his knee nearly a mile of rebar - steel bars usually used to reinforce concrete - to create close to 50 displays around town.
Two years ago, he made 22. Last year, there were 11. This year, he’s made about 10.
“There’s eight snowmen in this town that I’ve made,” he said.
But he’s quick to add he is not the prime decoration maker and mover.
That falls to another 40 or so residents who assemble on the Friday after Thanksgiving to dig the displays out of basements and a town storage shed and plug them in around town. The work takes two and sometimes three days.
“It’s just a community-type thing,” said Roland Dahmen, a retired county road foreman, who tends the hundreds of bulbs glowing around town. “In a small town, it’s good for everybody to get together and work.”
“I just like to tinker,” said Kirpes, who learned welding in his high school ag shop class, then perfected it in the farm shops of brothers-in-law.
Kirpes and Dahmen figure the town’s Christmas tradition started 30 or 40 years ago, then died out until a few residents revived it by decorating Steptoe Street in colored lights. They picked an off-red hue, which they got through a dicey process of dipping lit bulbs in wet paint.
About 10 years ago, the tradition expanded as Kirpes began making full-blown displays that now appear all over town and the surrounding countryside.
On the town green is an entire skating rink filled with skaters and a stocky, red dog.
On the wall of Kirpes’ son’s house is an upended champagne bottle pouring a glittering cascade into a glass. “CHEERS,” is printed alongside.
South of town on the old George Schultheis farm, Dave Scharnhorst has built a 27-foot-tall star, its lights worse for the wear because of a recent windstorm.
Across U.S. 195, in a field of seeded wheat, sprouts an angel blowing a horn that says “Peace.”
Back in town, over by a development of new homes, an upside-down Santa falls into a basement window well saying “Ho! Ho! Oh noo!”
“Now this is Candy Cane Lane here,” said Kirpes, pointing to a row of red-lit 6-foot-tall candy canes running down Line Street.
Kirpes’ own house may be the local showcase, featuring holly leaves and candles, a wreath, a rocking horse and a 10-foot-high elf pulling a sleigh on a mail route. Rural, of course.
“I’ve got three snowmen to put up somewhere,” Kirpes said.
Problem is, it’s getting a little crowded.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo Map of area