Santa Float History
We hope you have had a chance to enjoy the Santa Float. The members of Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue/Local 275 have had a wonderful time working with Santa to make sure he makes his rounds within the Cities of Neenah and Menasha. We thought everyone would enjoy some history/facts of the Santa Float.
The original idea for the Santa Float was from Fire Chief John Zick in 1950. It was designed as a gift to the children of the area. Mrs. Zick made Santa’s first suit. Chief Zick prodded Fred Kampo, owner of Kampo Transit Co. to donate the use of a flatbed trailer, as well as, a driver for the float. Chief Zick and his fellow firefighters spent countless hours designing and building the float.
1952 – Santa visited homes of children who were confined by illness.
1953 – Santa visits City parks and school playgrounds to distribute gifts.
1954 – The City of Neenah retired its 1922 American La France ladder truck and converted it for use as a float. The truck was the City of Neenah’s first motorized hook and ladder truck. Popcorn balls were given out to all of the children.
1958 – Santa bounces off of the float on Oak Street in Neenah. Santa’s helper, Harold Vander Berg, spent a week in the hospital. After that, the platform that Santa sat on was shortened by 10 feet.
1962 – The old ladder truck was renovated/refurbished and was made into a trailer to support the float. Max Liess donated a 1952 Ford truck, called “Truck 6″ to pull the trailer.
1966 – A City resolution is passed commending the Neenah Firefighter’s Santa Float.
1968 – The City of Neenah pays firefighters to operate the float for insurance reasons. This was a very controversial issue at the time and was discontinued in 1969.
1980’s – The City of Neenah and Neenah Firefighters, Local 275 donate funds to rebuild the trailer of the Santa Float.
1989 – The Menasha Boy’s Club started the Santa Float in the City of Menasha. The group was made up of members in the community that visited the “Old Grog”, a local watering hole. They came up with the idea by talking about their neighbor’s to the South’s Santa Float. During the first years of the float they went through the City of Menasha.
Many people had their hand in establishing the float. Some of the members include Charles (Bucky) Kilishek, Frank Erdmann, Gary (Rox) Kilishek, Tom (Tractor) Jakowski, Herb Trader, Gene Herubin and Dan Gries. They started the float to put a smile on the young children’s faces throughout the City of Menasha. The first few years of the float the members used an old Hearse vehicle that they refurbished cutting the top off, allowing Santa to ride on it with music. Santa threw out popcorn balls and candy to the kids.
1990 – The operation of the City of Neenah’s float was funded solely by Local 275. The float consisted of Truck 6 and the trailer made from the 1922 Ladder Truck. If it was snowing out, tire chains were added to the truck, which made the ride a little rough. On more that one occasion, Truck 6 would experience mechanical problems that included the cab of the truck filling with smoke. Each year the off duty firefighters would organize a tree run and head out to Wild Rose to pick up trees for the float. Yes, live trees were used on the float each year.
The City of Menasha’s float upgraded to a flat bed trailer, which was pulled by one of the members’ personal vehicle. They collected donations from businesses, restaurants and citizens from the area for the float. The members spent countless hours of their own time preparing the float. They made popcorn balls, tied balloons to each popcorn ball and handed out candy as well to the children that came to see Santa.
1994 – Neenah Firefighters began soliciting Funds from area businesses to continue operating the float. A different theme, Santa’s Toyland, was tried. This included Santa’s throne and a moving train display. A new sound system was added.
The City of Menasha Boy’s Club made 2,800 popcorn balls to hand out and ran short. The City of Menasha Fire Department led the float through their jurisdiction. The float went out for 10 nights in a row so all of the children had an opportunity to see Santa.
1995 – The Menasha Boy’s Club handed out 7,000 popcorn balls and still ran short due to the popularity of the float.
1996 – Steenberg Homes donated a trailer house. The walls and ceiling was stripped off the deck at Old City Garage in Neenah. It was discovered that a trailer home will fit in a city garbage truck! Redi Weld in the Town of Menasha beefed up the trailer and Krueger’s True Value donated the materials to build the deck. Two more deer were added. Over the next couple of years, new items were added. Bergstrom donated the use of a tow vehicle each year. Pierce Mfg. donated the diamond plate cabinets and a new generator and wiring were added.
A Menasha Firefighter donated over 400lbs of popcorn seed and oil. The Boys Club made 8,000 popcorn balls. Their goal was 2,000 popcorn balls a day up until the time the float started making its rounds.
As the Menasha Boy’s Club continued the float tradition, they added new members: Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Barney, Frosty the Snowman, Mrs. Clause and Elves.
1997 – Neenah Firefighter, Larry Zarda,(retired) supplied Christmas trees for a small fee and the every other street policy was started. This was to accommodate the growth of the City.
1997 – Following legal difficulties, the Boy’s Club could no longer operate the float and funds were not sufficient for the float to continue. The community was quite upset and everyone was wondering what would happen to the Santa Float. The Boy’s Club did not want the float to disappear so they asked Menasha Firefighters, Local 695, to continue the tradition. The firefighters were happy to continue the Float tradition that was started by such dedicated individuals.
A new float was built including: three reindeer, trees, lights, Santa’s Throne and a sound system. Jim Kraus was a key person in helping Santa. Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Barney and Elves also joined Santa on the float. The float was staffed with off duty firefighters, members of Local 695, and pulled by a Fire Department vehicle. A fire truck led the float through the City of Menasha, using lights and sirens to alert the children that Santa was coming.
2002 – Local 275 marked the 50th Anniversary of the float.
2003 – The City of Neenah and the City of Menasha Fire Department’s consolidate to form Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue. Neenah’s float continues to be the Santa Float and the Menasha float is now the Independence Day Float for the City Councils.
2004 – Artificial Trees were added to replace real trees.
2005 – NMFR Special Operations Truck begins towing the float.
2006 – Santa’s sleigh is completely refurbished by Vorpahl’s. The Chrome Shop, Twin City Monument and Allsport Engraving also made contributions to the project.
2019 – Santa added the GPS tracker to the float to make it easier for people to see where he is during his evening route.
The Santa Float is operated by off duty firefighters who donate their time to operate the float between the Cities of Neenah and Menasha. The Santa Float is made possible by area businesses who generously donate money and/or materials to continue the time-honored tradition. We hope you enjoy the float as much as our firefighters enjoy bringing it to you.