FORT MILL, S.C. -- It causes drivers and pedestrians alike to slow down. Some grab their cameras for a quick flash or two. Others just stare and gaze in wonderment.
What exactly is that thing?
It s a 21-foot long Christmas tree tied to a 1958 Plymouth custom suburban, and it s been making people smile during the holidays across the Charlotte area for seven years now.
The lighted Christmas tree car dubbed the Sleigh Burban is the work of Fort Mill resident Joe Jordan and friends. Since 2004 the crew has decorated the old car with a live Christmas tree and lights.
The group of seven friends goes by the name of Santa s Other Brother, and they ve been spending their free time to give back through a one-of-a-kind ride.
The car has appeared at parades in Fort Mill and Rock Hill and it has added smiles to folks from disability centers to assisted living homes. Young and old, the group brings joy all around the area and has performed at nearly a dozen events over the last few weeks.
Jordan, who works in IT support for a dental company, dresses up as Buddy from the popular Elf movie starring Will Ferrell. His friends tag along as Santa, Mrs. Claus, and other helpers, often bringing candy and whatever other gifts they can scrounge up.
We do it to spread Christmas spirit to different (people), Jordan said. We put the tree on Thanksgiving weekend. It takes about 20 hours to do it.
And it s quite an elaborate undertaking. Jordan chops down a live cedar tree each year the cedar tree is longer and skinnier, fitting better on the car, he says. As for the lights, there are 325 LED lights that run off the car s battery.
Each individual light is zip tied onto the tree to keep it steady. They are all plugged in to a inverter inside the car, said Jordan, who noted the first two years they didn t use LED lights and killed the car battery.
Even more intricate is the way the tree stays hydrated throughout its month-long marathon of appearances. The crew keeps the tree healthy by siphoning water through a converted gas can placed up front attached to a rag wrapped around the tree.
Every year we do upgrades and find better ways to make everything work on the car, Jordan added.
During the holidays the crew spends about 20 hours per week at events or keeping the vehicle working.
The car is pretty much original. It does take maintenance. This year we broke down twice, Jordan said, including after a recent Panthers game on Interstate 77.
The crew has no idea how many miles the Sleigh Burban has on it the odometer stopped working 10 years ago but the lights and temperature gauge are still working.
Maybe to the surprise of many, police haven t had any issues with the rather suspect vehicle, either.
The first couple years I was pulled over a couple times to see what was going on. Now most of the police men know me. If I were to go out of town, I'm not sure about that, Jordan chuckled.
After consulting with an officer three years ago while parked uptown, Jordan is convinced he s following all the rules.
It's kind of a tradition now, he said. It's definitely legal.
And it s definitely a holiday tradition unlike any other in town.
For more information aboout Santas Other Brother, e-mail Joe at email@example.com.