Building Santa's Sleigh
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Building Santa's Sleigh

“I attempted to do so many things that I had never done before, and there’s no book to go to,” says Turk. “There’s no place that you can go and get a set of drawings to build a sleigh.”

The sleigh measures 14 feet long and 5 feet, 8 inches wide, and the back is 7 feet tall, providing ample room to fit a bunch of wide-eyed kids during holiday parades. The sleigh weighs around 2,500 pounds, so Turk attached casters to ease transportation.

Turk made the entire sleigh from the wood of one poplar tree, using his Wood-Mizer LT40 Hydraulic Sawmill. The people at Wood-Mizer were so impressed, the company awarded Turk one of their 2011 Personal Best awards. The sleigh won Grand Champion in the category of “Wide Open, Unusual, and Unique Projects.”
While the craftsmanship of the sleigh is impressive, the real magic happens when kids (age 1–100) sit inside it. To bring the sleigh to life, Turk installed a dashboard with a bevy of buttons and high-tech gadgets. There’s a “time delay” switch (to deliver all those presents) and an “on-board computer” screen that flashes satellite images as well as the names and locations of those on Santa’s “Great Kids List.”

The fun really begins when Santa chooses one kid to press a large white button, activating a thrilling “launch” sequence. Dash lights flash, a loud Klaxon horn sounds, and an amplifier and subwoofers under the seat simulate the firing of a loud engine. As riders start to feel the vibrations under their feet, a fog machine makes the sleigh appear to be engulfed in rocket exhaust.
Turk estimates he saved about $4,000 on lumber by doing his own milling on the Wood-Mizer, but he admits that the project cost about $17,000. Still, it’s clear that Turk believes the project was worth every penny.

“There’s nothing that warms my heart more than to see the kids and their parents just enthralled,” says Turk. “To see them smile, to see the wonder in the kids’ eyes – that’s what makes my day. That’s what gives me my twinkle.”

Turk’s next project? Using his Wood-Mizer to construct an outbuilding to store the sleigh during the off-season.
When Gregg Turk decides to tackle a project, he jumps in with both feet. A lifelong woodworker from Somerville, Ala., he spent many years piecing together his own log home and worked for 30 years as a general contractor before health problems forced him to scale back his business.

As a semi-retired man, Turk decided to try his hand at portraying Santa Claus. He dove into the role headfirst, attending Santa school, growing a beard, donning an authentic suit and making public appearances. When kids started asking him where his sleigh was, he built one. (View more photos of Turk's sleigh and read a profile of his adventures as Santa.)

Using a labor-intensive process called “stack lamination,” Turk spent more than 1,600 hours building the sleigh. He worked in his shop every day, then spent evenings planning and designing on his computer. He considers the project a culmination of his 35 years of woodworking, as it challenged him in a way no other project had.
THE RIGHT TOOLS – With a little help from his portable sawmill, Gregg Turk built his dream sleigh.
Gregg Turk
SANTA’S MAGIC – The dashboard panel includes special instruments like an “on-board computer,” a “time delay” switch and a button to activate the launch sequence.
Gregg Turk
SANTA'S TWINKLE – Says Turk of his sleigh, “There’s nothing that warms my heart more than to see the kids and their parents enthralled.”
Gregg Turk
A ONE-OF-A-KIND MASTERPIECE – Gregg Turk, a member of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas (FORBS), built this sleigh from the wood of one poplar tree. He added a custom strand of bells for authenticity and casters for maneuverability.
Gregg Turk

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