Every Christmas for the last 45 years, Jeff Jenks has fashioned an animated Christmas scene replete with snow in the window of Jenks Tire Co. on 21st across from Sinaloa Restaurant.
This modest display — 10 feet by 10 feet — is easy to miss and natural to discount in a world where computer programs can create dazzling universes and incinerate them a mouse click later.
The winter scene has homemade, quiet and quaint written all over it. This Christmas calms rather than excites.
Santa Claus is driving a miniature Model T around an winding track with a bag of toys in the back seat, two men slide down a ski slope on toboggans, a man on a ladder is putting up a string of lights while, simultaneously, a dog is pulling the end of the lights and the man off the tree, a lumberjack fells a pine tree that blocks the track temporarily until a man on a horse pulls the tree upright with a rope and clears the track again, the Model T stops for some Avon Special Gas, a woman (modeled after Jenks’ disabled sister, Debbie, who died in 2015) sits in a rocking chair in the large Queen Anne Victorian house reading ”Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and when Santa drives by, the windows in the house open and a woman waves, and seven skaters pirouette on a frozen pond.
There is more. One delight after another. It’s a Christmas scene with a sense of humor.
The scene takes less than five minutes to unfold. Ten minutes because something this charming demands to be seen twice, if not three times. The picture window comes alive after dark between 5 and 9:30 p.m.
“The best reward is to come to work the next day and see little handprints on the bottom of the window,” Jenks said.
Jenks remembers as a boy of 8 being transfixed by the animated Christmas scenes in the windows of Brock’s Department Store and Fedway Co downtown on Chester Avenue.
“I want to do that,” he said.
He did. He has. He will, retirement not being a palatable option for the 66-year-old Jenks or those who depend on Jenks.
Don’t let the display’s simplicity fool you. Ten or 12 gear motors run each of the little scenes. Jenks has pages of schematics that “give him headaches” when he has to reconstruct one part or another. Powerful magnets, which he bought from Pioneer Mercantile when it was open, propel the ice skiers across the sheet of glass (Andy Gibb from the Bee Gees is the head on one of the ice skaters).
The tableau is as much a family project as the tire company (started in 1923 by Jenks' father, Joe). Joe started the Christmas tradition by putting up an aluminum Christmas tree with wrapped fruitcakes underneath in the early days until Jenks took over in 1972 and upped the ante.
“My sister donated doll heads from her doll collection,” he said. “My mother sewed all the costumes. My dad made the shingles for the Victorian house from a log that we brought back from Sequoia.”
Jenks has always tinkered with things — once taking apart a cassette tape recorder he’d gotten for Christmas on Christmas.
Tinkering led to building the original 1908 Model T from scratch and powering it with the zoom motor Jenks took off an 8 mm camera.
Jenks built the Victorian that was inspired by the Howell House, which he passed by the house every day on his walk after school from BHS to his dad’s shop. (The house stood next door to The Bakersfield Californian at the time before later being moved to Pioneer Village.)
Trees came from manzanita branches, rocks from Morro Bay and the “Buffalo snow” — 15-20 bags of cotton — was straight off the shelves of Bakersfield Floral Supply.
The setup takes the better part of four days after Thanksgiving and Jenks spends four hours after New Year’s boxing it up. (That means you have another week to check it out.)
Jenks has never been married and has no children or grandchildren. Has no children or grandchildren except during Christmas. They come in the night, they stand quietly and they leave small handprints on his picture window.