For 66 years this Santa Helicopter has been a Cordova Christmas tradition. Photo by Dick Shellhorn

Christmas is much about traditions, and as families gather to celebrate, these memorable practices are part of what makes the holidays so special. 

Often, something as simple as a tree ornament or an outdoor decoration can bring thoughts of days of yore. 

One of our family’s holiday hallmarks is a cumbersome craft my Dad created in 1957. That was the year of our first Xmas in our new home directly across from what is now the Ilanka Medical Center. (At that time it was the Cordova Community Hospital.) 

The home had a flat-roofed garage, and Dad saw a golden opportunity to create something special that could be mounted upon it. 

So, puffing away on a pipe somewhat like Santa’s, he set to work in the garage sawing and banging away. The air was filled with racket as well as the pleasant smell of Half and Half tobacco. Passersby had to be mystified by what was going on behind that garage door.  

Was it Santa’s Workshop? 


Finally, what emerged was the latest technology in Santa’s method to deliver presents to all those good girls and boys — a helicopter! 

Kids walking home from Mt. Eccles Elementary would stop in awe, and perhaps whisper their special wish to old Mr. Claus, climbing into the cockpit with a bag full of toys. 

Surely with this new-fangled craft they wouldn’t have to worry about Rudolph and his red nose to find to find their house. Why it even had a blinking red light mounted above its propellor, and besides it could actually hover over the roof, avoiding dangerous landings with all those reindeer on steep-pitched homes. 

This is year 66 of “The Chopper,” and more than once it actually did go airborne, usually during a blinding snowstorm with high winds. The first thing we would do in the morning would be to look out the window to see if it was there. Most often it landed unceremoniously across the street near the hospital entrance.   

Dad engineered all sorts of schemes to keep it in place. Soon part of our Christmas traditions was packing sandbags up a ladder to anchor it down. When that failed, Dad mounted pipes extending out of the garage roof facia, and drilled holes in the chopper on which huge nuts threaded it in place. 

Every modification seemed to add more weight. Many years I would stand in a snow-filled pick-up bed, and hail passersby to help me lift it in place. Not once did they fail to crawl up and assist. Cordova is a town full of Santa’s helpers. 

The weather and crashes took their toll. We repainted it several times; local musician and artist John Anderson stopped by and offered to create an attractive blue background. Several broken parts had to be repaired. One time we had to create a prop for the one that had gone missing in the middle of the night. Lights had to be replaced often, and alas, red blinker bulbs, like Rudolph’s Shiny Nose So Bright, were harder and harder to find.  

Both Mom and Dad are gone. These days I mount The Santa Chopper on an elevated pair of horizontal planks in front of our home down on Pipe Street.  

The street name comes from the fact that for many years Cordova’s water supply came from a reservoir up by Mt. Eccles via a pipe that ran under Odiak Slough and underneath the street. 

So just by coincidence, the Santa Chopper now on display on Pipe Street was built by a jolly old soul who smoked a pipe and secured its display by using pipe. 

I’m sure countless young Cordovans have found Christmas joy in seeing your masterpiece.  

Thanks Dad.  

And Merry Christmas to all.