Santa's Whiskers

Road Report:  The S Class Sleigh

This month we thought we’d report on one of the more unusual sleigh and tow unit combinations on the road this time of year. The idea was occasioned by an older gentleman, long retired, who lives far to the north and each year makes a southerly trip, visiting friends along the way.  He’s been doing this for quite a while, traveling in the same sleigh year after year.  As we celebrate Christmas it seems only appropriate that we pay tribute to what is one of the older and certainly the most unusual of vehicles — a non-motorized S Class Sleigh.

   GENERAL DESCRIPTION   In 1998 NORAD reported that this particular vehicle is “a versatile, all weather, multi-purpose, vertical short-take-off and landing vehicle. . . capable of traveling vast distances without refueling.”  They also observed that it has what they called the latest global positioning navigational system.  (see:  In our opinion, the NORAD people should have also noted that the tow unit has an autopilot system complete with inclement weather infared illumination and extreme winter posi-traction, and that the sleigh is equipped with interior climate control and nighttime invisibility as standard equipment.

So far as we know, this sleigh has only been available as an open air, two-door, one or two seater sport model in red exterior with black wrought iron undercarriage, polished solid brass and leather accessories, hand-painted gold trim and leather interior. And, of course, because of its unique features and responsive handling, the driver must be both lively and quick.


Classification: Open class personal travel sleigh               
Concept Designer: William Gilley, author 
Marketing Agent: Dr. C.M. Moore, poet
Maiden Trip: 1821 (Officially recorded in Gilley's "The Children's Friend")                 
First Commercial Trip: 1822 (Officially recorded by C.C. Moore)   
Life Span: Unknown, original prototype still in use                     
Curb Weight (or UVW)*: Approx. 300 lbs.
GVWR*: Unknown, upper limits not yet tested                      
Chassis: Painted, all-welded-iron bowed body supports anchored on heat-forged iron runners
Suspension: Chassis integrated stress bars on each side, leaf springs front and rear                   
Storage: Back seat baggage area, holds one very large brown leather drawstring travel bag                         

*All weights are estimated. Curb Weight or Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW) is based on weight of sleigh  as built, without cargo and without installed aftermarket accessories.  Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is the maximum allowable weight of the travel trailer with all installed accessories and cargo.


Classification: All weather, all terrain tow unit 
Standard Power Plant: 8 Rangifer tarandus (M) 32 powerstroke with automatic transmission* Optional Power Plant: 9 Rangifer tarandus (M) 36 powerstroke with automatic transmission*    
Fuel: High octane organic materials       
Emissions: Organic materials, both liquid and solid                    
Standard Suspension: Fully independent 32-point air shock system      
Optional Suspension: Fully independent 36-point air shock system     
Brakes: Hand-forged metallic shoes, air cooled operation                       
Optimum Travel Surface: Slick, icy, snowy surfaces 
Acceleration: In the wink of an eye                 
Braking Distance: In a nod of the head        

*Both power plant versions equipped with high altitude turbo air intakes (16 for the 8RM32 and 18 for the 9RM36) and automatically adjust to perform in low oxygen atmospheres.


All evidence suggests only two tow units of this model have ever been produced.  The first set apparently was a reduced sized experimental prototype and the only clue to the manufacturer was a large “S” emblazoned on each side. (See:  Gilley, “The Children’s Friend”)  The second combination unit was the first and only production model.  Unconfirmed rumor has it that a little, old, heavy-set Dutchman named Jan or Patrick is the owner.  Apparently at one time he was the hired handyman of C. C. Moore.  All efforts to contact Jan and request an opportunity to conduct a road test have been to no avail.

However, a preliminary look at the sleigh’s handling characteristics can be extrapolated from some third party observations.  For example, turning appears to be effortless and extremely responsive, often only taking a slight flick of the wrist.  An articulated leather harness system gives it an extremely tight turning radius, both horizontal and vertical.  The ride looks to be unusually smooth, almost as if the tow unit and sleigh were effortlessly sliding across snow or floating on air.  In addition to the independent air-shock system, a special undercarriage design and comfortable hand-sewn tufted leather seats (stuffed with horse hair and formed over a series of metal springs) seem to give the sleigh its unmistakable ride.  Acceleration is silent, powerful and quick.  The standard 8 or optional 9 Rangifer tarandus (M) propulsion systems are both quite responsive, almost instantly providing full thrust and immediate acceleration to top speed that has been described as “more rapid than eagles”.  (see:  "Account Of A Visit Of St. Nicholas") Equally impressive is the stopping capability of the braking system.  Finally, it should pointed out that, by all accounts, this particular sleigh and tow unit were both designed to successfully withstand the punishing rigors of constant stop-and-go traveling. 


Multiple tracking observations by NORAD and others (see: have established that this S Class sleigh and tow unit belong to a white-haired snowbird.  Although it has been difficult to identify his exact point of departure we do know  that his movements begin in the north, and generally in late December. In the past there has been some confusion about the exact starting date of his trip (some favor December 6th, some December 24th, and others December 30th).  In recent years it has become clear that he does the majority of his traveling on December 24th.  We do know that for the last one hundred and seventy-eight years he has made this trip without fail.  And we’re fairly sure that his itinerary quickly takes him into warmer regions until he ultimately arrives in the tropical climates where he reverses his route, eventually returning home in the north just before the start of the new year.

Given the extent of his travels each year, it is always quite amazing that this gentleman and his unusual sleigh and tow unit are not spotted by more people.  While the driver can occasionally be glimpsed in a mall or standing on a busy street corner, the tow unit and travel trailer are almost never seen. 

He does, however, have a mail forwarding system.  In fact, his travels are so well documented that most government agencies, including the Post Office, will forward all mail, even if it lacks postage and contains nothing but his name (see: "Miracle on 34th Street").  And he prefers to do all of his traveling at night, making frequent nightly stops at numerous homes of friends along the way.

One curious note — as he leaves the home of each friend he has a penchant for turning and saying:  “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

by Craig Hosterman