Rudolph and Elsie will return to Downtown Cooperative’s Santa House

Old-time Auburnites may remember one of the shining glories of Christmases past, when that reindeer with the red nose would pop into Cavanaugh’s Hardware and stay a spell, to the delight of the kiddies.

Word on the street is the legendary Rudolph never said “no” to any of the young set that clamoured about his hooves and bumped into his barn to have their pictures taken with him.

Well, Cavanaugh’s Hardware is gone, but Rudolph, his bovine buddy, Elsie, and the barn are back — and rarin’ to make fresh Christmas appearances at the Downtown Cooperative’s Santa House, smartly rebuilt and ready for its first season.

Behind this gift is the family of Jim and Janet Wells, who created both barn and critters for their own holiday traditions nearly 50 years ago, then decided the trio should stick around for the delight of kids to come.

“The Downtown Auburn Cooperative is humbled and grateful to receive this perfect gift for the holiday season by the Wells family,” the cooperative said in a press release. “It will be placed right next to the Santa House that we are bringing back this year.”

Here, a long, long time ago, is how this tale began.

In the 1970s, Jim and Janet Wells and their three boys — Jeff, John and Jay — started a 4-H Club called Udder Kids at their dairy farm on the Auburn Green Valley Road.

The boys and their dad then decided they’d build a small barn for a makeshift bovine they’d call Elsie the Cow for the 4-H families to use. To perfect the scene, a friend made a great puppet head of Elsie to stick on the cow.

Over the years, Elsie became a hit at fairs in Washington and dairy family events with 4-H kids who were at the fairs pitching in to operate the barn when they weren’t showing their livestock.

In the 1990s, the family’s imagination brought a makeshift Rudolph, who’d pay the Wells’ grandchildren visits. Seems the tots couldn’t wait for the reindeer to get there, tell them a story about Christmas and then give them a gift of a tree ornament or a bell from the sleigh, or something relative to Christmas.

As the grandchildren got older, Jim and the boys wanted to continue sharing Rudolph with other children. Rudolph was placed at Cavanaugh’s Hardware on Main Street during the month of December for families to have photos taken for Christmas and was in various Christmas parades in Enumclaw and Auburn. He also traveled to other family and friends’ homes to greet their children.

Then came great nieces and nephews, and they were able to share Rudolph with them, too.

Jim’s big wish, however, was to share Rudolph at a children’s hospital. He got his wish when Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital invited them all to its annual Christmas party, where Rudolph was a huge success.

According to the Wells family, that was an event none of them will ever forget — even the Seahawks mascot showed up.

“All the years of hard work was worth the experiences and the friendships of a lifetime,” the family said in a statement. “The Wells family is honored to be able to donate the barn, Rudolph and Elsie to the Downtown Auburn Cooperative for this longtime family tradition to continue in Auburn, the hometown of where this history begins.”