These Grand County holiday displays always get traction |

These Grand County holiday displays always get traction

Tonya Bina
Off Beat/Grand County
Bud Tillotson stands in front of his decorated tractor on US Highway 34.

The holidays snuck up on me fast this year – so fast – I’ve failed to decorate my home with even a wreath on the door.

I did get my Christmas shopping done, but no stockings are hung by the chimney with care. No halls decked.

Before you pin me as a Grinch, know this. I love the holidays.

I love the twinkly lights of the season, the jewel-colored bows, songs, the mint of candy canes, the smell of pine indoors. I love how people try to put aside their problems and grow a bit friendlier to one another.

And I admire those whose seasonal spirit erupts into a colorful and festive display outside of their homes for all to see.

Because I’m a lame duck this year in terms of festooning my own home, I find myself poaching holiday spirit from others. On my route to and from work, no lighted Santa Clause, string of lights or decorated tree in the window has gone unnoticed by this holiday slacker.

Like the haybale-inspired “caterpillar” made into Santa’s alternative mode of transportation at the Miller Ranch outside of Granby, or the cute lighted gifts on the porch of a home across from Lake Granby. Or the masterpiece of holiday lighting at another home on the Highway 34 route.

I knew the Tillotsons wouldn’t let me down.

Each holiday, not just Christmas, I look forward to what I will see perched on the antique 1930s Caterpillar tractor resting on a post at the ranch entrance.

Through the years, the Tillotsons have been the most consistent decorators, providing drivers-by a booster of holiday spirit.

On Halloween, it’s the witch driving the tractor (when it’s not plastered on the front of the tractor as if having run into it in flight).

Over Easter, the Easter Bunny is usually propped up in the driver seat. In 2001, someone stole the bunny right out of the Tillotson display, prompting the family to write a letter to the editor in the newspaper pleading for its return. No one ever returned it.

On the Fourth of July, we normally see Uncle Sam taking the driver’s seat. A customized Uncle Sam dummy costume was made by Terry (Tillotson) Pratt, daughter of ranch owners Allen “Bud” and Beverly Tillotson.

“I’ve had a lot of fun with it,” said the mastermind of the Tillotson decorations, Bud, 78.

In his office at the 180-acre cattle ranch, Bud – an antique-trucks buff – shows me a scrapbook of newspaper clippings he’s collected through the years, each with a photo of a certain holiday display the news deemed worthy of photographing. The first was in 1993 when Bud had a holiday-lighted flatbed truck sitting at the ranch entrance.

By Halloween, a stack of inflated pumpkins sat in the flatbed.

Eventually, the flatbed gave way to a tractor, which was then replaced by the current D2 Caterpillar. Electric power was implemented at the entrance, replacing the former gas generator that had to be refueled every few hours.

Bud’s favorite holiday display was one he and his ranch workers customized for the flatbed truck. They made a festive rotating carousel that included Santa and stuffed animals. “That was probably the one we put the most effort in,” Bud said, whose wife Beverly is always helping alongside.

The most controversial of holiday displays, Bud said, was the year he put blow-up turkeys on the flatbed around Thanksgivingtime. Standing behind the turkeys was a dummy dressed as a hunter holding a piece of wood designed to be a shotgun. “It was a guy hunting turkeys. It was kind of cute,” Bud said. But soon after he put it up, he received a complaint. Nevertheless, the turkeys and hunter stayed.

“I used to have more ambition than I think I do now,” Bud said.

Bud suffered a stroke in 2010 and has been in and out of the hospital. He now walks with a cane and may move a little slower than before, but his mind is still very sharp and his expressions gentle. The lines of his face are telling of a lifetime of ranch work at what was once his parents’ place.

This past Halloween, people asked the Tillotsons where the witch was.

And there wouldn’t have been a lighted Santa sitting in the tractor this holiday if it weren’t for daughter Terry and her husband Ted, who fished the decor out of the barn and saw to it that it lit up on the roadside while Bud was in the hospital for minor surgery.

“It’s an odd place to see something,” Bud said of his tractor displays, which have long caught my eye, as well as thousands of other Highway 34 motorists.

“We used to be the only ones, but now up and down the road, people are really putting up some nice things,” he said.

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603

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