The Snowing Christmas Tree

“Hey, Mom, I got this really neat thing for the Christmas tree!”

That was the year, 1971, when we added the Legend of the Snowing Christmas Tree to the annals of A Johnson Family History. It’s in the section called Randy’s Big Ideas.

Back then I was a part-time stock boy after school and weekends at Corner Rexall Drug. In the basement was a box with a long PVC tube, some folded up colored cardboard, and a huge bag of white Styrofoam pellets. There was also a power cord, which, for me, meant I needed to investigate further. I love things that plug in. I found out that it had been part of a window decoration some years past.

Pharmacist Joe Welke gave me a rundown on my find. “That thing? That was the worst thing ever designed. You want it? Take it! Just remember that you can’t bring it back.”

That proved to be the easy part.  Now I needed to convince my parents, which was going to be harder. I had already desecrated the house with wires everywhere for speakers, 40 years before everything went wireless. Those experiments are also documented in the Randy’s Big Ideas section.

“Let’s just see if it works,” I suggested. My folks must have been in the holiday mood because I was given tenuous permission to try it. Maybe they thought the experience would accelerate my frontal lobe develop. The timing was perfect – the tree (real, of course) was already up but was not yet adorned with ornaments. With the help of my brothers, we managed to put the contraption together.

This was no easy task and there were no instructions. The PVC pipe had to be installed vertically along the tree trunk. Feeding it through the branches was a bit destructive. We lost some small branches and a lot of needles. We decided we better turn the tree about 180 degrees to hide the pipe and the missing branches. We quickly vacuumed up the needles so Mom wouldn’t see them.

We then put the cardboard umbrella base together around the bottom of the tree. Some of the connections showed signs of abuse, hinting at some earlier despair with it. Duct tape was applied to those areas. The blower was connected to a hose at the base of the PVC pipe. Luckily there was one outlet left in the adapter that already had three other connections in use. Outlets were scarce in that old house and none were grounded, like the house wiring in “A Christmas Story.” Finally, we filled the umbrella base with the “snow” pellets.

The moment of truth was upon us. We turned on the blower and nothing happened. The blower worked but there was no snow coming out the top of the tree. We were disappointed until we noticed that the pellets were a bit reluctant to slide down the sides of the base. Static electricity in the dry winter air caused them to stick to each other and everything else. We hand-shoveled some down to the pipe hopper that fed the pipe.

That worked a little too well. Snow was suddenly flying out the top of the tree. The intent, of course, was for the pellets to fall down to the umbrella base and go up the pipe again. Some got recycled but the catch basin was not large enough to catch it all and a lot got stuck to branches. A lot of attention was required to keep the pellets flowing down to the pipe. And gathering up overflow pellets from shag carpet is no easy task, especially since they stuck to your hands.

We didn’t run it other than to show how it worked. But I had proven that it did indeed work, just not very well. An unintended consequence was where to put the presents. The base took up so much space we had gifts all over the living room, which was not very large to begin with.

Snowing Christmas trees are still available on the internet for those who like adventure. They are mostly small all-in-one artificial trees designed for a tabletop. Some even play music. Videos show how they work. One guy invented his own. Most now come with a deflector plate at the top of the pipe so the snow hits it and flies out in a more controlled manner. Blowers can come with a speed control. See for an example of a snowing Christmas tree.

We stored our snowing Christmas tree device for some years before we threw it out. We used it only that one year. For one thing, the pellets had mostly disappeared.

But it did provide a story for my mother to tell over and over. She said it brought a smile to her face every time she vacuumed the living room and discovered a few more snow pellets hiding in the ancient green shag carpet.