Organized chaos ensued outside the Pepsi bottling plant as two dozen volunteers — employees and their families — broke into small groups to arrange and anchor down evergreen trees and three semi-truck loads of mechanical exhibits, plywood cutouts and lights.
Three hours later on that Saturday, Nov. 10, the bulk of the work was done. When the switches were tripped, thousands of lights came on, looped Christmas music played, the nativity scene lit up, Peanuts characters moved to-and-fro on a swing set, Santa played the organ and plywood cutout characters greeted visitors from the light-lined road.
Area residents, young and old, have savored the annual tradition of driving through the Christmas light display, which opens the day after Thanksgiving following the Corvallis Holiday Parade and lasts until two days after Christmas. The display outside the Pepsi bottling plant in north Corvallis began in 1981.
Locals may notice, however, that there are fewer mechanical exhibits than in years’ past and that some of the painted pieces are worn out. Since the founder of the cherished tradition, the late Mario Pastega, sold the plant in spring of 2011, maintenance of the display has been left to volunteer employees who don’t necessarily have the time or the expertise.
“It’s not exactly the same as it used to be because some of the displays are broken,” said administrative supervisor Carol Chagnon, who has worked for the plant for 23 years. “A lot of the pieces do need to be replaced or refurbished, and we just don’t have the man power to do it.”
This year, for example, the cutouts of Disney’s seven dwarfs stood on the lawn without the miniature ferris wheel they traditionally ride on,
“We still have the pieces, so they’re just sitting there now because that ferris wheel crumbled last year,” Chagnon said.
Employees are looking for ways to address the massive upkeep, Chagnon said, and would welcome help from the community.
“We were debating whether we can get some community involvement, whether it’s art departments at schools or OSU or anybody in the community who wants to give back,” she said.
Pastega, who died in January at the age of 95, provided the vision for the display. The plant’s maintenance man, Ole Brensdal, designed and built the mechanical exhibits, and his wife painted many of the pieces.
“He (Brensdal) is the one that did all that kind of stuff,” Chagnon said. “Now it’s just what people know how to do here.”
Brensdal died in 2007, but Pastega continued to pay his employees or hire temporary workers to set up and maintain the display. Pastega considered it a gift to the community and never accepted donations from the public.
He instilled the importance of the tradition to the new owners and was even quoted in a newspaper article saying that it was in the contract to keep the Christmas display. The company, Pepsi Beverages Co., based out of Westchester County, N.W., shelled out money last November for temporary workers to set it up. This year, the company covered the cost of shipping the pieces from storage at its Tillamook location, but it was up to employees arrange the pieces, Chagnon said.
“They continued his wishes and they saw how important it was to the community, and that’s why we’re still doing it,” Chagnon said.
It’s too late to help with this year’s Christmas light display, but anyone, especially those who are artistic or mechanically-inclined, is welcome to help keep the tradition going. To volunteer to help, call Carol Chagnon at 541-224-0504.