hen I first saw the red one-horse open sleigh on Brad Haupt's front porch, I thought Santa had left it behind. It's the perfect image of what the jolly old man might have used on Christmas Eve. But instead, the 120-year-old restored sleigh was used in a church pageant by Brad's wife Marilyn, which is why it was restored after all these years of neglect.
The Haupts live on a 5-acre parcel on Johnston Road just off Camino Tassajara in unincorporated Contra Costa County. Although the site is 6 miles from the Pleasanton city limits and just across Tassajara from the Town of Danville, the Haupts consider themselves part of Pleasanton. That's where they shop, where their children attended school and where the Pleasanton post office continues to deliver their mail. Pleasanton's has been the only post office handling rural deliveries for the last 100 years, which includes those living along much of Tassajara.
Brad Haupt hails from five generations of farmers. The family still owns farmland in Belmond, Iowa, where his great-great-grandfather settled after emigrating from Germany with his wife, six sons and a daughter in the mid-1800s. Brad's great-grandfather Ernest, his grandfather Earl, his father Ernest, now 87, and Brad, himself, were all born on the farm although no one in Brad's generation and those born since want to be Iowa farmers. So when Ernest, the father, decided to sell the 5 acres where the farmhouse, barn and various other buildings are located, Brad and Marilyn decided to drive there with a trailer to bring some of the family treasures back to California.
When Brad found the sleigh in the barn's loft and loaded it into the trailer, he learned from his father that the sleigh was used by the Haupts from 1890-1910, but then packed away when they started using automobiles. At the time, though, it was a fast-moving mode of transportation that, unlike other full-wagon sleighs, could clip along as fast as the driver was willing to push the horse. Brad says it was much like the sports cars of today -- very fast but also small and more dangerous.
Back home, the old sleigh stayed in Haupt's barn off Tassajara until he refinished it for the Christmas pageant. Everything about the sleigh is authentic, which required searches of hardware stores and lumberyards to find extra thin-wood and fabric where new material was needed. Castro Valley Lumber had planking thin enough for a new floorboard; an auto body upholsterer in Walnut Creek provided new red leather, even with the buttons to match the original.
Haupt waxes nostalgic about the less hectic times when the sleigh was used. Even today, he remembers life on the farm as more enjoyable than it probably was, given Iowa's deep-freeze winters and terribly hot summers. But the farm was still a wonderful site to see again, with its rolling hills and fertile soil, much like the farmlands in Germany, which is why the Haupts and many of their friends immigrated to Iowa.
With college degrees, including his father's in science, the Haupts of today are enjoying Pleasanton, where Brad Haupt and three of his sons operate their own business, Allied Tax Planners, located near the Stoneridge Shopping Center and at an office next to the Tassajara home, within eyesight of the sleigh. Brad said he and Marilyn and their five sons and a daughter hope to show off their restored, 120-year-old sleigh next year in the 2012 Pleasanton Christmas parade.