Consider The Reindeer

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Santa is the man of the hour. But where would he be without his reindeer? According to Sunday Morning's Bill Geist, he'd be sitting up at the North Pole on his fat can with a bunch of undelivered packages, that's where.

And he knows it!

Geist asked Santa: "Ever feel like you get all the glory and they do all the work?"

Came the reply, "Yeah. My job would be impossible without 'em. They're very important to me."

Santa's reindeer team is still the most amazing global delivery system by far: one vehicle, one driver, delivering hundreds of millions of packages in one night, worldwide.

Sunday Morning found a small herd of these miraculous animals in Belvidere, Ill., at an exotic animal habitat where Rick and Tammy Anderson rent wallabies, kinkajous, cougars, you name it. This is the busy season for the reindeer, whose workdays begin very early and very cold.

Santa is a smart guy. Since he only uses his reindeer once a year, instead of owning his own reindeer, he rents.

Summerfield Farm is the Hertz and Avis of reindeer, offering a complete line of rentals at $250 to $300 an hour, from compacts to full-sized, from fully-loaded luxury class (that is, with a full rack of antlers) to stripped-down economy models (no antlers).

Around this time of year, male reindeer drop their antlers, which is a problem in the seasonal reindeer rental business. But it's certainly not the only problem. Sometimes, a reindeer will make a break for it during transit. But with the reindeer wrangled, the elves head 'em up and move 'em out for a wild weekend.

The first stop is a corporate party in Beloit, Wis., where Tammy and elfin daughter Danielle escort Vixen and Blitzen. The bookings aren't always glamorous.

Of course, the kids all want to know: Where's Rudolph? And, as Danielle explains, it's important for the reindeer handlers to say, "Rudolph is always at the North Pole, resting up."

The other big question: Are these really Santa's reindeer?

Answers Tammy, "Of course they are!"

And how about if the kids want to see them fly?

"That only happens on Christmas Eve."

In the town of Deerfield, Comet's big rack is creating a sensation, with his admirers exclaiming, "Boy, does he have big antlers!"

Rick says, "Actually, we get a lot of people who don't think (the reindeer) are real. They think they were unicorns or some myth. They'll ask what it is -- actually ask if it's a goat, or how we fasten the antlers on the head."

Not just anyone can get into the Royal Melbourne Country Club. But the reindeer ride the elevator up to a posh holiday party. They're a big hit with the kids, who line up to have their pictures taken with the animals. After their photo op, the reindeer wish they could stay for the buffet but they have a train to catch –- at a "Polar Express" party.

Their last stop is Cliffbreakers Restaurant, where these party animals create quite a stir. The waitresses and chef all want their pictures taken with the reindeer, not to mention all the other guests.

As they leave the restaurant, it's the end of an exhausting 17-hour workday for Comet and Blitzen, Prancer and Vixen. But it was a mere rehearsal for their big gig on the 24th, a global delivery that FedEx and UPS and children everywhere can only dream about.
  • Ellen Crean

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