Sleigh riding in a vintage bus

Idle buses and trolleys fill row after row at a bus storage lot in Tukwila, white and brown coaches from the ’40s, bright red GMCs from the 1960s and even one of the old waterfront streetcars, barely recognizable under peeling paint. This is where King County’s bus fleet comes to die, said Doug Thomson, a 25-year Metro employee. “We call it the boneyard.”

But not all of the buses actually die. Since the early ’80s, the Metro Employees Historic Vehicle Association has restored more than a dozen and uses them to take people on tours. With more than 400 expected passengers on nine buses, Saturday’s “Santa’s Lights” tour is the most popular of the six they do every year.

Thomson, a light-rail operator by day, enjoys the challenge of maneuvering the old buses through narrow neighborhood streets, calling out the most spectacular lights and singing carols. The best part, he said, is getting into the holiday spirit. “I get to wear my reindeer ears and be one of Santa’s helpers.”

The tour is not the only holiday-related engagement for Thomson in these coming days. On Sunday morning, the reindeer ears will come out and he will don his red Santa suit for the Jingle Bell Run fundraiser and other events. It’s something he has been doing for as long as he’s been driving buses. He starts letting his beard go “totally insane” in June and trims it back after the holidays.

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