Santa’s workshop, reindeer discovered in Rifle city limits
After centuries of searching far and wide, authorities, historians and theologians are now confirming they have in fact discovered the North Pole and Santa’s Workshop at the corner of 16th Street and Whiteriver Avenue in Rifle.
Well, even though you can spot deer on the property and the compound is lit up like the front terrace of Hotel Colorado, it’s not actually the home of Santa Claus or his workshop.
Rather, it’s the residence of 73-year-old resident Jon Isham, who owns a liquor store near downtown.
Isham spends months during every holiday season decorating almost every square inch of his 7.75-acre lot in Rifle. When everyone is focused on pumpkins and witches in October, he’s already putting up sparkling lights and candy canes.
“Not only that long, but I’m fighting the elements,” he said. “A lot of people are setting their decorations up now or a week ago, and I learned over the years you have to prepare.”
Isham, who looks like he could be Santa Claus’ distant cousin, has been showering his storybook-like Rifle ranch in Christmas decadence for nearly five decades. After moving to his current home in 1975, he said he started to collect broken Christmas decorations at the local recycling center while finding boxes to use at his liquor store, Jon’s Liquors.
Every year now, most of the trees in his pasture are seen enveloped in twinkles. Most of the fencing along Whiteriver Avenue is adorned with lights. The house, the barn, the garages, the Huckleberry Finn pond in his side yard… lights, lights and more lights.
Isham has so much holiday decor, he doesn’t even know how much there really is.
“It’s like asking a cattleman how many head he has in his pasture,” Isham said. “He doesn’t know. It’s just a whole bunch.”
Right now in one of his garages, there are stacks of empty 18-gallon plastic storage bins, with handwriting on them directing where the innards should be adorned on the property. And everything is synchronized to illuminate beginning at 5:15 p.m. daily.
Not only that, his entire house is festooned with holiday cheer. Chances are there’s country-western Christmas music emanating from the radio. Above the dining room table hangs a ceremonial plaque from B&B Plumbing that says “Best Christmas Decoration.”
“Their kids just love the lights,” he said of B&B owner Scott Brynildson’s family.
The San Diego native — his mother’s side of the family is originally from Rifle — said he always wondered if he should relocate from the big city to the snow-capped mountains of Garfield County. And after his time in the U.S. Navy, he did so in 1971.
Isham would then get married and raise kids. Back then on his ranch he also kept horses, cows, sheep, goats and peacocks.
Isham then got divorced in 1984, and his kids grew up to have their own kids, and now there are no more barn animals on his property.
But no matter. He still loves spotting deer and various wildlife rubbing against his Christmas decorations as he watches TV.
“I’ve got a lot of doves. I get red foxes,” he said. “I just sit out here and relax, kick back.”
And beyond the critters, Isham receives all sorts of visitors.
When he’s putting up the decorations leading up to Christmas, he said people passing by in their cars will sometimes shout “Atta boy, Jon” and “We love you.” It’s a spirit he truly values.
“When your boss tells you thank you more than once, then I think he does appreciate you,” Isham said. “And being a boss, I always try to tell my helpers thank you.”
During this time of year, he also said elderly women drive up his long driveway just to stop and give him candy — even though he’s diabetic, he jokes.
Then there’s the constant passersby, whom he affectionately refers to as “lookie-oos.” A couple teenage girls, in fact, recently got their vehicle stuck in one of Isham’s ditches.
“They were checking out the place and were trying to get out of the driveway,” Isham said. “I’ve had it happen before, but not in a while.”
And when he’s done spending 20 or so days after the holidays driving around his ranch on his four-wheeler to take down the decorations, Isham takes off for Hawaii. Even then, he leaves the Christmas lights on his roof all year round.
“My daughter doesn’t like me up on ladders,” he said.
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Officer Haley Walker sat beside her stepmother in a windowless interrogation room just before starting the overnight shift on Thursday evening.