Holiday traditions in Three Rivers: North Fork Bridge illuminated, Santa’s tow truck relocated

Holiday traditions in Three Rivers
TOWING THE TOW TRUCK: Three Rivers’s most famous and favorite tow truck was moved one mile up Highway 198 on Friday, November 13, from the O’Connell property just west of North Fork Bridge to the Three Rivers Historical Museum. The procession included Valero Bros. Towing from Woodlake and Kyle Stark, Three Rivers resident deputy, Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. The tradition of decorations that adorn the truck each holiday season will continue. (Tom Marshall photo) 

North Fork Bridge lights schedule

Lights and garland will adorn the North Fork Bridge again this year, but without all the fanfare. The North Fork Bridge lights, a favorite Three Rivers tradition that was resurrected three years ago by the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce, will be Holiday traditions in Three Riversilluminated once again this year, beginning Friday, November 20

During the past two years, the public has been invited to join in the ceremonial bridge-lighting, kicking off the holiday season in Three Rivers and followed by an after-hours mixer at nearby businesses. But COVID-19 strikes again, and there will be no public event.

The Lighting of the North Fork Bridge event became a community event in November 2018, and it was the first time the now-65-year-old bridge had been adorned for this inaugural event. 

The lights will shine from 5 to 10 pm nightly from November 20 through  January 3.  Sponsors of this year’s lights are Wood ‘N’ Horse and Family Health Care Network

Santa’s Tow Truck has new home Holiday traditions in Three Rivers

Another longtime holiday tradition in Three Rivers was Santa’s Tow Truck at Pat O’Connell’s place, which was a favorite sight for 60 years. Pat would decorate the vintage truck with lights bumper to bumper, a toy sack on the tow hook, and with Santa in the driver’s seat waving to all passersby.

Pat O’Connell (1927-2019) owned and operated a gas station, garage, and towing company in Three Rivers, just west of the Highway 198 intersection with North Fork Drive. He lived with his wife, Shirley, and raised his family in a home adjacent to the station. It was here that Santa’s Tow Truck would be in service throughout the Christmas season. Even when Pat could no longer decorate the truck, his son, Jay, kept the tradition alive, and Pat would be the guest of honor at the ceremonial lighting each year until he passed away.

But an end of an era arrived on Friday, November 13, 2020, when Valero Bros. Towing moved the truck to the Three Rivers Historical Museum to join a fleet of old fire trucks. Jay and members of the Three Rivers Historical Society will decorate the truck this year, and it will light up the night from its new home. 

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