Christmas Eve at ELF Power Unit 3

PHOTO: kishjar?, Flickr CC

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Name’s Earl. I’m an elf. Millwright up at ELF Power Unit 3. That’s the big one.

If there’s one thing Santa needs to do his job, it’s a steady base load of about 250 megawatts. It swells some when they’re charging the new phones and tablets, but 250 will get you through the night.

Listen, I know your picture books show a lot of elves working with little hammers and saws, some nice little fireplace in the background. But you ever see the North Pole? Ain’t no firewood. It’s ice. Just ice. Even if a tree could grow at 80 below, ain’t no dirt between here and Russia.

Nope. Santa needs real juice. He’s running blowers, lathes, sorting equipment, conveyers. The cookie oven alone uses more electricity than the city of Denver. Guys like to race forklifts through it to see whose tires melt first.

You know what takes a lot of energy? Refining oil. You know what uses a lot of oil? Plastic. You know what most of today’s toys are made of? That’s right, more plastic than a Barbie convention at LEGO Land. You do the math on that, Little Lord Fauntleroy. Draw me a map how that gets done with little wooden mallets.

It’s all about the juice! No rest! But that’s the job.

You might think that Christmas Eve would be a quiet night out here at ELF Power Unit 3. Well, you’d be wrong. Sure, they’re done making toys, but that only means one thing: Shutdowns.

Oh ya, shutdowns. I tell the wife to put my ham and candied yams in the fridge ‘cause it’s nothing but O.T. for the next month. With all the toys out the door, it’s time to service all the machinery. Lube the drive shafts. Scrub all the marshmallows and candy cane dust out of the bearings.

The new fore-elf is some fruitcake-faced college kid. Looks like he’s 68 years old, tops. He’s got all kinda theories. Says we should use analytical data to make the crew schedules. You know what I say? If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. And if it is broke, well, then you fix it. That’s kinda what we do.

A lot’s changed over the years. Here at ELF Power Unit 3, we run nothing but wind, solar and clean burning natty gas. That’s right. We haven’t used coal in years.

Oh, it’s not for the environment. Fudge that. Santa just needs so much coal for stockings these days that we couldn’t keep the boilers lit. His sleigh can’t even carry it all that coal. The Washington, D.C., load alone had to be shipped into the Port of Baltimore on a Maersk freighter.

But we’d run this place on any kinda fuel. I remember one year we fed the fires with Cabbage Patch Kids. Grim scene. You do what you gotta do.

Some elves get to kick back on Christmas Eve. They’re whooping it up, chugging an eggnog or a hot toddy. But how does a toddy get hot at the North Pole? Takes a whole lot of electricity, that’s how. So some elves gotta work.

So sing your carols, hug your little ones. Santa will be by later on. I’ll be up here at ELF Power Unit 3.


Thanks for that, Earl. Merry Christmas! And a special thank you to everyone who has to work through the holiday. The world keeps moving, even when we stop to celebrate what matters most.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. No solar this time of year at the North Pole.😃

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