THREE OAKS — The final scene of “Prancer” shows the magical reindeer joining the team pulling Santa’s sleigh through the sky, followed by an aerial view of a village that looks a lot like Three Oaks.
Much of John Hancock’s 1989 Christmas tale (which starred Sam Elliott, Chloris Leachman, Abe Vigoda and Rebecca Harrell) was filmed in Three Oaks and the nearby New Carlisle area.
But the community that Prancer and all of the other reindeer fly over before the end credits begin to roll was a model that still exists – in Three Oaks.
Region Of Three Oaks Museum Board members Nick Bogert and Randy Miller have been restoring the main three sections of the Prancer scale-model version of Three Oaks on the third floor of the Three Oaks Township Library building where it has been in storage for quite a few years. It depicts the main drag of the village basically as it was in the 1980s, with plenty of retro touches like older cars and a Christmas tree lot as seen in the movie.
“That’s where Prancer was chained up,” Miller noted.
He said the model was in pretty good shape, but lights had to be replaced.
“We put new lamp posts on and I ran some black threads to simulate wires,” Miller said.
Library Director Cheryl Kersey said the model village was featured in the Christmas window display at the Three Oaks drug store when it was open.
“It’s been upstairs since the pharmacy closed,” she said. “When Froehlich’s bought it and they started working, it came over here. And it’s been sitting up on our third floor waiting for someone to restore it.”
That downtown Three Oaks tradition has been renewed for 2020 as the North Elm Street portion of the model is on display in the library’s front window for the holidays.
The small middle section of the model, composed mainly of the train tracks that run through the center of the village, and the South Elm Street portion, were originally slated to be displayed with the northern portion in Heritage Hall (the historic former Three Oaks Township Hall) during a Dec. 12 open house that was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
They ended up being taken back to the third floor of the library.
Once the main section (including the Warren Featherbone building that now houses the Three Oaks Township Library) was in place in the library window on Dec. 10, Miller and Bogert sprinkled flour on it to simulate snow.
Bogert said the model was constructed by a man named Don Bowman
“It was built by a guy who’d worked for the FAA creating miniatures of airports around the country, and he’d retired to La Porte,” he said, adding that Bowman worked on it at his house for several months before it was used in the filming.
Miller said an aerial shot of the model was shown at the end of the film. The scene also included views of the surrounding countryside (some of it modeled after Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois) and depicts Prancer taking flight from “Antler Ridge.”
The Antler Ridge portion of the model is in two pieces upstairs at the library awaiting restoration. The other sections of Elm Street are currently keeping it company – for now.
“We’re kicking around some ideas of maybe doing something in the summertime with it. I think we need to re-introduce it,” Miller said.
Copies of “Lights! Camera! Three Oaks! The Making of Prancer,” a 13-minute documentary produced by Bogert, are available by contacting the Region of Three Oaks Museum at trotom email@example.com or P.O. Box 121, Three Oaks, MI 49128.