READING, PA. -- The party's over.
No more Nativity scenes. No more Christmas gatherings. Clyde, the dromedary, and Donder and Blitzen, the reindeer, are for sale.
Disposition is not a problem. Their owner, Harry O'Neill, guarantees that his animals are very polite. Clyde doesn't spit. Donder and Blitzen don't try to make shish kebab out of people with their antlers.
But all three are geldings, and O'Neill prefers breeding stock. His relationship with Clyde has been brief but pleasant. "We have never owned a camel before," he said, although he has borrowed them from friends. After a few weeks with Clyde, he said, "I found I do like camels. Now I'd like to have a couple and breed 'em in my yard."
O'Neill and his brother, Todd, make a living as the owners of Empire Wrecking Co. in Reading. About six years ago, they started collecting exotic animals on the side.
It has developed into a rather expensive form of sibling rivalry.
"They compete to see which of the O'Neill boys has the weirdest animals," said Karen O'Neill, Todd's wife. "So far Harry wins with the camel." This, she said, beats out her husband's pair of Malaysian bearcats, which everyone used to think were pretty swell.
"I love to buy things," said Harry O'Neill. He is 40, with shining, wavy gold hair, squarish glasses and an innocent smile. "I only buy what I like, so it's okay if it stays forever. But if someone likes it more, they can have it."
For a price. The ad he put in the classifieds this week asks $6,000 for the camel and $4,000 for the reindeer pair.
The O'Neills' menagerie began with just a few sheep and goats to help attract families and boost business at their 100-acre tree farm about 30 miles outside the city.
"There's a lot of competition in trees," Harry O'Neill said.
But then they came across Boss, a baby elk. They couldn't resist those big brown eyes and the promise of a 2,000-pound furry friend with 12-pointed antlers. Soon after that, they discovered a magazine called the Animal Finders Guide. It had an advertisement for an exotic-animal sale in Delphus, Ohio.
"We had been looking for something strange in the neighborhood," Harry O'Neill said. "I think it was a zebra."
They don't keep a close count anymore, but between the two families, they estimate they have 15 fallow deer, 15 wallabys, wallaroos and kangaroos (plus an undetermined number of joeys in the pouch), two zebras, a few goats of a rare breed that faint when frightened, a half-dozen elk, some llamas, a bunch of miniature cows and donkeys, four reindeer (Rudolph and Dancer are not for sale), two Vietnamese potbellied pigs, and, of course, Clyde.
Dancer is the tamest of the reindeer, said Karen O'Neill as she led a visitor through the barn at the Charming Forge Farm. An Amish farmer who takes care of Dancer during the summer has taught her how to pull a sleigh. Her halter is red and green, her antlers are smooth and graceful.
The reindeer that are for sale currently reside in New Jersey, where a man who sells Christmas trees used them to attract customers this season.
You can't beat them for conversation pieces, said Harry O'Neill. Then he reasoned that most of his animals had no practical use.
"Why would you have a potbellied pig? Same goes for miniature cows," he said. The cows are full grown at 40 inches high and cost about $10,000 each, he said. They don't produce milk, and at those prices he can't afford to eat them.
Clyde was one of the few animals he has bought for a clear and functional purpose. Early in December, a friend in the National Guard was called up for active duty. A few days before the friend was sent to Saudi Arabia, Harry O'Neill arranged a going-away party at the Camel Inn in Center Point. What better way to celebrate, he thought, than with camels.
He looked through a brochure and found 10 for sale in Missouri. He flew out after work on Dec. 7 to meet Clyde. "He was the friendliest and he could give rides," Harry O'Neill said. So he bought him for $6,000 and had him delivered in a truck in time for the party Tuesday night.
Just before Christmas, O'Neill lent Clyde to a local church to complete a live Nativity scene. He also brought him over to a low-income housing project in Reading and invited all the children to go for a ride.
If Clyde is sold soon, it won't be too painful, he said. The family hasn't had much time to get attached to him. But he won't sell him to just anyone.
"It takes a particularly right person," he said. "You don't just give away Clyde."