For more than 200 children in Charles County, Santa Claus came to town this year on a motorcycle.
The jolly fat man in a red suit was represented by the Iron Horsemen, a club of burly, hard-riding motorcyclists in black leather chaps who delivered a load of toys to the Children's Aid Society in Waldorf Saturday astride their big bikes.
"We were absolutely tickled to death when they chose our organization to give the toys to," said administrator Susanne La Hood.
"We were just about out of new toys when their call came in," she said.
La Hood said that for the last three Christmases the relief agency has donated toys to an average of 1,400 children, whose parents have fallen on hard times. That number is expected to grow this year, with 1,250 children already on the gift list.
"We replaced Santa. Desperate parents come in here and then smuggle these toys home," La Hood said.
The Iron Horsemen, a southern Maryland motorcycle club, decided this year to donate to the local project rather than follow the past practice of giving to toy drives in Baltimore.
"We've collected for the needy before, but when we turned the toys over to the Salvation Army in Baltimore, we never knew who was getting them," said club president William (Wild Bill) Foreman.
"This way, we can do something for kids in our own area," he said.
Two weeks ago, the Iron Horsemen lured county residents into their favorite watering hole, the Gold Mine Saloon, by offering country music and one free drink for every toy donated.
At the end of the all-day bash, the club's pickup truck was loaded with 235 toys: life-sized Scooby Doo and Kermit the Frog animals, miniature metal cars, dolls and footballs. The group collected $130 in cash and several cartons of canned food, Foreman said.
James (Pappy) Stephens, 35, who drives a cement-mixer truck during the week, said most club members are family men, not "rowdy, drug-crazed outlaws . . . . We think about the poor at Christmas just like everyone else."
Ed (Wings) Hynes, 42, who drives a freight truck after 20 years as a firefighter with Prince George's County, said some residents were "skeptical" of the Iron Horsemen's toy drive at first. "But once they saw it was for real, they were very generous."
"We're often judged by how we look and the big scooters we drive," Stephens said. "Most people don't realize we're just PUPs -- precious until provoked," he added.
That may be, but Stephens' appearance -- his wavy shoulder-length mane, dark glasses, black steel-toed boots and jeans vest emblazoned with the club's insignia, a long-haired skeleton with an old-time biker's cap -- was enough to scare away the only child present during Saturday's toy run.
"She's just very, very shy," said an apologetic mother.
La Hood said that despite the Iron Horsemen's visit, new and used sports equipment and gifts for teen-age girls are still very much needed, as well as crayons, woolen gloves and caps. "We expect to be filling orders up to the last minute. There's always a flurry of last-minute callers."