Sam Borges, founder of Borges Sleigh Rides, died Monday |

Sam Borges, founder of Borges Sleigh Rides, died Monday

Roseann Keegan
Provided to the TribuneThe late Sam Borges and his wife Rosie of South Lake Tahoe celebrated 60 years of marriage in November. Sam Borges died Monday surrounded by his family.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Sam Borges, founder of Borges Sleigh Rides, died Monday surrounded by his wife, four sons and their families. He was 85.

Borges died of complications from leukemia, a diagnosis the family received shortly before Thanksgiving. His son David Borges, a local chiropractor, said the diagnosis gave the family a rare opportunity to say goodbye before his death.

“It allowed those who were closest to him to come by and wish him well,” David Borges said Wednesday. “We were able to say we loved each other. We were so thankful. God allowed us this one to be a large blessing as we see it.”

Borges was born Jan. 21, 1924. He was raised in New England by his mother, who traveled with Borges and his sister state-to-state selling bibles and religious books. By age 12, Borges had crossed the United States 12 times.

Eager to stay in one place, Borges met a farmer south of Fresno who let him stay and work on his farm. By age 14, Borges had his own dairy with three to four cows.

On Nov. 24, 1949, he married his wife Rosie at the Little Chapel Around the Corner in Las Vegas. They celebrated 60 years of marriage last year.

The couple made their first home in Lemoore, Calif., and had four sons: Dean, Don, David and Dwight. The family later moved to San Jose, where Borges sold tractor equipment and made extra money cutting wood on the side.

“In 1959, he built his own wood splitter that still rivals any other machine, and it will still work into the future,” David Borges said. “We would cut 100 to 150 cords of oak per year. That’s how efficient it was.”

The Borges family would vacation in South Lake Tahoe, tent camping for a week during the summer and staying in a motel during the winter.

By 1965, David Borges had saved enough money from the wood cutting business to move his family to South Lake Tahoe. He took a construction job building the Tahoe Keys and placing sewage lines throughout the development.

Borges’ wife Rosie was a crossing guard for 20 years at Lake Tahoe Boulevard and Lyons Avenue.

“She crossed a lot of kids who now have their own business,” David Borges said. “They all know Miss Rosie. They were crossed by her and they’re all better for it. She kept a tight rein, in a loving way.”

If a driver stopped at the crosswalk, Rosie would smile at them until they smiled back.

“Her goal was to get a smile out of their face,” David Borges said. “If she put a smile on someone’s face, she did her job.”

But if they didn’t stop, she’d put a dent in their car with her sign.

“Not only that, the police would come and get you and identify your car with the dent,” David Borges said.

Borges got into the sleigh ride business in 1967, following a chance conversation with a casino executive while he was delivering wood. The man said the area needed a non-athletic form of outdoor entertainment for visitors.

Borges recalled the horse-drawn sleighs in New England that hauled milk during the winter. He hung a single postcard of a sleigh in the garage and built the company’s first sleigh on his own.

“He was always a creative, industrial man,” David Borges said. “He had a rule that if a machine can do the work, let the machine do the work. If you don’t have a machine that does the work, make one. So he learned how to weld. He learned hydraulics.”

Borges approached Brooks Park, patriarch of the Park Cattle Company, and said he needed a place to operate the sleigh rides.

“On a handshake – a handshake – they made up an agreement that my dad could lease the property in the wintertime,” David Borges said. “That’s what Mr. Park was like. That’s what my dad was like.”

Borges’ youngest son Dwight later took over the business. It continues to operate next to MontBleu Resort during the winter, while offering carriage rides for visitors and newlyweds during the summer.

Last year, Borges’ daughter-in-law Diana Maria de Borges wrote “Sleigh Rides in Lake Tahoe: Memoirs of Sam Borges.”

An excerpt from the book recalls Borges’ early thoughts about the sleigh ride business.

“I was thinking on the drive home that I would be reliving some of my fondest boyhood memories of sliding behind the milkman’s sleigh back in Massachusetts. Sliding along to the sound of bells keeping beat to a horse’s trot. To boot, I could create these memories for others to enjoy. Little did I know that I would spend the rest of my life doing sleigh rides; and be the happiest man on earth. I would be working with my animals, enjoying the outdoors and making people happy: What a life!”

Borges is survived by his wife Rosie; sons Dean Borges of Carson City, Dwight Borges of Gardnerville, and Don Borges and David Borges of South Lake Tahoe; four daughters-in-law, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Services are pending.

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