By 9 a.m., the first holiday stockings were hung as the City of Gillette began its annual transformation into a festive winter wonderland.
As they do every year, the city’s electrical services crew inched their bucket truck along Gillette Avenue, hoisting up garland stockings, snowflakes, Christmas trees, and jolly Santa faces atop the light posts lining downtown Gillette Main Street.
Later, they’d continue hanging street pole decorations down other thoroughfares throughout the city, across the Burma Street bridge, for example, down 4-J Road, Highway 59 and Highway 14-16.
“People really love it,” City of Gillette Electrical Services Superintendent Mick Wolf said of the annual display that always goes up the week of Thanksgiving and comes down a few days after the beginning of the new year. “It’s always a big hit every year.”
Wolf has overseen the colorful Christmastime project for the past 25 years, and as long as he can remember, Gillette has always gone over the top to light up the city for the holidays.
The task falls on his crew of 15 apprentices, journeymen, and lineman for the simple reason that they’re the guys with the bucket trucks, equipment, and electrical know-how to get the job done.
They all seem to enjoy taking part in the festivities, Wolf said, including “head light tester,” veteran lineman Rollin Juby, who for the past three weeks has been plugging in the 194 street pole ornaments one by one — he knows, he’s counted! — in order to swap out dim lights and bend warped limbs back into place after take-down, transport, and storage, or last year’s harsh winter.
Typically, the testing of the lights gets spread across the crew, but this year Juby took on the task himself in the wake of a recent hip replacement surgery.
Recently, Juby met with County 17 to demonstrate how it all works.
Tucked in the far corner of a city storage building off Burma Avenue, Juby concentrated as he plugged in one of the many Christmas decorations, a tree, nearly as tall as the real thing.
With the tree hanging on a hook in front of him, Juby plugged it into the wall socket. He poked along the garland limbs, scouting for burnt bulbs to replace. These trees are among the older ones in the city’s decorative fleet, which gets updated sporadically over the years based on allowances in the department’s budget.
Their last purchase, eight years ago, saw the city retire some clunky snowmen and replace that dated décor with more sleek LED stars, which along with being about a quarter of the weight of their chunky counterparts, also last much longer and don’t require so much maintenance.
They’re also brighter, Juby said, as he plugged one in for show. The approximately 6 foot star lit up the dark garage in hues of bright blue and cheery white.
New stars like this are a hit with Wolf, too, who was happy to okay the funds for the upgrade. The city budgets $26,000 per year for its annual streetlight display, which includes labor and keeping them lit.
The budget also covers the cost to contract the Christmas lighting genius of Wade Burr at Claus, LLC, who strings up the lion’s share of the city lights adorning the trees that line the city streets.
“He does an excellent job,” Wolf said of Burr. “I think he pretty much strings up the lights for the entire city.”
Bringing the cheer
Burr, whose full-time gig is safety manager at Buckskin Mine, said it takes his four-man, one-woman team of part-time tree lighters, aka his wife, their two grown children and a family friend, all of whom also have full-time jobs, about a week and a half to hang all the lights on almost every tree on either side of 4-J Road, among others, and many city street corners.
“We’ve been lighting up the city for about 12 years now,” Burr said with a smile. “We’re just trying to make it (the city) look nice, and bring that Christmas cheer!”
According to Burr, it takes “thousands and thousands of strings of lights and miles and miles of extension cords” to light the city’s trees each year.”
An effort, he said, countless onlookers recognize each year.
As for Juby, he’s looking forward to taking his grandchildren out to show them all the lights that he and his crew, along with Burr and the Claus, LLC team, have helped to test and hang again this year, literally making the holiday season more merry and bright.