One house, 35,000 bulbs: Year-round effort behind Wrights’ lights at Christmas
Seventeen years ago, Ron Wright's Pleasant Valley house on Chambers Drive was dark at Christmas.
You'd never guess that now.
By the first week of December every year, the retired Station 5 fireman has decorated his roof, his lawn, his split-rail fence, his parkway (sometimes) and the sides of his house and garage with a multi-faceted Yuletide display. Meanwhile, inside, his wife Diane gets in the spirit with a variety of seasonal beautifications, including a lit-up old-time town scene with (of course) a fire station.
The display, which has won a national award in addition to multiple local awards, attracts hundreds, perhaps thousands of people every Christmas. It also cost “a small fortune,” as Ron put it, and adds about $300 to the Wrights' December utility bill. His light strings (35,000 bulbs in all), display items, extension cords and other hardware fill up much of an auxiliary garage as well as a rented storage locker (costing $1,200 a year). Putting up everything takes about 80 hours - one day for the roof alone. “I have to mount things properly to make sure the wind doesn't blow them down,” Ron explained.
Vandals are an occasional irritant. He recalled the day after Christmas one year, when he found a number of his lights torn off and dumped on Chambers Drive. Despite sub-zero temperatures, he spent the day retrieving the lights and reinstalling them.
Why does he do it? Ron knows it sounds “corny,” but he see his display as a kind of gift to people like himself who were born near Christmas (Dec. 29 in his case).
Even though parents (like his own) try to be understanding, “Christmas kids don't get birthday parties,” he said. “They just don't.”
The Wrights' Christmas light show started small 16 years ago, when Ron strung a few lights on his house and a tree in his front yard. He'd thought about lights previously - the Wrights have lived at 1126 Chambers Drive 33 years in all - but his firefighting career had made him wary of the potential dangers of electricity.
The display gradually grew over the years, although Ron had to be careful of overloading circuits. “I'd put our electric range on self-clean, and we'd blow all our fuses,” he chuckled.
A key date in the Wright light history is 1995, when he finished a garage/workshop next to the house's original garage. During the construction, he had an electrician install a separate 100-amp service and underground wiring beneath the new driveway and elsewhere on his property. These upgrades allowed substantially more Christmas lights to go in.
Ron doesn't appear to be slowing down. He thinks about his displays, changes aspects of them from year to year and spends off-season hours shopping for or creating new configurations (such as this year's southwestern-style cactus display, with lights he's wrapped around barb wire).
The large Santa in his yard with a raised right hand resulted from his happening to see it in front of an Old Colorado City shop as he was driving down Colorado Avenue one day. “I came to a screeching halt,” he said.
He doesn't go overboard with documentation. Knowing where to put lights and various items from one year to the next is “just a matter of taking pictures and remembering where things go,” Ron said.
Same goes with the maze of underground wiring, “I keep it all in my head,” he said. “If we ever move away from here, the new people are going to wonder what's going on.”
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