By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – It takes two Electric Department crews a full workday to brighten up the city’s Christmas holiday.
And, that doesn’t include the extra time it takes to replace burned out bulbs in the light strings that trim the downtown buildings and the utility pole trees.
“We’ve got to keep them looking good through Christmas,” said Electric Department Manager Joe Newman.
This season marks the 38th year that the tree-shaped decorations have been used and some of them are beginning to show their age. Newman commented that storing, moving and installing is hard on the 24 tree units. Bulbs and sockets get broken and paint chips off.
The original tinsel-covered trees were purchased in 1972. A photo on the front page of the Nov. 30 Herald shows Electric Department workers Eddie Magee and Arthur Nolen installing the decorations right before Thanksgiving.
They served for 17 years, but by 1989 the tinsel was becoming ragged and downtown merchants were urging that something be done to improve the look.
The Chamber of Commerce joined the effort and a committee was formed chaired by long-time downtown businessman Paul Parker. Serving on the committee were Linda Maynor, Ludie Appleton, and Betty Shearer.
The first funds were raised for the Downtown Christmas Lighting Project with the help of Santa Claus himself. The jolly gent posed for photos with youngsters at the Crafters’ Mall on Dec. 23.
But, there was some concern that the estimated $7 to $10 thousand needed to replace the decorations would be difficult to raise. It was decided that an attempt would be made to reuse the originals.
On Oct. 11, 1990, Ed and Betty Shearer, along with a few friends, began stripping the tinsel and removing the old lights from the tree decorations. Betty Shearer noted in her column that they found a delightful – and sturdy – tree shape in good condition underneath.
The old frames were painted white and a lighting pattern was designed that used 41 lights per tree. The committee decided to also edge the downtown buildings in white lights and urge merchants to continue the theme by decorating with white lights.
Over the next weeks, a regular gathering of folks at the Herald office stripped old tinsel and helped affix the wire and sockets to the additional 23 trees. It was dirty, dusty work, according to those who participated.
The goal was to have the lights up by Thanksgiving, Nov. 22. But, the work took a little longer than expected and the refurbished decorations weren’t lit until Tuesday, Nov. 27.
Now they are 20 years old and last week, as Brandon Richardson of the Electric Department hung the tree and garland that spans Main at Church Street, he had to fill gaps using bits and pieces of the greenery that had fallen off.
On most of the trees the tape that holds the wire in place is beginning to unravel and more of the sockets have to be replaced.
The metal trees are still in good condition and can continued to be used, according to Newman. But, it is probably time for another redo.
Anyone with ideas on how to rework the downtown decorations is urged to contact Betty Shearer at the Herald, 473-1473 or email email@example.com.