Gary Martin is scaling his step ladder, lugging a wire frame — one that he welded himself, then bedazzled with LED lights — up onto his roof, just to see exactly where he’ll need to insert eye screws to hold the new star-studded apparatus in place.
Never mind that it’s still summer, or that he won’t need to plug it in for another 12 weeks, or that he still has two pallets of unopened lights tucked away in the basement, awaiting frames to call their own.
No, Martin is embracing the pressure to perform, to surprise, to entertain for an upcoming season sure to be begging for some holiday cheer.
And it’s never too early to start.
“I’ve always been big on Christmas lights,” Martin says, before taking rooftop measurements last week. “It’s a tradition I don’t want to see go away.”
Judging by the preparations going on since January at 1132 Parkside Circle, there’s little chance that his efforts will go dark anytime soon.
Since January, Gary and Mary Ann Martin have been busy planning, assembling and choreographing their home’s holiday lighting display, still in development for its second year.
Last year’s debut attracted increasingly large crowds through Christmas — often backing up traffic both ways on Harvard Road near “Dad” Perry Park — as word spread of the high-tech display. Once in range, people parked their cars for up to 14 minutes at a time, soaking up a dazzling light show that was synchronized to music transmitted on a low-wattage FM radio station.
Sounds for the season
This year’s show will be even bigger, with as many as 70,000 lights blinking on and off to the beat of an extended series of musical selections. The family’s radio transmitter already has been overhauled, promising even clearer sounds to accompany the display set to be three times larger than the original.
“It’ll put out a little better bass,” Mary Ann says. “You’ll be able to vibrate.”
Mary Ann doesn’t even know how much money she and her husband have invested in the project — “I don’t look at that,” she says, “because I’d get panicky” — but there are some frugal methods to enable their cheerful madness.
“We definitely buy in the after-Christmas sales,” she says. “We hit everywhere here: Wal-Mart, Westlake (Ace Hardware), Target. I grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, and as we drive there we’ll hit every store there and any store in between: ‘Hey, there’s a Lowe’s!’ We hit a lot of different places.”
Gary, meanwhile, has added do-it-yourself skills to the ones he already counts on both for employment — he’s IT manager at Lawrence Paper Co. — and for rigging a hard-wired, computer-programmed, down-to-the-split-second neighborhood extravaganza.
“I picked up welding this year, so I can make wire frames for all this stuff,” he says, noting that he sticks to snowmen and other basic, nondenominational shapes. “I don’t want to get into all kinds of animals and stuff. It’s too bulky to store.”
Instead, he’ll soon dig a hole 4 feet deep in his side yard, so that he can pour a concrete base capable of supporting a new “megatree”: A 22-foot-tall steel pole festooned with 10,000 red, green and white lights, plus a 16-pixel RGB (red-green-blue) LED star capable of producing, he says, “all kinds of patterns and infinite colors.”
No wonder he’s up over the porch, taking measurements long before ever-anxious retailers can dust off their own Christmas displays.
“Last year we were running 140 channels,” Gary says, explaining that “white lights on the roof” for example would represent one channel. “This year I’m having to modify all the programming, because it’s already pushed up to 580 channels. We have to redo all the programming. We’ve added almost another 20 controllers. I need to get more data lines in. There’s some technical challenges in there. …”
But he’s not stressing out. Not yet.
Having already lost nine days of work because of sickness — “at least I’ve got the swine flu out of the way,” he says — Gary hopes to have time to bring most, if not all, of his bright vision to life.
The lights are scheduled to go on shortly after 5 p.m. Thanksgiving night.
“That’s if I get it all done in time,” he laughs. His five color-changing wire twig trees in the garage already are getting a free pass this season, given time constraints.
“I need to pull all the minilights out and put in red, white and green,” Gary says. “That’ll be a next-year addition.”