“I think the thing people are most shocked by, is that I’m not eighty years old,” quips Neil Howe, builder of one of Rutland’s highly creative Christmas light displays. “I’ve been doing this since the mid-90’s, but I’m not old!”
“It makes our electrical bill go crazy, at least for December,” says Howe, “but the neighbours are big fans and it brings a lot of Christmas cheer to the people on our street.”
“I have to choose my laundry times carefully. Our fuse boxes are maxed out, so I can’t run laundry or the microwave after 4:00 pm.”
Neil is not exaggerating for effect — electrical extension cords snake their way all around the front yard, driveway, roof, and sneak into the house here and there, to find power in outlets both inside and outside of the house. Including plugging into the washing machine. The Christmas light and music show requires it.
Neil proudly confirms his skills as a “redneck engineer”, and the more you look at how the various Christmas elements were created, the more it becomes clear that a lot of creativity and ingenuity has gone in his Christmas hobby. “I’ll see something somewhere, and I’ll think to myself, ‘I want to do something like that’, and then I just get creative with whatever I’ve got, to make it happen,” says Neil. “Garage sales are a great source for more lights and stuff. Even with everything we’ve set up, half of it is still in the garage.”
Mop handles, florescent light bulbs, old coffee cans, lots of plywood, sonotubes, wicker balls, and even a sea-doo towing Santa Claus on a wakeboard make up some of the brightly lit features in Neil’s front yard.
Fifteen different timers control the lights and their rhythms, and cheerful Christmas music accompanies the visuals.
“I wanted to say ‘Merry Christmas from the Griswalds’, except that I’m not falling off the roof”, laughs Howe, who wears a full safety harness he’s installing new features into the extensive light show. The ever-evolving display on the front lawn includes a wide variety of themes, from Santa riding a wakeboard, to palm trees and an image of a Harley on his kitchen window.
Not content to leave things as they are, Howe’s future plans include using computers to synchronize the lights to specific Christmas songs, and to continue to refine the current display.
“We had 9000 lights running at our former residence, nine years ago,” Neil reminisces, donning his signature hat, “and here, the only limitations we have are space, and electrical outlets. I’ve already got more ideas for next year.”