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Kodiak men seen as 'wizards' of city's Xmas lights

Posted: December 25, 2011 - 1:10am
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In this Dec. 20, 2011 photo, Andy Crawley demonstrates the computer program, called "Light-O-Rama," that controls the elaborate display of lights in front of his Kodiak, Alaska home.(AP Photo/James Brooks, Kodiak Daily Mirror)  James Brooks
James Brooks
In this Dec. 20, 2011 photo, Andy Crawley demonstrates the computer program, called "Light-O-Rama," that controls the elaborate display of lights in front of his Kodiak, Alaska home.(AP Photo/James Brooks, Kodiak Daily Mirror)

KODIAK — At one end of the city of Kodiak is a gala display — more than 10,000 lights synchronized with broadcast music by an automated computer program.

At the other end is another accomplishment of winter wonder, a 30-foot Christmas tree molded from recycled materials, standing tall in white light above Mission Beach.

Meet the wizards of winter.

Working separately, Dave Hilty and Andy Crawley have created two of the biggest displays on Kodiak Island this holiday season.

Crawley, whose display is on Otmeloi Way, started late.

“I saw the technology online (and) was interested in the tech,” he said. “We didn’t start ordering until the last week of November or so.”

Though the centerpiece of his display, a series of ribboned LED lights that can serve as a poor man’s Jumbotron, came from Outside, the rest of his 10,000-light display was purchased locally at Sutliff’s.

“I’ve got Sutliff’s brownie button,” he joked.

Building the display took a while, Crawley said. To make artificial Christmas trees, he wrapped fencing into cone shapes, then strung the result with lights.

“You can make a prop out of anything, since you don’t see it at night,” he said.

To withstand Kodiak’s weather, everything had to be staked down. That’s a problem when the ground is frozen. It’s an even bigger problem when you have to go through asphalt.

“We ended up drilling through the asphalt out there,” Crawley said, “then putting the stake into the hole.”

From the props in the yard, the lights flow in a tangle of cables to an outdoor junction box for electricity. Four thin Ethernet cables snake through a cracked window to a laptop, which coordinates the display through a series of electronic control boxes.

At the same time, the laptop broadcasts music into a radio transmitter, allowing spectators to listen to a coordinated selection of holiday music while they watch the lights.

Crawley said the setup — including drilling through asphalt — was easy compared to the time it took to program the display to move with the broadcast music.

“When you listen to these songs (while programming), you listen a tenth of a second at a time,” he said.

So far, that attention to detail has paid off, with dozens of cars stopping by each night to watch the shimmering lights.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people who are coming back two or three times. Once wasn’t enough for them,” Crawley said.

One of those people is fishing boat owner and captain Phil Fogle.

“Me and my family went out there (Monday) night before we went to the movie, and we really enjoyed it,” he said. “We’ll go back out again ... to watch it some more. It was neat to see it all choreographed together.”

The electric cost should be minimal, because all the lights are energy-efficient LEDs. Crawley expects the power bill to be less than $50 extra when all is done. Buying those energy-efficient lights didn’t come cheaply, however. Crawley said he spent about $10,000 on the display, and the cost includes “enough (lights) to do this all over again.”

At the opposite extreme from Crowley’s loud display is Dave Hilty’s recycled construction on the south side of Mission Road, across from the Salvation Army. The centerpiece of his unique 30-foot Christmas tree is a recycled telephone pole. Surrounding the pole are globes woven from recycled wire. The globes support an array of plain white Christmas lights that shine off the waves of Shahafka Cove below.

“I’ve seen something using these kind of globes before,” he said, “and a Christmas tree is perfect for it.”

The craftsmanship involved in creating a series of wire globes turned out to be more complicated than he planned.

“At first, I thought I’d build this in a couple of days, then it ended up being a week,” Hilty said. “We’d build a few more globes and shift things around. I’d give it two or three days, go out and look at it, say, ‘No, that’s not it.’”

Adding to his problems has been Kodiak’s typically blustery weather, which hasn’t been kind to the fragile globes. “They’ve gotten beaten up, and the driving rain has been pretty tough on the light bulbs themselves,” he said.

Hilty said he’s proud of his accomplishment, and he hopes other people enjoy it as well.

“We wanted a bold statement, and I think we’ve got it,” he said. “It’s just kind of rewarding, knowing that what you’ve done, that a lot of people have seen it. That’s the Christmas spirit.”

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