Lighting up the holidays

By Chris Schultz/The Janesville Gazette

(Published Dec. 20, 2006, 10:38 a.m.)

The 55-foot tree in Paul and Ronda Smith's house in Pell Lake took
over four hours to decorate. Photo by Terry Mayer/The Week

Plenty of houses in Pell Lake are sporting decorated trees, but none so tall as at the house owned by Paul and Ronda Smith near the corner of Glenwood and Hillside roads.

Paul Smith decided his 55-foot-tall pine needed some holiday cheer. So, with a bucket truck borrowed from his brother, he spent two days after Thanksgiving festooning the tree with Christmas tree lights.

"I've always wanted to decorate a tall pine," Paul said.

This is not a run-of-the-mill tree. Its branches don't ascend in pyramid fashion. There's 15 feet of branchless trunk between the ground the lowest limbs.

Paul wrapped white lights around the naked trunk. In the branches above sparkle thousands of red, blue and green lights.

"I figure there are about 3,000 small bulbs on it," Paul said.

That translates to about 20 strings of lights, some with 100 and some with 200 bulbs, he said.

The strings run vertically up the tree rather than spiral the perimeter. That makes it easier to put up and pull down the lights, Paul said.

It's all topped with a 50-inch white star.

The Smiths have lived in Pell Lake for four years. Before that, they lived in Illinois. Paul said he once helped decorate a 30-foot tree in Wauconda, Ill., but the 55-footer is the tallest he's ever tackled.

To some degree, good fortune and access to the right equipment made the project easier, Paul said. His brother, Phil Smith, owns a tree service in Elkhorn and a bucket truck with a 55-foot reach.



A lone tree stands near the lakeshore path coming into
Williams Bay. Photo by Terry Mayer/The Week.

Paul estimates the tree is about 55 feet tall because he had to fully extend the lift to perch the 50-inch star on top of the tree.

A warning to other tree decorators: Operating a bucket truck, even one owned by your brother, is a tricky thing. Paul, a contractor-developer, said he's had on-the-job experience using bucket trucks.

The decorating started with lights left over from last year.

"I discovered two hours into it that I didn't have enough lights," Paul said.

Paul figures he spent 4-1⁄2 hours in the bucket, not counting runs to the store and time untangling lights.

"Good thing he did it when the weather was warm," Ronda said.




This polar bear has found a well-lit home in Hunters Ridge
Subdivision in Genoa City. Photo by Terry Mayer/The Week

So, once the holidays are over, when do the lights come down?

"That's a real good question," Paul said with a slight smile. "I'd almost like to leave them up for next year."

But that's not practical, he said.

"Squirrels eat the plastic off the wires, and that causes shorts."

He said he'll probably take down the lights in early spring. And they probably won't go back up for a couple of years.

He said he hadn't planned to decorate the house this year, but seeing the lights on the trees inspired him to put lights on the house, too.

"I figured I can't have a big old tree lit up and not do the house, as well," he said.

The Smiths said their children-Paul Jr., 8, and Savanah, 12-told their friends about the tree when they went to school the Monday after Thanksgiving, and for a while traffic on Glenwood was heavier than usual as neighbors drove by to gawk.

But that's why he lit the tree, Paul said.

"If it weren't for the kids, I wouldn't have done it," he said.


At 1042 Madison St., Lake
Geneva, just a short time ago
when there was snow on the
ground. Photo by Terry Mayer/
The Week




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