Night lights

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— Twentymile Road west of Steamboat is normally a dark road to drive at night. But drive the road this time of year, and you're bound to find it brightly lit in the vicinity of Jim and Jo Stanko's ranch home.

Every year for the past five, Jim bundles himself against the winter-like weather as he strings hundreds of strands and hundreds of thousands of bulbs around his home and farm equipment.

He calls his home "Santa's Reindeer Ranch."

Years ago, Stanko said he and his wife, Jo, read in a Nebraska newspaper how popular it was to light farm equipment in the yard with Christmas lights.

The Stankos said they believe Christmas lights make the holiday exciting, especially when the children are gone.

An old mowing machine, a tractor and a thrashing machine sit in front of the Stanko home lit up like the electric light parades at Disneyland. Children driving by with their parents think the old mowing machine resembles a red dragon and the thrashing machine a green elephant.

"We make it so that it's visually appealing in the daytime," Jo said.

The Christmas light tradition began small in the Stanko house.

About 27 years ago, the Stankos put blue lights around a little tree in the front yard. The tree was planted when the Stankos were married, 35 years ago, and soon the neighbors were complimenting their efforts on being a festive family.

But like the American dream, everyone always wants more than they have. Soon, the little tree with blue lights became a Stanko tradition and project after every Thanksgiving.

"It's about a week to a week-and-a-half-long process," Jo said. "We always start the day after Thanksgiving and try to finish by Jim's birthday (Dec. 3)."

Now, Jo said she's trying to get Jim to light up the barn with Christmas lights, although she may be expecting a little too much this year.

Every year the Stankos spend countless time replacing bulbs that have burned out or have been damaged.

Jim said he places a PVC pipe around the area where the extension cords connect to keep them from being damaged by the snow.

The Stankos had electrical work on their home about two years ago and installed an electrical box outside to make Christmas lighting more feasible, Jo said.

Jim Chappell, manager of consumer accounts at Yampa Valley Electric Association, said he once heard of a burned-down power line in Pueblo about seven years ago due to too many Christmas lights. However, no blackouts or electrical overloads have been heard of in Steamboat Springs.

Chappell said most electric bills tend to rise during this time of year because the temperature drops. Overloading the Christmas lights in and out of the house will also cause an increase, but most families who put up a handful of strands will not see a significant change.

Scott Havener said his electric bill typically rises to about $110 or $120 for the month of December. However, he wants to be one of the most lit-up houses on Harbor Place.

Scott said he typically takes care of the exterior lights and decorations while wife Tami is in charge of the interior.

"Right now I've got about 4,000 or 5,000 bulbs. I don't know how many strands," Havener said.

Every year people may see a new strand at the Havener house or a new tree lit up. Scott said he used to light the cottonwoods in his front yard, but as time goes on, they begin to grow taller than he can reach.

"I would stand on a 10-foot ladder with a 20-foot pole and still couldn't reach the top," Scott said.

He may just try to wrap the trunks this year, he said.

A week to 10 days before Thanksgiving, Scott said he begins stringing his thousands of bulbs and lets them shine until just after New Year's Day before beginning to remove them.

Scott said one year they won the Tour of Lights contest in the category of best trees but they have not entered the contest in a couple of years.

"We love to have people come and look at them," Scott said.

As of Tuesday evening, Scott still had not completed his lighting mission.

"I still need to put out the Santa and the reindeer. We line the driveway with candy canes and lollipops," Scott said.

Growing up in Indiana, Havener said his house was engulfed with strings of holiday lights.

The Haveners do not have any children but Scott said it brings out the festive attitude in adults.

"I do it for us," Scott said. "This is just our way of displaying the festivities."

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