- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - Three men trudge up a slight hill across from Campbell County Memorial Hospital near the Burma Avenue overpass, quickly making their way through the brown, short grass as they approach their handiwork.

Amidst the throng of drivers racing home from work in the sulky darkening of dusk, the three city of Gillette electrical workers aren’t noticeable as they walk to the community’s Christmas Star, scuffing over the prints left on the lone hill by deer and antelope.

But their efforts can’t be overlooked.

The star has returned to its original home on Burma hill. It’s gotten a multicolored face-lift that the three co-workers hope provide a lift for their community as well.

“I’m just tickled pink it’s back where it belongs,” said Rollo Williams, who, in his role on the city parks board, was among those who pushed to get the star returned to its original address.

The 30-foot by 30-foot star was welded by Blaine Wilson and his crew at Wilson Welding and first lit with plain white bulbs in 1991. It could be seen, it seemed, from everywhere in Gillette.

The star was the product of one of those uniquely Gillette ideas that never quite came to full bloom. Perhaps because of that, it grew in our hearts.

At the time, a Chamber of Commerce official had suggested Gillette build three or four Christmas light displays every year to attract visitors to the community. He’d been to Wheeling, West Virginia, where that city’s annual display brings in thousands of visitors and buses to see the light display every night.

Wilson thought it was a good idea too. So he and his crew voluntarily built the 2,000- to 2,500-pound star and installed it on the hill. The grand vision went no further, however. It died because no one wanted to be responsible for the power bill.

So the star remained alone atop Burma hill, where it withstood harsh winds and weather, year after year, and became something of a Gillette landmark.

Ken Musser of Target Signs in Gillette helped maintain the star and replaced the 300 bulbs on his own for three or four years in the 1990s. To him, the star put a positive light on a community he’d learned to love since he ran out of gas here in 1977 and begged a room for the night at the Goings Hotel.

“It makes me feel good. It does,” he said in 1997. “When the star lights up, I think if that can remind people of Christmas - if it makes one person think of what Christmas is to them - it really makes me feel good to do that.”

City electric crews also maintained the star and changed its bulbs as needed for its annual Christmas duties.

Then, in 2009, work began on the Burma Road extension. With that major construction to build the bridge over Interstate 90, one sacrifice had to be made.

The star had to be moved. The city relocated it on the hill where the water tank stands above Southern Drive.

Unfortunately, the move also limited its visibility.

Very few people got to enjoy it, said Williams, who would drive by the star and think, “what a shame it’s stuck over here.” The location seemed more like an afterthought.

While technology and the bulbs had improved to color for the first time - changing from red to blue and back - fewer residents could see or enjoy it. The star didn’t illuminate Gillette like it once had.

That’s what drove the parks board to ask for its return this year.

Now back on that familiar hill, the star is dazzling Gillette as it never has before.

The day before Thanksgiving, it was re-lit with solid, yellow lights. From 4 p.m. to midnight, it could be seen from most in northwest Gillette and along Interstate 90.

For two weeks, the star’s yellow lights remained unchanged.

Since then, though, the star has sprouted a surprising array of colors, changing virtually every second in combinations that can astound and mesmerize.

Mick Wolf, city electrical services superintendent, and his two co-workers, electrical engineers Trond Birk, 37, and Ry Muzzarelli, 37, made that possible.

The city spent $20,000 on the project. Instead of just 340 bulbs, the number of lights has nearly tripled to 938. Instead of one color, there’s a new show every four minutes and four shows every 15 minutes.

“It’s a big facelift. It’s always been that plain old yellow. It was the star,” Wolf said. “When it was at Southern Drive it got better (with two more colors), but you just couldn’t see it. Now, it’s so much more visible and kind of neat. It’s very fitting.”

Musser agreed.

“So many people are scaling back on the holidays, celebrating differently,” he said. “The star’s a good reminder. This is my home, and that star reminds me it’s home.”

The 44-year-old Wolf has been on that hill for many years, first as a lineman, changing bulbs and sockets, even restringing the star every year. It wasn’t something he enjoyed. It was just work.

“Many people do see it as a kind of historical landmark,” he said. “But linemen are kind of bah-humbug,” he said of those responsible for hanging up Christmas decorations throughout the community each year. “We kind of dread that time of the year.”

That’s one of the reasons few linemen decorate the outside of their homes with Christmas lights, he added.

But this project has helped soften that feeling. He is something of a Gillette Christmas star convert now.

“I’m very partial to the star,” Wolf said. “It’s really an awesome thing.”

Williams didn’t get to see the star the first night it was turned on just before Thanksgiving. He was out of town for a family celebration.

So he couldn’t wait to see the star back where it belongs when he returned.

“I really, really enjoyed it, even when it was just white,” Williams said. “It had become sort of a landmark that set Gillette apart.”

Thursday night, he parked in the hospital clinic parking lot so he could watch the pulsating, changing colors the star now emits.

“It was so cool. I was just mesmerized by the crazy colors. I just basked in it,” he said.

To him, it’s in a perfect location. The warmth and spirit of Gillette can now be seen by anyone traveling by.

It’s an encouraging spark of life.

Once again, the star is rooted in Gillette for all to see.

___

Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, https://www.gillettenewsrecord.com


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