By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
Plenty of people put up Christmas lights.
But only a few invest enough time and money to transform some strands of multicolored twinkling bulbs into a true holiday spectacle.
Baker County residents are fortunate that several of these connoisseurs of Christmas decorations live nearby, making it easy for a family to see all the bright lights during a single relaxed evening.
Baker Citys best-known display for the past 15 years is at Sam and Nora Bass home at 2450 19th St., just south of Campbell Street.
The Basses, who combine an estimated 14,000 lights with an array of hand-made cartoon figures including The Grinch and Winnie the Pooh, won first place in the residential division of the Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative/Baker City Herald Christmas lighting contest.
Sam Bass said the couple used to decorate in a much more modest fashion.
But one year in the late 1980s they decided to boost the number of lights and add The Grinch.
The bigger, brighter display proved popular, and since then we just keep adding and adding and adding, Sam said.
Adding is easier than it used to be.
Years ago the Basses sometimes had to draw the cartoon figures freehand, estimating sizes and proportions.
Now, Sam said, he often finds drawings on the Internet, at sites such as cartoonnetwork.com .
The couple also uses a slide projector to beam pictures of the characters on a wall, making it easy to get the size just as they want it.
Taking advantage of technology is important, Sam said, because every year people ask the couple to add new characters.
This year, for example, someone requested Scooby Doo.
The Basses start assembling their display as soon as the Halloween jack-o-lanterns are taken down.
After dozens of hours of work, theyre ready to switch on the lights Thanksgiving night. The display is lit every night through New Years.
Sam said he and his wife (whom he calls the driving force behind the display) are rewarded richly for their efforts.
Just to watch the kids come through, it makes it worthwhile to see their expressions, he said. And the adults are about as much fan as the kids sometimes.
The Basses never keep an official visitor tally although, appropriately, they conduct an unofficial candy cane count.
Every year they hand candy canes to visitors who get out of their cars and walk through the decorated yard. Typically the Basses go through about 2,000 canes each holiday season, Sam said.
He estimates another 1,000 to 1,500 people drive by, but remain in their heated cars rather than brave Baker Citys chilly December temperatures.
Businesses decorate, too
Some of Baker Countys brightest Christmas displays are at businesses rather than homes.
Sharon Good, who works at Oregon Trails West RV Park, on North Cedar Road just west of Interstate 84 at the North Baker interchange, said all seven of the employees have a hand in stringing thousands of lights.
Good never has counted all the bulbs, but she said one tree alone is festooned with at least 1,000.
Employees started decorating before Thanksgiving.
We decorate for every holiday, but Christmas is the big one, Good said.
The RV parks display earned first place in the lighting contests business category.
Good said her interest in holiday decorations dates to her childhood, when her father, Rex Allen, used to put together a big display.
I enjoy doing it, Good said.
So do customers and passers-by.
We get all kinds of calls, she said.
Not all Christmas displays are as conspicuous as the Basses and Oregon Trails RV Parks not from the outside, anyway.
At the Haines Steak House most of the lights, trees and garland are inside.
We like to make it as festive as possible, said owner Gail Hart. Literally there are lights everywhere.
Hart said she used to decorate the exterior of the Steak House, too, but vandals ruined the fun.
The restaurants employees gather each year on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving for a decorating party, which Hart said usually stretches over about five hours.
Shes never counted the lights, but said there are at least 40 or 50 strands, each with 100 bulbs.
Diners also enjoy a trio of Christmas trees, handmade reindeer and a variety of other ornamentation, Hart said.
Our customers, when they come in for Christmas parties, enjoy it, and its cheerful when its snowing and blowing outside, she said. And its just a fun thing to do.
Fun is enough motivation
Fun, it seems, provides sufficient motivation for most decorators.
Tim and Delma Robinson have spruced up their home at 1005 Park St. most every Christmas since they moved in in 1963.
But theyve never entered a contest, and they didnt this year.
Thus they were surprised to learn they won second place in the contest.
Tim Robinson said the couples daughter sent in the entry form.
He said he and his wife never sought publicity about their efforts mostly because simply putting up the lights was satisfaction enough.
Its just something we enjoy doing, Tim said.