Snowflake, angel lights are a team effort
Even when the temperatures hover in the mid to upper 50s, Tullahoma is still peppered with snowflakes.
No, there aren’t actual pieces of frozen precipitation. Rather, the city has an array of snowflake lights that adorn the tops of scores of light poles throughout the city.
These snowflake lights pop up on the main thoroughfares in town around the holiday season every year, shining through the night and bringing holiday cheer.
It’s a Tullahoma tradition that spans more than 40 years, by Public Works Director Butch Taylor’s estimation. He’s talked to longtime employees of public works – ones who have been with the city for the same amount of time – and they’ve told him they’ve always seen the lights put up.
There are around 200 snowflake lights sprinkled throughout the city, according to Taylor, plus a small set of Christmas angels that are attached to the poles on certain prominent intersections in town.
The snowflakes are found along the majority of Jackson Street, West Lincoln Street and Wilson Avenue. Angels can be found at the intersections of N. Jackson and W. Grundy streets, Wilson Ave. and Cedar Lane and S. Anderson and E. Carroll streets.
How these lights grace the streets of Tullahoma is a joint effort between Tullahoma Public Works and the Tullahoma Utilities Authority, according to Taylor.
“The lights are actually owned by the city, but TUA assists [in] helping us put them up,” he said.
The process starts around Thanksgiving, according to Taylor.
“We start looking at it the week before Thanksgiving to try to kick off the season,” he said.
His crews and some TUA employees start looking at the state of the lights currently on hand at the public works department to determine if they can be put back up again.
Each fixture is tested before it’s put on a truck headed for Jackson, Lincoln or Wilson streets, according to Taylor.
“If we find one that does not work or is unsafe, we remove it for disposal,” he said.
Only certain poles in town have the necessary hardware for the light fixtures, Taylor said. Years and years ago, he said, special brackets were attached to poles in order to make installation and removal of the lights a simpler process.
Once the lights have been inspected, those in good working order are then taken to the designated poles for installation. Taylor said it takes his crews and TUA crews approximately three days, give or take, to affix the light decorations onto the poles.
Although the lights are a holiday tradition in Tullahoma, new technologies make for necessary adjustments: This year saw the addition of several LED lights wired to some of the decorations.
According to Taylor, the bulbs can burn out over the years, and rather than replace the bulbs with the same type of incandescent lights, public works started purchasing LED lights instead.
“We just decided it’s getting more costly for the bulbs for the old fixtures,” Taylor said, “and the LEDs seem to last longer, and they’re cheaper to operate.”
Rather than continue to buy the more expensive bulbs, any time the bulbs need replacing on the fixtures, they’ll slowly be replaced with more LED bulbs.
While the color the new bulbs emit is a whiter light, the new bulbs still shine brightly over the streets of Tullahoma.
How many bulbs and fixtures can be replaced depends on both how many bulbs burn out as well as the amount of money in the budget for public works.
“It depends on the money we have and the wear and tear [of the lights],” Taylor said. He credited Finance Director Sue Wilson for helping his department figure out how much it has to spend on new lights, as well as how to get the most bulbs for the money.
“Sue is really good at helping us with the money part,” he said.
This year saw 20 new LED snowflakes installed along Wilson Avenue, Taylor added.
As more bulbs burn out, they will be replaced with more LED fixtures, though it will be a slow process.
Those who haven’t taken seen the city sparkle yet still have some time to gaze upon the lights as they pass through town. The lights will remain up through Christmas before being taken down at the first of the year.
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.