COURTLAND - If you like lots of holiday lights, you probably won't be disappointed with Bob and Bernie Schabert's display at 403 Valley View Drive, aka Nicollet County Road 24, just west of Courtland.
But don't wait till next year. Retired 3M computer programmer Bob Schabert said there's a good chance this is the last year he and his team will set up all his displays. If you've driven by the road, you may have noticed the Schabert's holiday light displays on the north (left) side of the road as you travel up the Minnesota River valley bluff, east into Courtland.
The lights are his and his family's labor of love, but his offspring don't plan to continue the tradition, at least not to its current extent.
Staff photos by Fritz Busch
The Schabert’s holiday light displays include this manger scene
"The old displays require too much upkeep and work running nearly four miles of electrical cords," Schabert said. "After many years, my mind is finally listening to my body that says I can't keep doing this. I'll always have a few displays out, but the older, larger ones will be left in storage."
Every two or three years, Schabert would build a new display. A dozen years ago, he built a two-level, attached garage so he would have a place to store the displays and room for new ones.
Thirty years ago, he built his first display, a six-foot star. Bob's been lighting his yard over the Christmas holidays ever since. He added his first computerized display 28 years ago. Since then, every display in his yard was programmed.
"This is my way of giving a little Christmas spirit for others to enjoy," Schabert said. "First I made a six-foot star. The next year at work (at 3M), I said I was looking at programming a computer program to make different lights 'move.' A friend at work told me a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) would do that. He later told me 3M was upgrading a machine and they would have an old PLC that would be junked out that would do what I wanted. I bought it for scrap. I bought more of them later after they were scrapped."
Schabert said he learned how to program the PLC. He bought solid state relays that allowed more current to flow while he kept adding homemade displays and lights to fit them.
His displays include 167 computerized movements, 5,300 feet of #3 rebar, almost 40,000 lights and four miles of electrical extension cords. He programs six computerized controllers in weather-tight boxes to light different strings of lights at different times to complete all the motions. Six timers start at 5 p.m. and stop at 10 p.m.
Schabert's holiday lights team includes his brother Tom and son Russ who did most of the welding the first 10 years. Bob has done the welding the past 20 years. He installs frames the displays are attached to. His offspring and possibly some of their friends spend about three hours moving displays from storage to frames in the yard.
"No real trees have lights anymore. The trees got too large," Schabert said. "When I had 10 trees with mini lights changing from red, white and blue, our house lights would flicker." He wouldn't say just what his winter power bill was, but described it as "substantial."
Seventeen years ago, he put a food shelf donation box at the end of his driveway. For the first five years, he got a bag full of food every few days. He said donations dwindled to about a bag a month over the next four years, so he got ride of the box because so many food shelf drives are going on in recent years.
Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com.