Move over Clark W. Griswold, "The Christmas-Light Guy" is making the holidays a little brighter this time of the year for Havre.
On Wednesday afternoon, Terry Leonard hauled a lighted reindeer into his garage to assess the damage after strong winds knocked one of Santa's little fliers from Leonard's rooftop. Water dripped from the lighted reindeer as it thawed in the warmth. After inspecting the reindeer's lights, Leonard shined his flashlight to other parts of the reindeer to figure out how to re-attach it to his rooftop to join Santa's other eight reindeer. At this time of the year, it's all in a day's work for Leonard.
Every year Leonard seems to top himself with more and more Christmas lights. In 2008, he had 22,000 Christmas lights attached to his home and in his yard. This year, he has between 35,000 to 40,000 for his light display to dazzle passersby during the dark winter nights.
And what is a Christmas light show without music?
Leonard has the complete package for those who want to stay in their toasty vehicles to listen to the Christmas music that goes along with his lighted show. He has an FM radio transmitter which allows people the comfort of sitting in their warm vehicles as his lights dance to the music on his radio station, FM 106.9 The Grinch Radio.
"It was bitterly cold one winter, and I didn't want people to roll down their windows," Leonard said was the reason he bought the transmitter.
Originally he had speakers set up in his yard to play his holiday favorites for his light display. But many Montana winters have proved to be rather brutal, even for the Christmas fanatics, to roll down the windows in order to hear the music that was synchronized with the lights.
When people turn their radio dial to 106.9 FM, they can hear a dozen Christmas favorites while watching the lights gleam and sparkle to the rhythm of the music. Instead of commercials, people will hear small comedy bits in between two or three songs, and special announcements to alert drivers not to block the neighbors' driveways when watching the show. Leonard said that as Christmas draws near, between 25 to 27 holiday hits will be synchronized to his lights because the traffic down his street on Cleveland Avenue begins to steadily increase.
About every two or three nights, Leonard is changing his music and light show slightly so that even his most dedicated fans will always see something fresh and new.
People can also help themselves to candy canes enclosed in a candy cane house in front of Leonard's home.
"That's what I love," he said, "to get candy canes out of the candy cane house for people and to visit with people.
"That's the fun part … the people that come to see it."
Working with this kind of technology isn't easy, but Leonard can handle it considering he's professionally worked with computers for the past 15 years. It's not a job that can be rushed through either. Leonard works on his display periodically all year long. He doesn't start putting up the lights and decorations until the Friday after Thanksgiving.
The high winds and weather this winter did put a damper on some of his plans. For instance, normally Leonard would wrap lights around each bare branch of a huge tree in his front yard. But the leaves didn't fall off in time. Instead he took the 32 strands of lights rolled them into light balls to hang them from the branches. Leonard added that it's easier to wrap strands of lights around tree branches when leaves aren't in the way.
In mid-January the lights will come down and will be stored with the new ones that Leonard plans to purchase during the after-Christmas sales. Leonard also browses the Internet and local stores after the holidays looking for deals and thinking up new ideas for his show.
Many people would probably assume that "The Christmas-Light Guy's" favorite holiday is Christmas.
"It's Memorial Day," Leonard laughs, "because it's the first day of summer."
Leonard isn't fond of the cold weather that accompanies the Montana winter season. But with Leonard's Christmas display he's brightening up the cold winter months for his fans.
His biggest fan is his 10-year-old grandson Preston Lowen. Lowen looks forward to Christmas every year because he gets to work with his grandfather on the Christmas display.
"It's awesome," Lowen said as he gave his grandfather a smile.
"Someday we want to do a salute to Clark Griswold and wrap the whole house with lights," Leonard said.
His grandson nodded back to him in agreement.
Extreme Christmas lighting is becoming a family tradition for the duo. The Sunnyside Intermediate School fifth-grader has helped install between 10,000 and 12,000 lights synchronized to music at his own home a block away on Grant Avenue. Lowen borrowed "the Z tree," which Leonard made, from his grandpa. The tree has 5,000 lights on it and boasts a 2-foot star on top.
The grandfather-grandson duo want someday to travel to Disney World in Florida to see the holiday lights at the Magic Kingdom and Cinderella's Castle and go to the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.
Leonard has many ideas for future displays. One person suggested he offer hot chocolate to people. Leonard is thinking of building a gingerbread house where his grandson and his granddaughter, Kylie Lowen, will hand out hot chocolate. Another person asked Leonard if he accepted donations. As more and more people asked that question he began taking donations to give to charities. Last year, he gave about $500 to the Hi-Line Child Care Association from the donations he had received from people visiting his light show. This year he is undecided as of now who to give donations to.
The duo have started to get into decorating for Halloween too.
Leonard's "extreme Christmas" display started from humble beginnings.
In 1986, he moved back to Havre after serving in the U. S. Army. Leonard said celebrating the holidays while serving in the military is a different experience.
"You just don't have a lot of this stuff," he said while pointing to his yard. "Maybe that's what started all of this."
He found some Christmas lights on sale and continued adding more and more to his home.
"(The lights) brighten up the holidays when people drive by and say, "Hey that's cool,'" he said. "It adds color to a brown and white month."
Leonard hopes to continue being known as "The Christmas-Light Guy" for a long time.
"When I run out of ideas and it's not fun anymore I'll quit doing this," he said. "But it's the people. … It's just fun."
Leonard urges drivers not to block his neighbors' driveways and to pull over when looking at his light show to avoid accidents.
The Christmas light display runs from 5 to 9:30 p. m. on Sundays through Thursdays, and from 5 to 10 p. m. on Fridays and Saturdays. On Christmas Eve, Leonard will have his show running from 5 to 11 p. m.
Leonard encourages people to bundle up, crank up the volume on 106.9 FM and enjoy the show.
"It's a lot of fun. People like it and it brightens everything up during the cold months," he said. "It makes their Christmas a little better."