The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 11, 2013

Massive Courtland light display soon to dim

Even so, Bob Schabert couldn't resist building one more display: a 20-foot tree

By Tim Krohn
The Mankato Free Press

---- — The Christmas spirit is willing but the back is weak. After 30 years of wowing motorists with his Courtland light displays, Bob Schabert has spent his last year pulling out 4 miles of extension cords, checking 40,000 lights and erecting the large steel figures.

“Running all those cords, it takes too much time. And carrying and bending over — my back said enough of that. I’m too old for it,” Schabert said.

Each year he and some family and friend spend hundreds of hours pulling the displays out of his garage — he added a second story to it 12 years ago for more storage — and setting up and programming the light show.

Some displays have two dozen separate cords running to them, all having to be connected to the right outlets and computer switches.

Schabert’s display-building addiction started innocently enough three decades ago. His wife had strung together several light cords and hung them on some trees in the yard, but they kept blowing fuses. Bob took over.

“I kept repairing them and then I made a star. Then at work, someone asked if i wanted a PLC controller and I said sure, and I made a Merry Christmas-Happy New Year sign. It just kinda expanded from there.”

He built the deer and trees, Santas and snowmen by laying a design down on his garage floor using tape.

He’d bend rebar over his knee to get the shape he wanted and weld them together. A series of computerized controllers make lights go on and off, letting reindeer run and move their heads and allowing Santa to wave.

Even knowing it was likely to be his last year doing it, Schabert couldn’t resist building one more display this year: a 20-foot tree with four colors of lights.

Over the years Schabert has upgraded his electric service to handle the power needs. And while the newer rope lighting he used for many of the displays are more efficient, the electric draw is still impressive, adding about $100 a month for three months to his bill. “You can just hear the meter winding.”

Schabert said people have told him he should let a volunteer group take over the local landmark display, but he said it’s not practical — or safe.

“Some of these displays take five people to move. They’re getting old and need maintenance, too. It’s not safe standing on top of a 10-foot ladder to get at things.”

And the age of the displays, maintenance and time needed to put them up might mean there wouldn’t be many takers if he tried to sell them or even give them away.

While the big displays will stay in the garage next year, Schabert can’t let his yard go dark. “I’ll always put some up. This is my way of giving a little Christmas spirit for others to enjoy.”

The display is at 403 Valley View Drive. From Highway 14, turn south at the bank in downtown Courtland onto County 24 and go one-half mile.