Replacing damaged bulbs from 23-story high buildings and setting an armada of electric timers to turn on in unison, IBEW 665 workers are the spark behind Silver Bell’s lighting. And they’ve been doing it for more than 20 years.
“You think Lansing is pretty big, but on top of the Boji Building it looks very small,” said Manuel Smith, Silver Bells’ rooftop lighting manager and Summit Contracting dispatcher.
Growing up in Lansing, he remembers Silver Bells as the family holiday event.
“But to tell you the truth, as a kid, I never noticed the lights up there.”
Now Smith is in charge of the 40,000-feet of cable strung across 118 buildings downtown.
It is a position he trained for years with the recently retired manager Jim Spitz, who was in charge from 1997 to 2016.
“Climbing across the rooftops was a big undertaking so I had to follow him a few years to make sure everything was right,” Smith said. “Getting to learn it and see how everything works was eye opening.”
Spitz came to Lansing from Marquette for Silver Bells in 1997 on what was supposed to be a four-week project. The job ended up following him through three different employers and three Silver Bells managers.
“I had the most tenure of all of them, and keys to half the city,” Spitz said.
After nearly 20 years on the job, Spitz braved many challenges. He’d deal with blowtorching ice to glue down new plastic clips for light bulbs and inclement weather blowing his extension ladders down. At first, he said he didn’t even use a safety harness.
“One year I was working across the street from the Chamber of Commerce, and someone didn’t know I was through the roof hatch and locked it up for the night. I was stuck. The big billboard on top of the Exchange bar had a steel structure and I had to slide down a steel beam to get off the roof.”
Spitz’s mother would always worry every year he went up to fix the lights he said.
“I lost her a year ago in June and had promised her after 20 years I would be done Also, I myself am getting up there in age.”
The work is hard on the body and equipment, Spitz said. “I’ve worn out several pairs of toes on boots, because you are going across the roof on your hands and knees.”
There was pride in the job, but it is not missed, Spitz added. “It took up all my fall, from Labor Day to Christmas.”
Spitz’s advice to Smith? “Get everything done as early as you can.”
Being on top of the rooftops in the cold air is special, Smith said.
“I can’t believe I’m doing it now. It looks so awesome, but then I’ll see that one bulb that is out,” he laughed.
The Silver Bells’ lights will run from 6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. in the morning, and 4:30 p.m. to midnight nightly.
Can’t make it downtown, or just want to avoid the cold altogether? Watch the live broadcast Friday, 6 to 8 p.m., on FOX 47 and local Comcast Channel 12.