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Our "North Poles", along with our arch
fence and mini-trees, make up the "front
line" of our display. We have 14 of the poles which allows one pole
on either side of our 12 arches (split by the driveway). Each
pole can be individually set by the computer to just about any color
imaginable. These poles also help elevate our arch fence over potential
deep snowfall that might occur during the season. Read on for a bit of a
tale on how they were created...
Sometimes several different things come together
at just the right time and ends up with a new, unique element in our
display. Such was the case with our North Poles, which were added to the
display for the 2011 season.
The first factor was the weather during
the 2010 season. To put it short, it was miserable. You might
remember it as the season that collapsed the Metrodome roof, and it just kept
This is what our arch
fence looked like after the first big snowfall in 2010. It only got
worse from there...
coming, and coming. By mid, December, we had drifts over three feet
high in many places in the
yard, and the city had piled over 4 feet of snow from the street across our
entire frontage. Needless to say, much of our display, including virtually
all of our arch fence, which was less than 3' high
at the very tops of the arches, was all but lost to viewers out on the
street. The previous couple of years weren't nearly as bad, but still had
snows that cause the arches to be at least partially obscured. It was
clear something needed to be changed.
The second factor was that a few friends Tim knows
through the online decorating community had come up with a concept called a
"North Pole". Basically it was a PVC pipe painted with a
candy-cane stripe, a low-wattage light bulb on top, and a white globe over the
bulb to make it look nice. Tim realized that perhaps these could be placed
between all of our arches to not only enhance the look of the front of the
display, but actually be used to raise up the arches over any potential snow.
Finally, at a lighting gathering in Chicago over
Labor Day weekend 2010, Tim was introduced to decorating element called the
The element itself, being about a
foot tall and completely open at the top, is not at all practical for our
snowy Minnesota climate. But what these elements did have was relatively
cheap RGB strips inside (meaning they can be set to virtually any color),
one relatively cheap DMX module per star (meaning each individual star can be
individually controlled via the DMX lighting protocol and the sequencing
software we use to control the whole display), and a method for chaining them
all together and mixing both the power and signal across a simple Ethernet
So in the end, our North Poles became a marriage of
these three ideas/needs. We took the basic North Pole, replaced the
incandescent light bulb with the RGB LED modules and DMX controller as in the
CoroStars, and added the capability for it to support our arch fence. By
default, the bottom of the arches are raised up about 8 inches above ground
level (whereas they used to be right at ground level). If deeper snow has
fallen or is anticipated, we can relatively easily raise the arches to about
double that height off the ground, which puts the top of the arches just a bit
taller than the tops of the North Poles themselves. Hopefully we won't
need to use that feature, but if so, it will be a lot better than losing the
entire fence behind a wall of snow once again.
Here are some miscellaneous pictures from
construction and depoloyment:
This rat's nest is the pile of electronics for the
14 North Poles. all soldered up and ready to be installed in the poles.
This is the electronics for one pole. To the
right are three "5050" RGB modules connected to a small DMX LED
controller on the left.
Here the electronics are being installed into the
North Pole itself. I evidently didn't take pictures of creating the
poles themselves. They are 3" PVC water pipe, which was
cleaned, masked, and sprayed red for the stripe. Holes were drilled
for the arch support poles as well as the electronics, which we see here
being fished in place.
Here the top of the North Pole is being
assembled. a 3" PVC union fitting, with screw holes
drilled/tapped to hold on the globe which will eventually sit on top, sits
on top the PVC pole. 1/2" PVC water pipe is used to support the
LED's, which are still hanging off to the side in this picture.
Here the LED's have been glued in place to the
1/2" water pipe. Through experimentation, we found that angling
them slightly, plus orienting them more toward the front and sides than to
the back (which nobody typically sees but us) helps give the lights the
best spread across the acrylic white globe which goes over the top.
This picture shows how the arch holders
work. Holes are drilled through the PVC North Poles at an angle,
where the rods we use to support the arches can be slid into and lock into
place (here the arch has been lifted up to show the rod and the
hole). Note the additional hole above, which we can use if we want
to raise the arches up over snow.
This is what the back of the noth pole looks like
(the side you don't see from the street). The arches are in the
"low" position here. The white box is the Cat-5 jacks that
feed power and DMX signal into the pole. The two wires go to the
Here's the 5-pole, 4-arch run directly in front of
the house during the daytime. You can see the 9-pole, 8-arch run
elsewhere on this page.
Here's a picture of the pole line
from the 2013 season, in an "all green" configuration.
Each pole can be any color, individually from the others.
Are you iterested in all sorts of geeky detail? Tim created this YouTube video early
on in the design process for the North Poles, after creating a
single-pole "proof of concept". The video was intended
to share with the online "lighting community" for feedback
rather than the general public, so lots of terminology, names, and
references are thrown out that might not be understood. But you
can get a glimpse of how these work "behind the scenes"
This page was last updated on Wednesday, December 18, 2013