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LISTEN: In Montesano, holiday cheer glows from cars and trucks

For four days this past week, Laura Calkins was up before the dawn, into the shop at Quigg Brothers Construction in Aberdeen, and hard at work putting more than 50,000 Christmas lights on a dump truck.

Or, “only” 50,000, as Calkins is quick to point out. She’s gone as high as 250,000 lights before.

The painstaking work was in preparation for the Montesano Festival of Lights. The annual three-day festival has been taking place in the Grays Harbor County seat for more than 30 years.

And the highlight for many is the Grand Parade on Saturday night, which features Calkins’ entry and many more.

“What I use to adhere the lights is … command strips,” Calkins said, pointing to small plastic hooks on a fender. “It will pull off easy at the end, it will not damage the paint. Early on, I used tape, which is a no-no.”

Among the vehicles festooned in glowing holiday cheer is the Montesano Fire Department’s ladder truck, with the high school drill team on top and Santa on the back. The lights flicker in sync with a dance beat as people cheer and children catch candy thrown from the parade route.

Montesano Mayor Vini Samuel says the event is a tradition that cements her community together. But it’s also crucial to the city’s economy. About 4,000 people live in Montesano, but Mayor Vini Samuel says for the parade, there can be as many as 15,000 people in the city’s downtown.

“This is one of our very large single nights for sales” at downtown businesses, she said. “It’s just a fun night. It’s just different. And I haven’t had anything similar in my life experience.”

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.