Following the B Mountain Star

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

Following the B Mountain StarBy LINDA SAHOLT

News Review Correspondent

Efforts to put the beloved B Mountain Star back into operation in time for Christmas have taken a major leap forward as two local electrical contractors volunteered to donate both labor and materials for the project.

“There’s a lot of important people involved in this project — we just happen to be the people bringing in the resources,” said Robert E. “Bob” Dickson, owner of R.E.D. Electric, Inc., in Ridgecrest. “You bring the resources to the people and let them take it from there.

“I’d like to see the community get behind this long term so this star is always here for our kids and grandkids.”

He and long-time friend Darryl Grace, regional manager of the Federal Construction Group, also known as Fed Con South Bay Joint Venture, a government support general contracting company, have joined forces to make the star’s repair possible.

Personnel at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake repaired the star in the past to keep it going, but now a major overhaul is necessary.

Boy Scout Aaron McCain and a team of fellow Scouts and volunteers have been involved in the considerable labor of cleaning up the site and are helping install new fixtures. George “Andy” Anderson and the Ridgecrest Exchange Club have spearheaded efforts to get the project rolling.

Local residents have been contributing amounts large and small, and together have raised $17,080 as of last week.

Earlier estimates for repairs ran up to $200,000, according to Anderson. After some research, Dickson and Grace proposed a different, more cost-effective and lower-maintenance model for the star. Then they offered to donate the labor and materials for the job, an estimated value of $50,000.

The Exchange Club will use as many donations as it can get for a maintenance fund to keep the star going in future.

Dickson and Grace wanted to help with the star last year. “Once they got it lit, they found it was in worse condition than they thought, so it was only lit for three or four days last year,” said Dickson.

“That was due to major electrical damage from sun rot, wind and long-term usage. The base decided the star had become a physical risk for anyone to be near it, due to exposed wire and things burning up. It was in bad shape. The star couldn’t be repaired. It needed to be completely taken out, it was that unsafe.”

“When I actually saw the site, that’s when I realized it was all gone. There was nothing left of the old star,” said Grace.

“I’ve lived here all my life. I grew up on the base, and I remember that star. I raised five kids here, and Bob’s raised his kids here. It’s been a big part of both our lives and we just really wanted to put the star back together. We support this community and the base.”

A new design was needed. The old star did not have a foundation, just cables strung over and above rocks, with the lights in cages hanging from the cables. The wind battered the lamp cages against the rocks.

The new design will have braces to hold the cables away from the rocks, and will feature a special type of caged fluorescent lamps. These give out the equivalent of 150 watts of light each, so should show up well. The bulbs are only $6 each.

“When you’ve got 360 lights up there, that adds up pretty quickly,” said Dickson. “LED [light-emitting diode] lights use less energy, but cost $40 to $60 each and would require an electrician to maintain.

“The total estimate for installation showed that the LEDs would be too costly. The comparison information is on the Internet — you can look it up. The goal here for Darryl and me is we’re going to cover the cost for installation and get the star lit up. Then the Exchange Club will handle the maintenance. We’re taking nothing out of their pockets, we’re taking it all out of our pockets.”

“Bob’s picked a system that should hold up to the elements better,” said Grace. “It’s a pretty large task. It’s on a steep incline with a lot of loose rock on it. You can’t drive there — everything has to be hand-carried in. All the prep work has been performed. The braces and fasteners have already been installed to keep the cables up off the ground. Right now we’re standing by, waiting for the lights to be delivered. We expect to receive them by the 16th.”

The actual date for the official lighting of the star will be determined by the commanding officer at China Lake.

“People will probably see the star lit this year, but will probably not know how close it came to not happening at all. It’s not a cheap venture,” said Grace.

“It will cost $20,000 just for the lights, not including the wire, cable, conduit and everything else. We put a cap of $50,000 on our budget, to cover labor, equipment and materials.”

“It’s a treacherous environment up there,” said Dickson. “It’s nearly a 45-degree angle and not meant for the faint of heart.”

“I appreciate all the people who want to help,” said Grace. “They just need to know it’s rough terrain. Right now I need skilled electricians and skilled labor. I wish everyone could come out and help, but it’s just not one of those projects.

“We’ve asked Aaron McCain to bring the biggest Boy Scouts he has — it’s going to be some hard work. I can’t wait to get it lit. That’s how I know the holidays are here.”

“We’re not doing this for publicity, but to give back to the community,” added Dickson.

Story First Published: 2012-12-05