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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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Telling a true story about a lightbulb to 4-year-olds

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................February 14, 2012

Maybe I missed my calling because I found so much pleasure recently in reading and telling a story to two groups of 4-year-olds that I could have made it a career. But I will never be able to match the skill displayed by acclaimed storyteller Phyllis Horst.
Through a Kiwanis reading program, I got to visit The Growing Place and the Children’s Learning Center in DeKalb and spend time with two classes of preschoolers. I started out with “What time is it, kids?” and expected them to reply “It’s Howdy Doody Time,” but got no such response. Then I asked a teacher whether she remembered “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” sung by Mr. Rogers, and she barely nodded. I must be from a different era.
Anyway, I chose the children’s book “The Firehouse Light” by my friend Janet Nolan from Oak Park. The book is the true story of a light bulb that has been burning for more than 100 years in a firehouse.

Columnist Barry Schrader reads to a group of 4-year-olds at the Children’s Learning Center in DeKalb while wearing a 1901-era outfit to tie in with the story about a 112-year-old light bulb in Livermore, Calif.

I must digress for a moment to explain that Livermore, Calif., has the distinction of owning the longest burning light bulb in the world. Even Guinness World Records book and “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” concur. A group of us Livermoreans started counting the years since it was installed in 1901 in the hose cart house. Then in 2001, we threw it a 100th birthday party complete with cake for 300 people, a live band and national TV coverage.
Steve Bunn and Dick Jones, my old Sandia Labs colleagues, designed the website www.centennialbulb.org and installed a webcam focused on the light bulb high above the firehouse floor. Anyone who has insomnia can visit the website to see it glowing 24/7. And if you scroll down to the bottom of the page you will see nine people seated on a 1954 Mack pumper, including me up top wearing suspenders.
Every year I try to go back to pay tribute to that bulb and attend a birthday party with friends for the now nearly 112-year-old light. The 60-watt bulb (now worn down to four) was made at the Shelby Electric Co. in Shelby, Ohio, and installed at the firehouse. It was used as a night light, so it was never turned off except for brief power outages and while being moved to new stations twice in its long life. If you look closely, it has the carbon filament that probably contributes to its longevity.
I read part of the book and added my own personal touch to the true tale, allowing the children to touch a similar bulb kept in a box for show and tell. I also cautioned them to never touch a light bulb that is in a socket or lamp because it could be hot and burn their fingers.

The last group stayed focused on my story for at least 10 minutes, then one little boy asked whether I wanted to see their pet python, Rufus. The snake had been to my left sleeping in his glass-lined tank, and I had failed to notice it. They told how he was big enough now – three feet and growing – to eat a whole rat and not just two mice once a week like before.

How could I compete with a snake named Rufus? So I closed my book and bid them goodbye, promising to return in my shiny new Historymobile in a few months to tell them stories about real DeKalb County heroes and historical landmarks. The teacher thought that would be fun to see, so away I went. Now all I have to do is figure out a way to get that Historymobile up and running.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115