Calgary

Laid-off oilpatch worker 'can barely keep up' after starting Springbank Christmas Lights

After 25 years working in the oilpatch, the work dried up and Andy Hill decided he'd do something satisfying — buy a fire truck and hang Christmas lights.

Andy Hill says hiring laid-off workers for his new Christmas lights business keeps him happy

Andy Hill with his 1977 Scott fire truck, which he uses to install Christmas lights. (Dave Waddell/CBC)

Andy Hill has decided to reinvent himself after his 25-year job in the oilpatch disappeared. 

He took his love of Christmas lights and the last bit of cash he had, looked up at the steep roof on his house and thought, "I need a fire truck."

Me and this truck are definitely meant for each other.- Andy Hill

"Isn't that what every guy does after he loses his job?" asks Hill.

That's how his idea to start Springbank Christmas Lights — a unique and now very successful light installation business — began.

"It was just timing and just like the [fire] truck, I repurposed myself.

"We were meant for each other. . . and that's all I'm going to say ... me and the truck are definitely meant for each other."

Crazy idea

Even his wife approved of him becoming the "Christmas light guy," though she was initially a bit skeptical.

"I got the support of my wife, but even she said I was crazy. But I've always put up Christmas lights and I love them."

Hill has always gone a little crazy with his seasonal displays. "All the other husbands got mad because I put up so many lights."

Andy Hill worked in the oilpatch for 25 years until the work dried up. Now he's running a successful Christmas light installation business. (Dave Waddell/CBC)

One year, he didn't even let a little thing like broken ribs get in the way of his Christmas light display.

"I was teasing my neighbours … so I am that guy."

These days, Hill can be found driving the 1977 Scott fire truck, which he bought from a man outside of Revelstoke, B.C.

It was fully kitted out with a 55-foot boom and working sirens and lights.

The truck had been in active service with the Revelstoke fire department until about two years ago.

Business is strong

Since then, that long ladder helps him get to hard-to-reach treetops and steep roof pitches, doing the tricky jobs many people are afraid to do. 

He has added a large wreath on the fire truck grille, and makes use of blaring PA system to play Christmas carols. He even keeps a stash of Christmas candy nearby.

No wonder the truck is an instant hit anywhere it goes.

"Everyone loves the fire truck … the neighbours come out, kids come out and I always make sure I have my candy canes on board, and if the kids want to go inside and check it out, they can."

Business has been strong since he opened in September. In fact, he says he could use three more trucks.

"My phone doesn't stop ringing and we can barely keep up now. I'm running 20-hour days just to keep up with the work we have. It has been pretty crazy."

With the amount of business he's seeing, he's confident the business will easily expand into a year-round lighting installation service.

Hires laid off workers

Knowing what it's like to lose his job, Hill has been able to hire other people who've also been laid off.

"That's what you've got to do, support each other. I feel good about this business. I love this business, but I also do things that I want to do, so helping someone out when they're in trouble, that does make me feel good."

So does the success of his new career. 

"I had no option to fail. I had to succeed. Sure, I don't make the same money I did, but that's OK. I really enjoy it. I meet people, I love being outdoors, it's a good match."

The 55-foot tall boom on Andy Hill's fire truck makes it easy to install Christmas lights on treetops and steep roofs. (Dave Waddell/CBC)

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