An animated Santa rides by on a motorcycle as another Santa dunks a basketball in the net.
Families looking to take a drive and admire the local Christmas lights will find a hidden gem tucked away on Anthony’s Mill Road in Bechtelsville: For nearly a decade-and-a-half Mike Rohrbach has lit up the hillside with an impressive and original display.
Rohrbach started creating the display as a hobby years ago when worked slowed down during the winter months. He and his wife, Phyllis, would travel around to stores after the holidays looking for deals on blow-molded figures. The parade of toy soldiers leading up to their doorway was one of the first lighting projects he completed.
“We started with the blow molded figures in the front yard and it just expanded from there,” Rohrbach said laughing.
To say merely that it expanded is an understatement. Now the hillside at 398 Anthony’s Mill Road in Bechtelsville boasts an array of animated features that Mike builds himself.
The display includes a spinning ferris wheel with various cartoon characters, Santa dunking a basketball, gingerbread men bouncing on a trampoline, a toy factory, reindeer pulling Santa in his sleigh across the sky, an airport, a train, a herd of grazing deer and more. New this year is Santa riding a motorcycle around a lighted ring.
“I just love it,” Mike Rohrbach says of Christmastime. “I love the lights and the joy and the people. Sometimes I stand on the top of the hill up here and I just watch the cars go by. A lot of people roll down their windows and you can hear the kids inside laughing and carrying on, just having a grand old time. It’s neat to see that.”
Of his inspiration for creating new pieces, he says, “it’s just a whim that comes or what I can find.”
His “whims” have led to stops in Florida and Tennessee during family vacations to pick up metal frames to use in light displays. He also finds some items on eBay. Once bought, Mike puts his own signature on the various items by adding lights, creating the animations and constructing custom parts.
“I just enjoy making different things,” he said, adding that he is “always searching for something” to add to the display. “If you make it yourself, you can make it how you like.”
Set-up usually begins during the second week of October and Rohrbach enlists the help of friends and family to bring his vision to life. This year helpers included friends Shaun Freimann, Bob Freimann and Lynn Spohn; Mike’s father, Bob Rohrbach; nephew Scott Nichlas; and his wife’s nephew Keith Miller and uncle Ken Moser.
The help is especially needed for larger display items, such as the top of the toy factory, which was constructed in one piece. “It takes about six to seven guys to lift it, get it out from the garage, and take it down [to the field] to winch it up” into position. “And like the airport, it may not look big from the street, but it’s probably 30-by-30-feet high. And the beacon tower that I made, on the top of that is an actual airport beacon light that I found and changed the lenses to red and green.”
What was once a hobby that Rohrbach picked up during slower work months has turned into a local tradition. Over the past 15 years or so there were only two years that he was unable to put up the display and he said people stopped at his house to see if he was OK. His dedication to the display now requires him to take vacation days to finish the set up, as work is no longer so slow.
“I don’t think the majority of the people realize how much time it really takes to put this stuff up, and if it wasn’t for the help, I don’t know if I’d be able to keep it up... It takes hours and hours,” Rohrbach said. “I have big lights out there so I can light up the field and work at night. It’s very time consuming.”
But the satisfaction of seeing the hillside aglow with his creations and the joy he can share with others makes all the hard work worthwhile.
The Rohrbach lights display, 398 Anthony’s Mill Road, will be illuminated every night through New Year’s Eve from dark to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and dark to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The lights will stay on until 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, as well. Donations are also being accepted to help pay the Rohrbachs’ electric bill.