How many people does it take to change a light bulb?

Has it appeared a bit poorly lit along the streets of Washington? There’s been good reason.

Thirteen of the historic town’s 58 antique-style street lights — more than one-fifth — went dark. And a fix hasn’t been as simple as changing a light bulb.

Recently elected Washington Town Treasurer Gail Swift has become an expert in electrical ballasts and street lights. By John McCaslin

“We didn’t want people to think we are ignoring all these street lights being out,” said Town Treasurer Gail Swift. “These specific fixtures that we use . . . have this ballast into which this special bulb gets screwed in. Well, they don’t make these ballasts anymore. We can’t get parts. So that’s why all the lights were out.”

The street lights, featuring sturdy green shades, were purchased from a Delaware company and installed in 1996 after much fuss: surveys and public comment, meetings and negotiations.

“It took months to get them up,” recalled Town Clerk Laura Dodd. “And now they don’t make them anymore.”

Not to worry.

Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) rolled its yellow trucks into town recently and figured out a way to bypass the existing ballasts and using only two wires the town is all but glowing again. “We got some temporary bulbs that fit but aren’t permanent just to get the dark ones fixed for safety reasons,” said Swift.

“Rappahannock Electric has been incredibly helpful,” she added. “This means we don’t have to find somebody to remake these ballasts. Right now they [REC] are trying out different bulbs.”

Which explains all the colorful ribbons that have been wrapped around the town’s light poles.

“All of the posts that had a yellow ribbon around them were out — they weren’t working,” Swift said. “Then we had two posts — one at Gay Street and Warren Avenue, and another one on the far end of Gay Street at the corner by the sheriff’s office — with red ribbons around them. Those are the two that we’re using to test different bulbs.

“We have test bulbs in right now,” said the Treasurer. “And don’t anybody worry — they’re not going to be used. They ended up being too bright, too white, and they hung down real low.”

To find the perfect match the town has enlisted the support of the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection [RLEP] through it’s Dark Skies Initiative.

“We want the right color, the right brightness,” explained Swift. “And we don’t want the bulbs to hang down.”

Completion date?

“Hopefully sooner than later,” she said.

About John McCaslin 450 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at