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$15.99 for four 40-watt light bulbs: Welcome to green tech, 2021 pricing
Dennis Wyatt RGB
Dennis Wyatt

Tired of watching cat videos on the Internet?

Are TikTok videos not absurd enough?

Then perhaps you should Google the infamous Livermore Pleasanton Fire District light bulb webcam.

You can see updates of a night light hanging above engines in the district’s No. 6 fire station that has been in continuous use for 120 years except on the occasions except when it was moved three times to new stations, was off for a week in 1937 during a station renovation, and was out in May 2013 for nine hours due to a power interruption.

After that interruption eight years ago, it came back on for several hours burning at its original 60 watts, before dimming back to the 4 watts it had slipped down to years before.

It is still burning ever so dimly having logged more than a million hours providing light.

The same hand blown bulb made by the Ohio-based Shelby Electric Company with a carbon filament that was donated to the Livermore Fire Department in 1901 by Dennis Bernal who owned the Livermore Power & Light Company retailed for 40 cents in 1912.

No one apparently knows why the light — as well as others made by the company that were used for decades and still burn well after passing the century mark but not essentially continuously like the Livermore light — is the opposite of planned obsolescence. It has to do with a secret process on producing the carbon filament that is looped twice and was perfected by a French immigrant by the name of Aldophe Chaillet. That secret, to the good fortune of modern-day light bulb manufacturers was apparently taken by Chaillet to his grave

That 40 cents price tag, by the way, translated into $9.59 in 2014 based on an inflation calculator estimate made by a collector of Shelby bulbs.

Compare that to a General Electric bulb today designed for the same application as the one at the fire station on East Street in Livermore. GE sells a 100-watt garage light for $10.98 to last nine years based on three hours of use each day.

GE bought out Shelby in 1914 and discontinued manufacturing the long-lasting bulbs.

This little excursion down the shining history of light bulbs was triggered by my experiencing borderline heart failure last Friday in Target.

I was looking for 40 watt bulbs, the type that goes into ceiling fans. I also needed a replacement LED bulb for one of the three bulbs above my bathroom vanity and replace three deceased light bulbs in a pole lamp I hadn’t used for years but wanted to press back into service.

I have seven ceiling fans installed eight years in my 990-square-foot house plus laundry room.

Each had three bulbs and all were incandescent.

Five is the 21 bulbs had burned out.

My initial inclination was to change out all the light bulbs during my once every three months thorough dust cleaning of the fans. Normally I’m too cheap to do so. But I thought why not splurge plus I could avoid replacing light bulbs for another eight years or so.

I figured what could it cost at the most, $30?

That silly thought went away after my first double-take of the price of the first package of four bulbs I looked at. It was $15.99. For good measure I looked at the other brand Target carried. It was a dollar more.

I get that I’m getting old.

I was alive when push button phones came out, 24-hour photo processing service was cutting edge, and dial-up Internet service was all the rage using a prehistoric connection called a landline. This was back when Uncle Sam thought he had slayed AT&T as it had become the dominate phone service at the expensive of small regional pipsqueaks such as Verizon.

It was also when you could buy a four pack of most bulbs you use around the house for less than $2 including sales tax.

That helps explain why it took me five minutes to make a light bulb purchasing decision that should have taken 20 second tops.

For $15.99 as a kid you could have splurged on the top-of-the-line hand-held portable transistor radio that even included something called FM reception. It’s not that you needed FM reception, mind you, because what everyone listened to — Dr. Don Rose of KFRC AM 610 out of San Francisco with his cutting edge music or Joey Mitchell of KRAK AM 1140 out of Sacramento who was “the” country music DJ in California — was on AM.

After some quick calculations I decided I wasn’t going to spend $106 plus tax to replace all 21 lightbulbs. It took a lot of internal debate to even buy two packs given they had four bulbs and I have five ceiling fan lights they were toast.

I also begrudgingly decided to spend $14.99 on a four pack of household LED 60 watt light bulbs.

I should have bought two packs to have backup but I wasn’t in the mood to spend $10 more than the $35 I was also planning to spend on a three-tier metal rack shelving that the Target cashier duly asked me if I was interested in buying an extended warranty  as if the shelving was going to fail.

To be honest with the sizable investment I was making in light bulbs I might have jumped at the chance to buy an extended warranty for them if it was offered and if they failed to make it to nine years with three hours of daily usage I’d get them replaced for free.

I’m counting on the LED lights to last longer than it takes me to pay off the bank loan to purchase them.

And yes, the replacement light above the vanity burns whiter and much brighter than the other two that have been in use for years. However, I’m not about to replace those two bulbs that bathe two thirds of my face with jaundice mood lighting while the new LED light would give Debby Boone enough hope to last 20 lifetimes.

Call me cheap, but I don’t think Warren Buffet would embrace going into long-term debt just so you can have light bulbs that all burn the same hue.

I do see why at one point Buffet was heavily invested in GE. As far back as 107 years ago when they bought out Shelby Electric and made the decision to stop production of the firm’s signature light bulbs and embrace the profit model of planned obsolescence.

In order to match the staying power of Stone Age technology the lights I bought will need to keep burning until 2135.

Something tells me, though, that the Livermore fire station light will still be chugging along in 2025 when I’ll need to take out a second mortgage to buy more light bulbs.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.