As Thanksgiving approaches, so does the annual tradition of getting in the holiday spirit that accompanies the magical time of year ahead. A couple of Ohio communities have a unique opportunity to get a jump on the Christmas spirit this month as the 2015 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree tours the state.
The tradition of the Capitol Christmas Tree, or “The People’s Tree” got its start in 1964 when Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives placed a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. Since 1970, the U.S. Forest Service has provided a Christmas tree for the prominent location. A tree from a different national forest has been chosen each year. In 1987, Ohio provided a Norway spruce from Wayne-Hoosier National Forest for this purpose. The national forest also works with state forests to provide smaller Christmas trees for offices in Washington, D.C.
While Ohio is not the home of this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree, there are a number of Ohio connections to the tree that will make the trip to the Capitol from its home in Alaska’s Chugach National Forest. As one would imagine, there are some very significant logistical issues for getting a 90-year-old, 74- foot Lutz spruce from Alaska to Washington, D.C. That is where Ohio comes in.
The tree will be making much of the 4,000-mile journey in a custom-decaled Kenworth T680 truck that was built in Chillicothe. The truck design features the Chugach Mountains and the U.S. Capitol beneath a northern starry sky with the words “From the Northern Lights to Capitol Lights.” It also includes the 2015 Capitol Christmas Tree official seal, a map of the tour route across the United States, and the Alaska state logo of Lynden Transport, a long-time Kenworth customer based in Anchorage. The T680 76-inch mid-roof sleeper is equipped with a fuel-efficient 485-horsepower PACCAR MX-13 engine with 1,650 pound-feet of torque. It will pull a trailer specially designed for the Capitol Christmas Tree.
The massive tree was cut during a special ceremony this week at its long-time home near Seward, Alaska. Once cut, the tree was moved to the Port of Tacoma and shipped to Seattle — this is the first Capitol Christmas Tree to be shipped via the ocean. To meet the tree’s needs of 20 to 40 gallons of water a day on the three-day ocean leg of the journey, a special “bladder” was built to keep the tree hydrated. A special heating element has been added to keep the tree from freezing on the ship as well.
From Seattle, the tree will be loaded on the custom T680 to make the 3,000-mile trip to the Capitol, stopping in a number of communities along the way. While the tree will not be removed from the truck during the community stops, visitors can look at it through windows and are encouraged to sign the official banner on the side of the truck and send a message back to Washington, D.C. Community stops for “The People’s Tree” include:
- Seward, AK
- Moose Pass, AK
- Anchorage, AK
- Seattle, WA
- Missoula, MT
- Sheridan, WY
- Rapid City, SD
- La Vista, NE
- South Bend, IN
- Findlay, OH
- Chillicothe, OH
- Joint Base Andrews, MD
After arriving in Washington, D.C. the tree lighting is expected to occur in early December, though the exact date has yet to be determined by the U. S. Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The tree’s stop in Findlay will be on Nov. 16 from 9:00 to 9:30 a.m. at the Court House/Municipal Building and at Chamberlin Hill School from 9:45 to 11:00 a.m. The Chillicothe stop will be on Nov. 17 from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. at Mount Logan Elementary School.
The cost for the trip is around half a million dollars that is funded by private sector donations from around 50 different companies and corporations. The truck will be driven by Lynden Transport driver John Schank, who drives a freightliner on the Dalton highway, one of the most dangerous trucking routes in the nation. The Alaska Trucking Association named Schank the 2014 “Driver of the Year” for logging 5 million miles accident-free on the Dalton Highway during his 40-year driving career, the highest number of miles on the Dalton Highway of any driver in history.
Schank was chosen for the task of hauling the Capitol Christmas Tree for its longest trip in history for his record of safety, and it doesn’t hurt that he looks quite a bit like Santa Claus either, Alaskan sources say. For more about the Capitol Christmas Tree, visit www.capitolchristmastree.com.