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Mack Truck Delivers ‘Good Nature’ to Capitol

By: Brad Bentley

Brad Bentley

A University of Alabama graduate with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, Bentley spent 15 years as a trucking Publisher before becoming the Editorial Director for Randall-Reilly's Recruiting Media division.

U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree

What did it take to transport the 2013 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree from Washington State to Washington, DC? A Mack truck, an experienced driver, and a lot of support.

I was among the hundreds of spectators in Northeast Washington for the 2013 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree harvesting ceremony on November 1, but by the time you read this, the “people’s tree” will have taken a 5,000 mile journey to be placed in front of the U.S. Capitol Building, with a special tree-lighting ceremony scheduled for early December.

The annual tradition began in 1964 when a live 24-foot Douglas fir was planted on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The original Capitol Christmas Tree died after the 1968 tree lighting ceremony due to a severe wind storm that caused root damage. The tree was removed and the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service has provided the trees since 1969.

U.S. Forest Service officials select a different national forest each year, making their choice five years in advance, giving the U.S. Forest Service time to select a suitable tree to represent the people of the United States at Christmas. Earlier this year, the Architect of the Capitol selected the 88-foot-tall Engelmann Spruce from the Sullivan Lake District of Washington’s 1.1 million acre Colville National Forest.

According to Jennifer Knutson,  2013 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Coordinator, the tree will be adorned by more than 7,000 ornaments made by Washington schoolchildren. These ornaments are made of lentils, wheat, and other local products to reflect Washington. “Our theme this year is ‘Sharing Washington’s Good Nature,’ and the people’s tree is a gift from the people of Washington to the people of the U.S.,” Knutson said.

Washington’s good nature was certainly on full display on the crisp, clear morning in the hours before members of the Forest Service felled the tree. Dozens of families huddled around campfires, sipping hot chocolate and eating cookies, as Federal and local dignitaries, plus representatives from the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, joined the crowd to make speeches. Francis Cullooyah, a Kalispel tribal elder, led the group in prayer and blessed the tree.

However, anyone in attendance expecting to hear the word “tim-ber” may have been surprised, as there was no “falling” of the tree.  Instead, the removal of the tree involved the use of two cranes, with one suspending the top of the tree after the trunk was cut, and the other crane suspending the pivot point as it was gingerly lowered onto an 80-foot flatbed trailer.

Now resting safely on its side, the tree was placed in the capable hands of truck driver Duane Brusseau, who piloted a custom-decorated MACK® Pinnacle™ Axle Back model to Newport (the closest town to the tree). Newport was the only community that got to see the “bare tree” before a chemical called Moisture In was sprayed on the Engelmann as it was placed in a specially designed bladder. The chemical kept the tree’s green color intact, and the bladder provided needed water and nutrients for the cross-country journey.

Brusseau delivered the 2011 Capitol Christmas Tree from California to Washington, D.C. and served as the co-driver to former Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell last year, so he was familiar with the process and many of the locations the tree visited. After the town celebration in Newport, the tree traveled intrastate to Spokane, Republic, Wenatchee, Yakima, Everett, Olympia, Vancouver, and Kennewick. The tree then left Washington state and made stops at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho; Ogden, Spanish Fork and St. George, Utah; Sedona and Flagstaff, Arizona; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Amarillo and Dallas, Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Nashville and Knoxville, Tennessee; Roanoke, Virginia; Hagerstown, Maryland; Allentown, Pennsylvania; and Andrews Air Force Base.

These “whistle stops” allowed citizens from all across the U.S. to enjoy the tree if they cannot make it to the Capitol Building. It also gave Americans an opportunity to sign banners that were placed on the sides of the Hale Trailer that housed the tree.

We are proud to report that Brusseau and the people’s tree arrived safely in Washington, D.C. a few days prior to Thanksgiving. This year’s tree was also chaperoned by U.S. Forest Service representatives from Colville National Forest and the outdoor recreation, tourism and conservation organization Choose Outdoors.

Pamm Chaney (left), Director, Retail Membership for the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), poses with Jeff Olson, President of Choose Outdoors and Jennifer Knutson, 2013 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Coordinator. NACS is one of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree’s largest sponsors, donating all of the diesel fuel necessary for the truck’s transport.

Pamm Chaney (left), Director, Retail Membership for the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), poses with Jeff Olson, President of Choose Outdoors and Jennifer Knutson, 2013 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Coordinator. NACS is one of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree’s largest sponsors, donating all of the diesel fuel necessary for the truck’s transport.

Jeff Olson, President of Choose Outdoors, said no taxpayers’ dollars are used for the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree program. His non-profit company raises money from sponsors to cover the cost of the project, which Olson says is more than $500,000. “There would be no U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree without the generosity of our sponsors,” Olson added.

In addition to the equipment provided by Mack Trucks and Hale Trailers, several other companies from the trucking industry were sponsors of 2013 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, including the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), Randall-Reilly, and Skybitz. Pilot Flying J Travel Centers hosted whistle stops at three of their locations, while TCA, Randall-Reilly, and Red Eye Radio also co-hosted events in Dallas and Nashville.

The tree was well-received by thousands of people en route, and hopefully ‘Washington’s Good Nature’ will rub off on the recent dysfunction in Washington, D.C. The 2013 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree is now being decorated, and thanks to the efforts of many, will soon serve as a beacon of light to be enjoyed by all throughout the holiday season.


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