Former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell is the man behind the wheel of the truck hauling the 2012 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree, a 74-year-old, 73-foot, 4.5-ton Englemann spruce.
The 79-year-old hauled his first Capitol tree in 2000. After completing the 5,000-mile journey from Colorado to the White House, he knew he wanted to do it again.
The tree will be on display in its custom hauler from 2 to 5 p.m. Nov. 22 at zMAX Dragway in Concord. The local stop is one of many along the tree’s 23-day tour across the country on its way to Washington, D.C.
Upon arrival in the nation’s capital, the tree will be placed on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol and decorated with more than 5,000 ornaments handmade by Colorado children. A public tree-lighting is scheduled for early December.
“The U.S. Capitol Christmas tree is only stopping in 14 cities outside its home state of Colorado, so it is an honor to be chosen as a place that people can come to see the tree,” said John Agresti, communications manager with the Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which helped land a stop along the route.
“This will give Cabarrus County residents and folks in the region something different to see this holiday season, and they can take pride in viewing the tree that will go to our nation’s capital.”
The tree will be coming to Concord from Asheville before heading to Staunton, Va. The U.S. Forest Service has been involved with harvesting and hauling the Capitol’s tree for 42 years.
This year’s tree was harvested Nov. 2 in the White River National Forest, near Meeker, Colo. Then it was trimmed, wrapped and prepared for transport to Washington on a custom-decorated Mack Pinnacle-model truck. Charlotte-base Mack donated the truck for the trip.
About the driver
Campbell served in the Colorado state legislature for two terms, in the U.S. House of Representatives for three terms and in the U.S. Senate for two terms.
Because of his Native American heritage, he said, the journey is bittersweet.
“The taking of any life is difficult, but the Ute tribes being there, blessing the tree before it was cut, made it easier,” he said. “Plus, seeing the community support from Meeker and the fact that the tree is a gift from Colorado to the entire nation makes it a wonderful experience.”
Campbell said the tree and the people behind the harvesting, transportation and decoration of it face an arduous but light-hearted journey. While leaving Pagosa Springs, Colo., on Nov. 10 in a major snowstorm, a truck hauling a companion tree was not balanced correctly. The truck lost traction and spun out on its way up Wolf Creek Pass.
“We had to call a tow truck to pull the truck to the top of the pass,” said Campbell. “So Duane Brusseau, that truck driver, has affectionately become known among the team as ‘Wolf Man.’ ”
Campbell praised the numerous people involved, as well as the hundreds of children across Colorado who made ornaments for the tree.
“There are literally hundreds of people behind the scenes that make this happen,” said Campbell. “The planning stage involves people all along the route, as well as the people directly involved … and packaging the tree took two 16-hour days.”
Campbell, who calls it “The People’s Tree,” said he’s most impressed by its 42-year tradition.
“I had no idea it had been going on that long,” he said.
Protecting our forests
The tree also brings a message about sustainable forestry and helps raise money and awareness for the Forest Restoration Challenge, which was established to help areas affected by massive wildfires in this spring.
Handmade ornaments also will be sold to raise money for forest restoration. The wooden ornaments come from trees felled by disease.
Patty Wyatt of the National Forest Service in Meeker, Colo., said people will be able to see the tree through a viewing window of the trailer. The tip of the tree will be decorated to give people a sense of what it will look like when on the Capitol lawn.
Visitors also can sign a banner, which will serve as a giant Christmas card and be displayed in Washington. Several companion trees, being hauled separately, are following the big tree across the country. A motor-home sleigh is at each stop, and Santa and Mrs. Claus are visiting.
“It’s a big entourage,” said Wyatt.
The tree comes from a different region of the U.S. every year, but it’s always is taken from a national forest, said Wyatt. Extra branches, gathered during the trimming process, travel along with the tree to help fill in any holes created during its rugged journey.
Its trunk, 28 inches in diameter, helps the tree consume up to 60 gallons of water per day, said Wyatt. To water the tree, they fill a large rubber boot and use a ratchet strap to tighten it around the trunk.
Once the tree is set up, it takes about two days for the branches to fall back into their normal places.
Holiday happenings underway
Other holiday-themed events coming up in the area will include the opening of the ice skating rink at the dragway for Speedway Christmas, one of the nation’s largest holiday light shows. It will run 6-10 p.m. nightly, Nov. 19-Dec. 30. It’s closed on Christmas Day.
“This is a great way to kick off Cabarrus Christmas this holiday season, as we host the Capitol Christmas tree on Thanksgiving Day,” said Donna Carpenter, president and chief executive officer of the Cabarrus CVB.
“On a day when we are thankful for what we have, Cabarrus County visitors and residents will have the opportunity to see this beautiful tree as it heads to its final destination: the west lawn of the Capitol building.”
For details about the tree’s Concord stop and other area holiday happenings, visit www.CabarrusChristmas.com.