In all his years driving for Apex Transportation, Butch Hanna has never felt so much pressure on a delivery. He’s delivered many items in his time, but this year is the first he’s ever transported the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.
For the first time since 2012, the tree that will shine bright in Washington, D.C., from late November to the end of December, will come from Colorado. The 55-foot Engelmann spruce tree, which was cut down last week, is now loaded into the trailer of an 18-wheeler for a statewide, and soon to be nationwide, journey.
“I was pretty excited (to receive this opportunity), but kinda nervous,” Hanna said. “I’ve never had so many eyes on doing this kind of thing. It’s been a blast. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Hanna and officials from the United States Forest Service have stopped to display the tree throughout western Colorado, halting in Norwood, Ouray, Olathe and Montrose. On Wednesday night, the trailer was parked outside Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction, allowing drivers to casually pass by and catch a glimpse.
For more than two hours, a steady stream of locals drove by the tree.
“All these people coming out excited to see it, it’s awesome,” said Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests Service Forester Todd Gardner. “Glad to see everyone interested in it. Hopefully, they’re proud that we’re offering this tree up to the people.”
Gardner has experience when it comes to finding and transporting the Capitol Christmas Tree. Last year, he shadowed other USFS workers as they chose, unrooted and transported the tree from Carson National Forest in New Mexico.
This year, he was involved even more directly: he helped Washington choose its tree.
“I actually located this tree on the Uncompahgre Plateau,” Gardner said. “When we knew we were getting the Capitol Christmas tree, probably a year and a half ago, the hunt started, and just being up and down the forest every day, I have a pretty good idea of where different types of trees grow. I was able to find about 12 really good candidate trees. The Architect of the Capitol’s office selects the final tree. Usually, they would come out and we would do a field trip for 2-3 days through the forest looking at the trees in person, but with COVID-19 this year, their travel was curtailed, so we did it virtually. We sent them lots of videos of different trees. That’s how this one came to be selected.”
Gardner and Hanna will continue to travel with the tree as it moves east through the Rocky Mountains, with Gardner watering the tree and ensuring its security when Hanna stops.
Once they reach Denver, a different crew will handle the tree, driving the rest of the way across the United States to Washington, D.C.
The tree will arrive at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Nov. 19. Shortly after, it’ll take its place in the center of the nation’s capitol city.
Hanna plans to fly to Washington to see his delivery through as a spectator.
“It’s an honor,” Hanna said. “There’s just a handful of guys that get to do this. I was really honored that I got picked to do it.”