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Capitol tree rolls through town

December 02, 2000

Capitol tree rolls through town



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer


A 64-foot Colorado blue spruce tree selected to be placed on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol for the holidays rolled into Hagerstown for a brief stopover Saturday.

The tree, estimated to be 75 years old, was being transported to Washington on a Mack truck donated by the truck manufacturer.

The tree and an entourage of 28 support staff people arrived at Mack's Hagerstown Powertrain Operations on Pennsylvania Avenue about 4 p.m. Saturday.

Unlike past years, when the tree was visible on the truck, the tree was enclosed in a special covering. After the truck pulled in, a garden hose was hooked up to the trailer and turned on to power a special irrigation system inside.

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Water dripped from under the trailer as it sat outside the main entrance to the plant.

"Basically, our trucks smell real good. You can smell the mountains," said Cameron Lewis, a Colorado Division of Wildlife officer who was traveling with the tree.

A message on the side of the truck read, "Washington, D.C. or Bust."

A tree has been taken to the U.S. Capitol for Christmas since the late 1960s. The 155 national forests across the country have the opportunity to offer possible trees for the Capitol grounds, said Bill Nelson, co-chair of the Millennium Holiday Tree.

Pike National Forest, just west of Colorado Springs, Colo., was the forest selected to provide the tree for this year, Lewis said. Several potential trees have to be chosen, and the final decision is made by a landscape architect with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, Lewis said.

The tree was cut Nov. 20 at the foot of Pikes Peak. On Nov. 24 it was hauled to Denver where Colorado Gov. Bill Owens hosted a special send-off, Lewis said.

Since then, the tree has stopped 18 times across the country, Lewis said. Some of the stops were at small towns where officials dismissed school early so students could look at the tree.

In other towns, cars lined up waiting to see the tree and flashed their lights as it passed by, Lewis said.

"It was like a whistle-stop tour," she said.

For most of the trip the truck has been driven by U.S. Sen. Ben NighthorseCampbell, R-Colo., who has a commercial driver's license, Lewis said.

The tree is expected to arrive in Washington Monday and will be lighted Dec. 13.

It is one of two Christmas tree lighting ceremonies in Washington. On Dec. 11, President Clinton is expected to light a Christmas tree on the South Lawn of the White House.

The tree at the Capitol is sometimes referred to as "the people's tree," Lewis said.

The entourage included a second Mack truck carrying 70 smaller pine trees to be placed in Congressional offices, the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal offices.

Also being carried in the trucks are more than 4,000 ornaments made by elementary school children in Colorado. The ornaments will be used to decorate the Capitol grounds tree, Lewis said.

The tour also included several cars which carried support staff from the U.S. Forest Service and other government agencies, Lewis said.

The staff included Washington County native Robby Cox, who works in Pike National Forest as a forest technician. Cox was in town for his parents' wedding anniversary, and planned to travel the rest of the way with the tree.

"I think it's real slick with it coming from our district," Cox said.

Also joining the entourage from Hagerstown will be a special Mack truck commemorating the company's 100th anniversary this year. The truck hauls a museum of company memorabilia and will be in Washington until the tree-lighting ceremony, said Roger Johnston, vice-president and general manager of the local Mack plant.

The tree was placed in a special "shrink-wrap" cover this year to better protect it. In past years, tarps that were used to cover Capitol Christmas trees would sometimes flap and damage the trees, said Nelson.

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