U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree approaches destination

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 11/17/2015

This year’s U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is enjoying quite the journey.

The 74-foot Lutz spruce is the first Capitol Christmas Tree to come from Alaska and is the first to be transported by sea. The trip, which started Oct. 27 in Seward, Alaska, and is set to end Wednesday at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, will span 4,000 miles. A lighting ceremony is set for Dec. 2 outside the U.S. Capitol building.

Once it reached Seattle, the 51st annual U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree’s final 3,000 miles are spent on a Kenworth T680 76-inch mid-roof sleeper tour truck with a specifically designed tour trailer.

Lynden Transport’s John Schank is the symbolic tree’s only driver.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” said Schank, a 40-year employee who has logged more than 5 million miles on the Dalton Highway between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. “I couldn’t say no.”

Along the way, Schank and the tree have planned stops in Missoula, Mont.; Bozeman, Mont.; Sheridan, Wyo.; Rapid City, S.D.; La Vista, Neb.; South Bend, Ind.; Findlay, Ohio; Chillicothe, Ohio; and Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

The Kenworth T680’s distinctive decal design features the Chugach Mountains and the U.S. Capitol beneath a northern starry sky with the words, “From the Northern Lights to the Capitol Lights.” It 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.

The tree was equipped with a bladder system to keep it watered at all times.

Schank, who spoke with Land Line on Friday before his arrival in South Bend, said the reception was great at each stop.

“They’ve had great welcome committees once we get to a place,” he said. “People are taking pictures as we pass on the freeway. We get lots of thumbs up. The kids are really amped.”

Schank said the weather was cooperative through the first half of the trip.

“It’s been great. No complaints,” Schank said. “The tree itself is good. We should arrive in good spirits.”

Schank and the tree are scheduled to arrive at Joint Base Andrews at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18.

The tree will be lit by newly elected U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Dec. 2, outside the U.S. Capitol building.

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