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November 20, 2017 4:30 PM, EST
Capitol Christmas Tree Hauled by Award-Winning Montana Owner-Operator
The 2017 Capitol Christmas tree is traveling on this specially decorated Kenworth T680 The 2017 Capitol Christmas tree is traveling on this specially decorated Kenworth T680. (TruckPR/Flickr)

The nation soon will celebrate lighting the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, which has been hauled by veteran driver Larry Spiekermeier for Whitewood Transport.

Spiekermeier, an owner-operator, used a Kenworth T680 to take the tree on a 21-stop tour en route to Washington to kick off the festive holiday season.

“If you would have told me at the start of my driving career in 1968 that I would one day be stepping up to the plate to deliver ‘The People’s Tree’ to the U.S. Capitol, I would never, ever have imagined it,” Spiekermeier, 70, said in a statement.

Veteran driver Larry Spiekermeier of Whitewood Transport has had the honor of hauling the Capitol tree after it was harvested in Montana. (TruckPR/Flickr)

He was selected to bring the tree, a 79-foot Engelmann Spruce, nearly 3,500 miles from the Kootenai National Forest in northwestern Montana to the Capitol.

Local Kenworth dealer Motor Power Equipment and the Motor Carriers of Montana recommended Spiekermeier, who is a two-time Motor Carriers of Montana driver of the year.

And Whitewood Transport — the Billings, Mont.-based heavy-haul and specialized equipment carrier that has contracted Spiekermeier for 20 years — has garnered several awards, including Great West fleet safety awards from the Montana trucking association.

The 79-foot tree before being loaded onto the specially decorated Kenworth. (TruckPR/Flickr)

After the tree was harvested on Nov. 7, Spiekermeier delivered it to a warehouse in Libby, Mont., where it was wrapped and placed in a box equipped with an 80-gallon water bladder to keep it hydrated during its trip. The box was then loaded onto a specially designed trailer for a tour of more than a dozen stops across Montana before leaving the Big Sky State on Nov. 18. Then seven additional stops were made in North Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri and Kentucky before Thanksgiving. The tree’s last stop is Joint Base Andrews in Maryland outside Washington, D.C., on Nov. 26 before it is unloaded and unwrapped for its final journey to the West Lawn of the Capitol on Nov. 27.

While he’s never driven an over-the-road truck with an automatic transmission before, Spiekermeier said he’s been duly impressed with the 12-speed Paccar automatic transmission that was provided by Kenworth for this special haul.

The T680 has a Paccar MX-13 engine and its 12-speed PACCAR transmission provides plenty of power and shifts smoothly.

The truck’s exterior features the Capitol Christmas Tree, the Kootenai National Forest seal, a brightly lit and colorfully adorned Christmas tree, and the U.S. Capitol beneath a starry sky with the words “Big Sky. Big Tree. Big Journey.”

Spiekermeier has more than 1.6 million miles of accident-free driving for Whitewood, plus another 1.9 million accident-free miles driving for several other companies before joining Whitewood. With that driving record and an unprecedented second Driver of the Year award in 2015 from the Motor Carriers of Montana, after he won his first one in 2009, bestowing the honor of driving the tour truck on Spiekermeier seemed a foregone conclusion, said Mike Wilson, Whitewood’s owner.

“Larry represents the best of our owner-operators. The 18 employees at our headquarters and the 39 other owner-operators who drive under our authority have all worked hard at establishing and maintaining a clean and polished operation with a stellar safety record,” Wilson said. “We want drivers like Larry who have an entrepreneurial spirit and appreciate what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

Taking the company’s best driver out of production and having him deliver the Capitol Christmas Tree has presented some challenges. Still, Wilson sees the effort as a great opportunity to showcase his company and the industry and to attract young people to driving careers.

“It’s hard not to be inspired when you see this beautiful T680 running down the road with a 79-foot, 13,000-pound Christmas tree behind it.”