Everyone in the Montana trucking industry knows Larry Spiekermeier. And now people on the road between the Treasure State and D.C. know him too — as the man who delivered the 53rd annual Capitol Christmas tree.
Spiekermeier drove the truck carrying the 2017 tree for two weeks, starting from Kootenai National Forest in northwestern Montana. Spiekermeier and the 79-foot-tall Engelmann Spruce made twenty stops between Nov. 13 and Nov. 27 in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri and Kentucky before arriving at the Capitol on Monday.
“It’s unbelievable. The response we get at every town we go to has just been overwhelming,” he said over the phone as he drove through Kansas City, Missouri, on Tuesday. “The people who come out — we had nothing but a thumbs up, enjoyable experience at every one. The amount of people that come to see it, it makes you feel proud that you’re able to do something like this for the people.”
Watch: A Christmas Tree's 3,400-mile Journey to the Capitol's West Front
“It’s just the faces of the people enjoying it, and I hope they can enjoy it as much as I’m enjoying it,” Spiekermeier said.
Kootenai has provided a Capitol tree once before, almost 30 years ago. But the route has never gone through parts of northern Montana. This year was different.
“It’s an overwhelming experience for everybody,” he said.
His favorite stop, as of Tuesday, was at the Southgate Mall in Missoula, Montana. He hauled Santa Claus to the mall in his truck, and a couple of thousand people came out to watch.
The tree also passed through Fargo, North Dakota, Spiekermeier’s birthplace, and made a stop at the Montana Capitol for Gov. Steve Bullock to see.
The last stop before D.C. was Joint Base Andrews on Sunday.
Spiekermeier lives in Plains, Montana, with his wife, Mary Ann, who rode along for 900 miles. He works for Whitewood Transport, which was selected to haul the tree by Choose Outdoors, a nonprofit that coordinates the trees’ tour with the U.S. Forest Service.
“Whitewood Transport has a really, really good safety record in the state of Montana. I’ve been driving for them for 18 years, so I’m part of that,” Spiekermeier said.
The truck, a Kenworth T680, sported a special decal for the journey, featuring the Kootenai National Forest seal, a Christmas tree and the Capitol beneath a starry sky, along with the message, “Big Sky. Big Tree. Big Journey.”
Spiekermeier, who will hit 50 years on the road next year, has delivered to every state except Hawaii. He has 1.6 million accident-free miles with Whitewood and was named “driver of the year” by the Motor Carriers of Montana in 2009 and 2015.
“When they told me, I thought, ‘What an honor,’ you know?” he said. “This is a crown jewel of the driving career to get to have this opportunity.”
Last year’s Capitol tree, another Engelmann spruce, was from Idaho’s Payette National Forest, while 2015’s tree was a Lutz spruce from Alaska.