Tim Dean, a native flatland Nebraskan, could be forgiven for having thought he’d seen everything in his trucking career. After all, he’s logged 35 years and racked up 5 million accident-free miles — all of it for Omaha, Nebraska-based Werner Enterprises in Omaha.
But when he and three other drivers joined a Zoom call at the company’s request, Dean discovered one of the few things he hadn’t done: Haul the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree. Well, that was about to change.
Working together with fellow Werner driver Jesus Davila, Dean hauled the 2023 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, popularly known as “The People’s Tree,” from the Monongahela National Forest in West Virgina to the lawn of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
The experience was an adventure of a lifetime, where each day brought its own kind of holiday magic for the team.
“You can’t prepare yourself for the emotions you feel,” Dean told The Trucker. “In Morgantown (West Virginia) we pulled up behind this marching band that led us into an area on campus. We’ve got the windows down, and to hear the band play Christmas tunes it’s pretty incredible.”
The two-week trip, which started Nov. 4, included planned stops to give people a chance to get up close and personal with the 63-foot Norway spruce. Dean says an atmosphere of pride and excitement surrounded the duo as they spent two weeks piloting a Kenworth T680 Signature Edition along the tree’s journey.
“You can’t prepare yourself for the emotions you feel when arriving to a ceremony and there are thousands of people there,” Dean said. “What you don’t anticipate is how many schools along the path were tracking us. When we came through their little town, which was not a stop, all the kids were outside along the route, waving.”
Davila agrees. An honorably discharged U.S. Marine, who during his 12 years in the Corps saw multiple foreign assignments and earned a chestful of medals, Davila doesn’t have as many years behind the wheel as Dean.
“Being able to have that experience so young in my career is something I’m going to always carry with me,” he said. “It was a humbling experience.”
Davila says the experience of driving with Dean was particularly meaningful, given the latter’s experience. During the trek, Davila says, he learned a lot about handling an oversize rig in difficult circumstances.
“We had a good time, “Davila said. “It was good to learn from a different perspective. There were things Tim showed me about how to handle a vehicle that I was like, ‘Naw, there’s no way that can happen.’ He was like, ‘Just listen to what I’m telling you, and you’ll see how it works.’ I learned a lot.”
For Dean, the trip presented multiple technical challenges, from bringing the tree down a mountain in falling snow to navigating the winding roads of West Virginia. He says he even learned some new tips from Davila who was more used to driving an automatic tractor.
“As the tenured driver, I made sure we took turns driving,” Dean said with a laugh. “When I said ‘took turns,’ I mean it! Left, right, left, right, up, down, left, right — we both were constantly taking turns, all right.”
Davila says the encounters with ordinary citizens, whether at scheduled stops or just while the truck was rolling down the highway, showed him a side of America that was heartwarming.
“Small-town America still exists,” he said. “That was crazy to see. I spoke to a lot of kids in the area and said, ‘Be grateful you have this.’ You don’t see kids riding bicycles and playing outside like you used to.
“Everybody’s a family in these small towns and just the reception and the smiles to see that tree was unexpected,” he continued. “I was expecting some turnout, but at almost every stop there was a huge turnout, which was pretty amazing.”
The duo was joined in the adventure by fellow Werner drivers Steve and Gina Jones, who were tapped to pilot a second rig carrying 84 Christmas trees and thousands of ornaments to military personnel stationed in and around Washington D.C.
The Arizona-based husband-and-wife driving team told The Trucker they found the honor particularly meaningful, given the military traditions in their family.
“It means so much,” said Gina. “Steve is a veteran, and I have two sons — one is a Navy veteran, my oldest son, and my youngest son is Army. He’s still active duty, 12 and a half years.
“It meant a lot for us being at Joint Base Andrews,” she continued. “I think that was my highlight of everything, because we understand the military and the families and what they go through. It’s hard for the spouses when their soldier is away.”
The couple teased Dean and Davila, who enjoyed a state patrol escort practically every mile of the trip, about having to do the “heavy lifting” during the journey. After reaching the nation’s capital, the Joneses faced a daunting day whereby they made four deliveries in the heart of D.C. from a 75-foot truck and no escort.
“It took us an hour and a half to get to our first stop — and we were only parked 19 miles away,” said Steve, who’s logged more than 1 million accident-free miles during his 14-year career.
“Gina and I are not familiar with D.C., and those roads were not made for trucks,” he said. “You have to let people get mad at you, because otherwise, how much more mad are they going to be if you have an accident and clog it up worse? We just took it slow and careful.”
The route presented various challenges.
“We had some construction on one of the roads, a one-way road,” added Gina, also a member of the 1 million safe miles club and counting.
“We could make the turn, but we wouldn’t be able to follow the trailer in. I ended up getting out, moving cones and adjusting, but we did it without any accidents, or issues,” she said. “Patience is the key, and safety is No. 1.”
Despite such challenges, the couple said distributing the trees and ornaments to military families gave them a feeling they will never forget. The memories are some they will cherish at Christmastime for years to come.
“Everybody was so welcoming,” Steve said. “The reception we got from everybody — you just can’t say how special it makes you feel. That, plus our truck having a military-themed wrap on it. I’m getting goosebumps now talking about it.”
For these four Werner drivers, the journey was one of a lifetime.
“Smiles everywhere, just glowing, people in the Christmas spirit. It was a joyful thing,” Gina said. “We both said we were in the ‘haul-iday’ spirit!”
Video clips courtesy of the U.S. National Forest Service. Photos courtesy of the U.S. National Forest Service, James Edward Mills and the Kenworth Truck Co.
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.