It wasn’t a sleigh full of toys pulled by eight tiny reindeer, but a pair of tractor-trailers, navigated by four Werner Enterprises drivers, generated holiday cheer throughout their journey from West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest to the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
The trucks were loaded with precious cargo — the 2023 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, also known as “The People’s Tree,” as well as handmade ornaments and nearly 100 smaller trees.
Harvested November 1, the 63-foot Norway Spruce made its way to the nation’s capital aboard a Kenworth 100th Anniversary T680 Signature Edition, under the capable handling of Werner drivers Jesus Davila and Tim Dean. Davila, a resident of San Antonio, has been driving for more than six years, while Dean, who lives in Iowa, has more than three decades — and 5 million miles — under his belt.
The two drivers were chosen from among Werner’s 14,000 associates.
“When we were told we were driving, I told Tim I was the senior driver, because he still drives a manual and I drive an auto,” Davila joked (the T680 used for the journey is equipped with an automatic transmission). “Technically, I’ve got more auto miles than he does so that made me the lead driver of the truck.”
Joining the convoy was a second Werner truck, which delivered thousands of handmade ornaments crafted by West Virginians, with which to adorn the Capitol Christmas Tree. In addition, the truck carried 84 smaller trees bound for military families stationed at Maryland’s Joint Base Andrews. This rig was piloted by the husband-wife team of Steve and Gina Jones of Peoria, Arizona.
“We were kind of dumbfounded [to be selected],” Steve said. “We actually had a small vacation scheduled, going down to Puerto Penasco, Mexico, but without hesitation, both of us looked at each other and said, ‘Yeah, we’re canceling.’”
The decision to cancel their trip was an easy one.
“We can always take a vacation, but we can’t always do the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree project with our other two professional drivers,” Gina said. “We were humbled and grateful that they selected us out of all the Werner drivers.”
Even with a large pool of drivers from which to choose, selecting Davila, Dean, and the Joneses was not difficult, according to Brad White, Werner’s director of safety.
“We have no shortage of outstanding professional drivers in our fleet to choose from. Those four names kept coming to the top,” White said. “All four of them represent Werner on our internal Werner Road Team. It just made the selection process really easy for us. They do a great job of representing not only Werner, but the industry as a whole.”
This was the Omaha-based company’s first time hauling the U.S. Capitol tree, named “wa’feem’tekwi,” or “bright tree” in Shawnee (phonetically, it’s pronounced “wa-thame-tech-we”).
“We expressed our interest (in transporting the tree) in the middle of summer, or early summer,” White said. “They had somebody they thought was going to do it — and then quickly pivoted over to us. It was not the typical selection process, but we were happy to take on the challenge.
“We’re always looking to find out how we can participate in moves like this,” he continued. “We want to bring additional recognition to the company, and we really want to participate in special events like this. It’s a huge thing for the community, representing not only Werner Enterprises but the entire trucking industry as a whole.”
One of the largest providers of transportation services in North America, Werner operates nearly 8,300 trucks and 30,000 trailers.
Davila and Dean, who drove the T680 Signature Edition donated by Kenworth, said the tractor handled the mountain roads with ease as they traversed the tour route, which included stops at a dozen community celebrations. The truck is equipped with a 76-inch sleeper, the PACCAR Powertrain featuring the PACCAR MX-13 engine rated at 455 horsepower, the PACCAR TX-12 automated transmission, and PACCAR DX-40 tandem rear axles.
Showcasing the theme of Endlessly Wild & Wonderful, the T680 was custom wrapped with the message prominently displayed on the truck’s driver and passenger sides. The design also featured the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree, and an image of the sunset overlooking the Monongahela National Forest.
“I once saw a clip about people hauling The People’s Christmas tree, and in the back of my mind I was like, ‘That’s kinda cool,’” Dean said. “The adventure of it was more than one can imagine.”
A couple of weeks after the tree’s Nov. 17 delivery, the four drivers returned to the nation’s capital to witness the lighting ceremony. White says the entire Werner team shared in the drivers’ sense of pride and excitement about the project.
“In trucking there’s not a whole lot of opportunities where you get to move freight and point to a single item and say, ‘We did that.’ This is one of those items that is significant for us within our company,” White said. “To be able to participate — and knowing that there’s a lot of other carriers out there that also want to be involved with a move like this — it was rewarding to be able to put our name and our stamp on the move.”
Photos courtesy of Werner Enterprises
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.