Langley man delivers official Christmas tree to Washington, D.C.

Gordy Grove of Langley poses on a police motorcycle in front of the Capitol building on his first tree-trucking trip to Washington, D.C. - Photo courtesy of Toni Grove
Gordy Grove of Langley poses on a police motorcycle in front of the Capitol building on his first tree-trucking trip to Washington, D.C.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Toni Grove

There are Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. And Gordy Grove of Langley.

“They liked the job I did, and asked me to do it again,” Grove said this week.

For the second time in three years, Grove, a long-haul trucker, lugged the official Capitol Mall Christmas tree to Washington, D.C.

In 2006, he drove the official tree from Washington state to D.C.

This year, on Nov. 4, he hooked up his 2007 Peterbilt 387 with 525-horsepower diesel engine and 18-speed manual transmission to an 80-foot trailer and hauled the 78-foot tree approximately 4,400 miles to the Capitol.

The Subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) was cut Nov. 2 in the Sapphire Mountains near Hamilton, Mont., part of the Bitterroot National Forest.

After a huge crane gently nestled the tree in its trailer, Grove and his entourage set out on a twisting route to D.C. that included a 2,000-mile, 22-stop tour through Montana alone, to let state residents feel the love at having been chosen for the honor of supplying the Capitol icon.

He was accompanied by another truck carrying 80 smaller trees. which would be used to decorate government offices, and more than

5,000 ornaments.

The decorations were crafted by people from across Montana in keeping with this year’s theme, “Sharing Montana’s Treasures.” They reflect the state’s heritage, historical events, people and natural resources.

Completing the posse was a two-vehicle National Park Service escort that provided round-the-clock security during the trip.

“I met a lot of nice people along the way,” Grove said. “They were pretty interested, having trees from their state going to the Capitol.”

Several business and governmental and civic groups sponsored the event, including Grove’s employer, National Van Lines. Each had its logo on a banner on the side of the trailer, and people along the route were encouraged to sign their names.

More than 44,000 signatures were collected on the banner, Grove said.

After leaving Montana, the convoy made three stops in North Dakota, a side trip to the show biz haven Branson, Mo., then on to Chicago, Ill. and Washington, D.C.

“In Branson, the Lennon Sisters came out and sang for us,” Grove said of the famous quartet from television’s Lawrence Welk Show. “Yes, they’re still here.”

Grove said navigating towns and cities with a trailer 27 feet longer than the allowable limit is tricky.

He didn’t knock anything down along the way, “but I ran over a lot of curbs,” he said.

A 40-gallon bladder system was hooked up to keep the tree fresh during the trip.

“That tree sucked up quite a bit of water for a couple of weeks,” Grove said.

The convoy, with a six-motorcycle police escort for the last 40 miles from Maryland, arrived in the nation’s capital on Nov. 24, where the tree was gingerly unloaded and erected on the west front of the Capitol Mall along First Street NW.

On Dec. 2, Grove watched as the tree was lit by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. For the fourth year in a row, energy-saving LED (Light Emitting Diodes) lights were used.

The Mall Christmas tree has been a tradition at the Capitol since 1964. It will be lit from nightfall until

11 p.m. through Dec. 28.

While hanging around Washington, Grove said he met the senators from Montana, and talked to Washington state Sen. Patty Murray about trucking-related issues. But he didn’t see President Bush.

“He didn’t come out,” Grove said.

Grove, 51, has been a cross-country furniture mover for National Van Lines for the past five years, and another line for 20 years before that.

He has been driving trucks for more than 33 years, starting at age 18 with his family-owned local moving company in Bellevue.

He said he has driven more than a million miles without a moving violation, and has won several safe-driving awards, part of the reason why he was selected to drive the companion vehicle in 2005 and the Washington state tree in 2006.

He has driven through all of the lower 48 states “several times,” he said.

Grove and his wife of 29 years, Toni, moved to Langley in 1996. They have two daughters, Francesca, 22, and Colette, 13.

Toni Grove and their daughters flew to D.C. in 2006 to ride the last few miles to the Capitol in the truck with Gordy.

“We rode into town at the break of dawn, with the police blocking off streets in front of us as we went along,” she said. “Driving up in front of the Capitol building, that was really fabulous.”

Grove said the 2006 trip was special, because the tree came from his home state.

“But I can’t remember what kind of tree it was,” he added. “I feel guilty.”

For the record, it was a 65-foot Pacific silver fir from the Olympic National Forest.

Grove said he may drive for another 10 years or so, then hang it up.

“It’s not a job you easily retire from,” he said. “You get use to being on the road a lot.”

Thursday, after yet another cross-country trip, Grove was in San Diego, Calif., delivering furniture to a house about a mile from the Mexico border.

He expects to be back in Langley by Monday, where he will be home for the holidays before going back on the road.

“It was really a lot of fun,” he said of his tree-trucking adventure. “If they ask me, I’d be honored to do it again.”

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