Special delivery: an 84-foot-tall white fir harvested straight from the Six Rivers National Forest in California.
The tree, which was selected as the 2021 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, went on a 3,300-mile journey from its home in California to Washington, D.C. Cheney, Washington-based flatbed carrier System Transport was the fleet for the job.
With a specially wrapped Kenworth T680 Next Generation tractor, System Transport hauled the tree on a cross-country tour, stopping in 17 communities along the way from Oct. 29 to Nov. 16. The trek culminated with the official tree lighting on the West Lawn in early December.
One of the stops was at the Kenworth manufacturing plant in Chillicothe, Ohio, where the Next Gen was assembled, with a special event for plant employees. Spireon’s FleetLocate trailer management technology tracked the journey in real time.
Transporting the tree with the 105-foot-long tractor-trailer presented unique challenges. It started with a lot of coordination in arranging vehicle escorts throughout the trip, primarily from U.S. Forest Service law enforcement but occasionally from local law enforcement.
“As needed, the escorts would block traffic to allow room and time to maneuver the over-dimensional load through intersections and around corners,” says Chad Reiling, marketing manager for Trans-System. “There was also an extensive vetting process for all tour stop/visit locations along the way, ensuring adequate room for ingress and egress of the rig.”
(Trans-System is the parent company of System Transport, along with sister companies TWT Refrigerated Services and James J. William Bulk Transport.)
To navigate the selection process to become the official transporters, System Transport has been working with representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the nonprofit Choose Outdoors, and Six Rivers National Forest since June. After System Transport was recommended by Kenworth, the partners reviewed the fleet’s history of successfully transporting over-dimensional loads, its expertise with a variety of specialized equipment, and its safety record.
The haul was run by six drivers. Robert E. Lee and Terry Jefferson helped get the tree off the mountain in Six Rivers National Forest. John Schnell, Mike English, Jeremy Bellinger, and Bill Brunk rotated in teams of two throughout the tour across the U.S. Jerry Gardner was on standby for emergency relief.
System Transport took delivery of the Kenworth T680 Next Gen during the summer so it could get a few thousand miles shakedown before this project. The fleet’s first Next Gen truck joins a fleet that is mostly made up of variations of Kenworth’s T680 platform, with an average fleet age of two-and-a-half years. The Next Gen model is expected to begin rotating into the fleet as units retire beginning in early 2022.
“As a second-generation family-owned and operated company, Christmas is a special time of year for us,” Reiling says. “We are proud to be a part of the annual tradition that brings the Christmas spirit to our nation’s capital, and to all the families who gather around their own trees to share the spirit of the season.”
This article first appears in the December 2021 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.