FARGO - A few days after Thanksgiving, a Casselton boy, now 70, will get a private tour of the White House. That will happen after he drops off a 79-foot tall Engelmann spruce at the U.S. Capitol to serve as the Capitol Christmas tree. He's driving it from Montana aboard a 102-foot long tractor-trailer.
You can see the tree and meet the driver, Larry Spiekermeier, in Fargo on Sunday morning, Nov. 19, if your timing is right.
The Capitol Christmas tree was cut last week in Montana's Kootenai National Forest, and began its trek to Washington on Monday. It will travel nearly 3,500 miles through 10 states, making 20 official stops, before being delivered to the west lawn of the Capitol on Monday, Nov. 27.
The tree will make official stops in the region at Dickinson, Grand Forks, and Browns Valley, Minn., but the Fargo stop is an unscheduled stop that is being made because Spiekermeier grew up in the area, still has many friends and relatives here, and requested it.
The truck and its sizeable entourage will stop to get fuel at Love's truck stop on 39th Street South in Fargo, just west of Interstate 29. Spiekermeier figures he'll arrive there about 11 or 11:30 on Sunday morning, if all goes right.
He will stay as long as it takes to fill the truck's tanks with diesel, probably about 30 minutes. He encourages the public to come see the tree while he does that.
Spiekermeier was chosen to drive the truck by his employer, Whitewood Transport, of Billings, Mont. He was selected because of his exemplary driving record and his expertise at driving extra-large loads. He's never had an accident in 3.5 million miles of driving a big rig.
"It's an honor," Spiekermeier said. "It was a shock that they chose me to do it."
It's a fitting climax to a nearly 50-year driving career for Spiekermeier, who has been driving tractor-trailers since the day he turned 21 on July 18, 1968, the first day he was legally allowed to haul a load across state lines. His employer, Fargo's Mitchell Transport, had him haul a truckload of cement to Minnesota.
Spiekermeier was born in Fargo and grew up in Casselton, where his father owned a farm implement dealership. He graduated from high school at Central Cass School in 1965 and entered the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, where he earned a two-year business degree.
Spiekermeier moved to Montana in 1975, without a job lined up. "I liked hunting. I liked the outdoors. I liked the mountains. I just went out and bought an old logging truck, and that's how I got started."
These days, Spiekermeier lives in western Montana in a town called Plains. Although he hasn't lived in North Dakota in many years, he's maintained strong ties to the area. Two brothers live in West Fargo. He has numerous relatives around Enderlin and nearby Sheldon. Until his parents died, he visited Fargo five or six times a year.
Ironically, his daughter now lives in Fargo, where she works as a computer specialist. Spiekermeier and his wife, Mary Ann, regularly travel to Fargo to visit her and their grandkids. He also stops whenever he hauls a load through the area.
He still roots for North Dakota State University athletics teams. "He's pretty annoying with all that NDSU Bison stuff," joked J.B. Behounek, a salesman at Whitewood.
The Capitol Christmas tree (not to be confused with the National Christmas Tree, which is a live pine on the White House grounds that is decorated every year) will be carried in a large container with Plexiglas sides, which will protect the tree from road salt and other damaging materials, while still allowing people to view the tree on its trip to the nation's capital.
Workers spent a week preparing the tree for transport. Its branches measure 30 feet from tip to tip, so they had to be slowly and carefully folded inward to fit into the eight-foot wide box and prevent them from being damaged. The process will be reversed after the tree arrives at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, outside Washington. A 100-gallon "bladder" attached to the tree will keep it moist.
Spiekermeier won't drive his own truck to Washington, but one that has been specially decorated for the occasion. He will also be accompanied by a multi-vehicle entourage. Two U.S. Forest Service law enforcement vehicles, lights flashing, will escort the truck. It will be followed by a second truck that will carry 73 smaller trees that will decorate government offices, plus 12,000 ornaments. Six other vehicles will travel with him.
The tour will include 12 stops in Montana, two in North Dakota, one in Minnesota, three in Missouri, one in Kentucky and one in Maryland. The tour will stop in downtown Dickinson at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 18; downtown Grand Forks at 9 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 19; and Browns Valley at 1:30 p.m. that same day. There will be ceremonies at each stop.
Spiekermeier's wife will ride with him to Fargo. They will rendezvous with his two brothers and daughter in Grand Forks. His wife, daughter, brothers and sister will fly to Washington for the tree-lighting ceremony.
He and his wife will tour the White House. He doesn't know if he'll get to meet President Donald Trump. Would he like to do that? "You bet," he said.
Spiekermeier supports Trump, though he didn't get the opportunity to vote for him. Fittingly, he was on the road.