Larry Spiekermeier has been driving a truck for decades, but he stopped in downtown Grand Forks on Sunday with a new kind of cargo.
The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, a nearly 80-foot spruce from northwest Montana, rolled in on the back of Spiekermeier's truck at 9 a.m. Sunday for a crowd of about 200 braving the chilly weather. The tree is set to arrive in Washington, D.C., in about a week, where it will be displayed near the Capitol for the Christmas season, and it's making stops across the country along with way with Spiekermeier at the wheel.
"It's an honor to do this," said Spiekermeier, who's more used to hauling heavy equipment. "This is, like I said, the crown jewel of a driving career. It's the Capitol tree, and we're trying to give as much joy to the people as we have."
Spiekermeier spent much of his hour-long stop beside his truck, parked in the center of the intersection of DeMers Avenue and Third Street. Traffic was closed off as attendees signed the banners hung on the sides of his trailer, while Spiekermeier himself was mobbed with attention for most of the event, posing for photo after photo with excited onlookers.
The tree, felled in Kootenai National Forest, has been on the road since its first stop in Eureka, Mont., on Nov. 13. It passed through Dickinson, N.D., on Saturday. The tree's scheduled route indicated it would reach Browns Valley, Minn., by early Sunday afternoon, then make its next appearance in Missouri on Monday. It's scheduled to arrive for final preparations at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Nov. 28.
The crowd ranged from infants to the elderly, all of them bundled up against a temperatures in the teens. But like Lacee Peterson, a 14-year-old from Crookston, they were excited to see a spectacle many knew they might not see again.
"I can't believe they brought a giant Christmas tree all the way across the country," she said.