Friday, December 10, 2010

Fishing for a Christmas tree

Ketchum hooks a 35-foot-tall, 4,500-pound Colorado spruce


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

A Ketchum police car escorts the city’s Christmas tree, hauled on a semi trailer flatbed, from its 30-year location at the corner of First Avenue and Seventh Street to Ketchum Town Square. Express photo by Trevon Milliard

Phil Rainey strapped himself to the end of the crane cable and radioed to the crane operator that he was ready. The slack in the cable lessened until it became taught, pulling Rainey's feet off the ground and eventually dangling him 50 feet above First Avenue in Ketchum, like a worm on a fishing line.

However, Rainey wasn't baiting a fish, but a tree—a Colorado blue spruce, to be exact, for Ketchum's Christmas tree in the town square just a few blocks to the southeast. To get it there, Ketchum's Parks Department hired Rainey and Alpine Tree Service to cut it down and transport it on a semi trailer flatbed.

Unlike the usual cutting down of a tree, there was no yelling "Timber!" as it came crashing down. They had to baby it. The crane swung Rainey over to the top of the approximately 50-foot tree, setting him into its highest branches. Rainey strapped a harness around the trunk about 10 feet from its tip, switched the cable from his harness to the tree's and climbed all the way down the tree.

The crane cable was pulled tight as workers sawed away at the trunk. Jennifer Smith, director of parks and recreation, said they only needed the top two-thirds of the tree, and cut the trunk about 15 feet from the ground.

The approximately 35-foot-tall Christmas tree, weighing 4,500 pounds, was then laid on the semi trailer bed, and police escorted it to the Ketchum Town Square where the crane waited to reverse its previous job. The trunk was guided into a cylindrical hole extending a few feet into the ground beneath the snow, ready to be decorated.

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Smith said she counted the rings on the tree, estimating it was a little more than 30 years old. She said the city is fortunate to have a middle-aged forest with landowners willing to thin out their trees. She said that's often to the remaining trees' benefit, especially when Colorado blue spruce are removed. She said the non-native tree often attracts pests that will eventually kill the tree. In this case, the tree was also packed too close together with others on Ed and Jane Grimes' property near the corner of First Avenue and Seventh Street.

"Gosh, we have some old pictures here," Ed Grimes said. "The tree was shorter than a stop sign when we moved here in 1978."

He said they planted some trees of their own during those first couple of years, all 5 feet or more apart, but the gaps have closed. The Grimes donated one of their other trees for last year's Ketchum Christmas tree. It was a 20-foot tree given to them as a 5-foot sapling after their wedding.

"It was not an easy decision to make," Jane Grimes said, "especially the wedding tree, but it was damaging the house. We figured, if it has to go, it might as well give pleasure back."

The new Christmas tree went out with a bang, decorated top to bottom by Big Wood Landscaping on Wednesday. The company used a cherry picker, which consists of a long arm ascending upward with a railing at the top for workers to stand within.

"I give them free artistic license," Smith said.

Big Wood also used decorations made by Ernest Hemingway Elementary students in art teacher Thomas Van Slyke's class. The tree lighting ceremony took place Thursday evening.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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