The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree has officially arrived in Washington, D.C.! This morning’s anticipated arrival concluded a nearly two-week, 2,000-mile journey from Colorado to the nation’s capital. Omnitracs was honored Apex used our ELDs and video-monitoring technology to keep their drivers and cargo safe.
In addition to using our solutions, the leading Colorado carrier knew that an immense task like this would require drivers with immense experience. And so, they turned to William “Butch” Hanna and Theron Schmalzried — two seasoned Apex drivers with over 40 years of driving experience — to haul the 55-foot tall, 25-foot wide Engelmann spruce across the country.
We chatted with Butch and Theron to learn more about their stories and their feelings around the experience. Here’s what they had to say:
Butch Hanna: A driver with deep roots in the industry
Butch Hanna has been driving from the ripe age of 21, continuing on a career tradition that his father and grandfather both took on. At 62 years old today, he has been honored to take on this experience from Apex — where he's worked for eighteen years — and make his grandkids and father proud. He transported the tree from the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests (GMUG) to Denver, and Theron took it from there.
Tell us all about your trip.
This just ain’t like hauling our normal stuff. All eyes are on you; everyone’s waiting to see the tree. You’ve got everyone watching.
It’s been a blast. I’ve met a million people, and everyone’s been really nice. People even lined up along the streets, cheering. We went to schools, and little kids come out, jumping up and down and very excited. Places we go, cars line up to see the tree. People are signing the truck.
I got up one morning and had coffee, saw a newspaper, and picked it up. We were on the front page! I stole every newspaper they had.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you feel about trucking.
My dad and grandpa were Union-Pacific truck drivers — I followed them. Right now, I’m taking care of my elderly dad. I’m a mostly local driver, and I do primarily heavy haul and construction material, bridge girders, stuff like that.
I told a kid who asked me recently that I thought trucking was really neat. For a while, it was just a job. But doing flatbed, it became challenging with things like big loads. And time goes by quickly.
How do you feel about transporting the tree?
It’s an honor — transporting this tree is an honor. I can share this with my grandkids. It’s a part of history. I’m coming to the end of my career and planning to retire in two or three years. The driver award I received and this trip both leave me in a place to sum up my journey nicely.
Do you have one memorable moment from the trip?
We weren’t scheduled to go to Olathe (a town in Western, CO), but it was just a few miles away. So, we did a drive-by and surprised the kids. We went to a school, and they were lined up on both sides of the street. The kids went nuts!
Any funny moments you’d like to share with our readers?
I didn’t expect Smokey the Bear to ride with me yesterday!
Let’s pivot to safe driving for a moment. What does safety mean to you?
It’s the most important thing. It’s gotten worse out there with crazy people and traffic. Safety is more important today than when I started. Many people don’t respect trucks, so safety is so important.
You had an Omnitracs event recorder on the truck. Did it help to know that you had protection should an event occur?
Yes, it did. In all the years I’ve been driving, I love Omnitracs. Fleets used to work you night and day; now they can’t take advantage of drivers, as they have to go by the rules and applications. I like video technology.
Theron Schmalzried: A small-towner with big travel dreams
Theron Schmalzried is a Kansan-born trucker who can happily recount fond memories from the decades he’s spent on the road. He’s grateful to have met many wonderful people and encounter unique adventures in his over 40-year trucking career. From getting stuck in the middle of a mountain snowstorm to dealing with uber wide loads and crane mishaps in Rhode Island, Theron has pretty much seen it all. That’s what made him the perfect candidate to transport the tree from Denver to the Washington, D.C. area.
Tell us about yourself. Why did you choose a career in trucking?
Well, I was born on a ranch in Kansas. We still have that ranch. I’ve trained horses and drove trucks almost all my life.
I’ve always had pretty itchy feet. Trucking was kind of a way to do something and see the country. You look at it through a windshield, but you still get to see it. I’ve been around this whole United States a lot. And we’ve hauled some goofy stuff. It’s a challenge, and you see something new every day. When I started, and most of the time I was doing it, it was a good time. When I started, everybody wasn’t so crowded and in a hurry.
What do you enjoy about working as a trucker today? How do you like working for Apex?
Trucking has changed so much. For me, I’m so old school. The good old boys that I’d been around all my life are almost all gone. I like a little company where it’s more personal — just like Apex. With Walt Schattinger (president of Apex), you can knock on his door and walk in. He knows your name.
How has COVID-19 impacted your journey?
Everybody is social distancing and has been really good and wearing a mask. Everybody enjoyed it, but I think they would have a little more fun if they could get up close.
How do you feel about transporting the tree?
Oh, it’s just really cool. It’s fantastic advertising for Apex. Walt worked hard. Walt and his partner at that time, when they started Apex, they bet it all. They deserve it. You won’t get too many better leaders than Walt. I wouldn’t have stayed as long as I have. If you’ve got somebody that really cares, it makes it all worthwhile.
Tell us about your trip.
Well, it’s been hurried at times. Everybody has been really good. Some of the stops have taken longer than we thought they would, and we’ve had to drive a lot at night. There’s been a lot of people on the side of the roads and a lot of people on overpasses. It’s been unique and fun.
The whole crew out of Denver has been very good. They’ve all been good. Very knowledgeable and professional. They took care of me, and boy, did they know what they were doing. The forestry guys and state patrols have been super — they have done an outstanding job.
It is an adventure. That’s what I like about the trucking and oversight stuff — it’s always a challenge.
What are your expectations? How did you approach this trip vs. your regular runs?
Put it this way — everything has changed so much. With this trip, change is so regular. As a driver, I like to be prepared and figure out my routes as much in advance as possible. But with this, there are so many people involved and so many changes daily. You’ve got to be flexible — real flexible.
What were the comments and reactions you received from people along the way?
They seem very grateful, and I’ve interacted with a lot of them. They think it’s a really neat deal. They’re really happy to be a part of it. They love being able to walk up to the tree and walk up to the driver and one of the forestry people and get told all about it. It’s been a really positive deal.
Would you say you’re very honored?
Oh yeah! Very few people get to do it. It is an honor. I’m not too fond of big crowds or anything, but it’s been neat, and the people have been great. I was apprehensive when I started, but it’s really been neat. It’s an honor for us; it’s an honor for me; it’s an honor for Apex. It’s a once in a lifetime deal. It’ll probably never happen to you again, so that makes it extra special.
We are wholly grateful to Butch, Theron, and all the truck drivers who work tirelessly all year long to make magic happen. For more on our special connection to Apex Transportation and this year’s U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, check out our blog post from earlier this month and our official U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree page.