Whitewood Transport, a Billings-based trucking company, will haul the 2017 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree from the Kootenai National Forest in the northwest corner of the state to Washington, D.C., next month.
"It means so much," said Mike Wilson, Whitewood's owner and president. "It's cool for Montana."
The truck, a Kentworth T680 Advantage, will depart from Kootenai with the tree on Nov. 8 and journey cross-country to Washington, D.C., over the course of a month, making stops in communities along the route.
The journey will take the tree across western Montana and the Hi-Line with stops in 10 different cities, including Whitefish, Missoula, Helena, Great Falls and Glasgow. It will continue to make stops in various towns and cities from North Dakota to Kentucky until it arrives at the Capitol the first week in December.
Choose Outdoors, one of the organizations involved with selecting the tree and its transportation, contacted the Motor Carriers of Montana Association looking for recommendations on who could do the hauling. The association turned the question over to its members, many of whom jumped at the opportunity.
In the end, Choose Outdoors selected Whitewood. Whitewood is donating the time and miles it will take to transport the tree.
"My understanding is that we were selected because of our exemplary safety record, experience in oversize transportation and our driver Larry Spiekermeier," Wilson said.
Spiekermeier has been named the Montana Driver of the Year twice by the Motor Carriers of Montana Association. He's driven a record 1.6 million accident-free miles, Wilson said.
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Bruce Ward, Choose Outdoor's president, said in a statement that Whitewood was selected "due to its excellent reputation in Montana’s trucking industry."
Safety is a big deal for Whitewood. On Wednesday, the Motor Carriers of Montana named the trucking company the winner of the annual Great West Fleet Safety award, the seventh time Whitewood has received the honor.
"We have a responsibility to the traveling public to be safe," Wilson said. "That's our number one thing."
Implementation of safety procedures, training and compliance are expensive, he said. It's an investment in the company, so it's something they take seriously.
"That investment is paying off (with recognition like the award and the selection to transport the Capitol Christmas Tree) because we're doing it right," he said. "And that's enormously satisfying."
To receive the Great West Fleet Safety award a trucking company must have zero accidents and an exemplary safety record. The company must also participate in state and federal programs that promote safety and the trucking community.
Wilson is honored by the award and he's proud Whitewood gets to transport the Capitol Christmas Tree
"I've done this all my life," he said. Whitewood being selecting to transport the Christmas tree is the "pinnacle of my career."