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Wille Transport Owner-Operator Grateful To Drive Capitol Christmas Tree to Washington, D.C. in Kenworth T880

KIRKLAND, Wash., November 12, 2014 - With the responsibility of delivering the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree to the nation's capital, owner-operator Elwood Higdem is grateful to be making that delivery behind the wheel of Kenworth's flagship heavy haul vocational truck.

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Photo courtesy of Cass Lake Times-Allan Olson

A 75-foot white spruce from the Chippewa National Forest and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, being hauled by a Kenworth T880 equipped with a 52-inch sleeper, passes by Cass Lake on its way to Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minn. The tree was wrapped at Bemidji and covered by an 80-foot long crate to protect it during its 2,000-mile journey to Washington, D.C.

The Clearbrook, Minn.-based owner-operator said the Kenworth T880's set-back front axle allows for extra maneuverability, which is something he appreciates since he's pulling the 75-foot white spruce on an 80-foot steel trailer. The tree, from the Chippewa National Forest and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, was harvested in late October and secured under an 80-foot crate to protect its branches and limbs from damage during transit. The tree is now traveling on a more than 30-stop tour across several states making its way to the nation's capital, where it will be set up and displayed on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

From Nov. 2 to Nov. 20, the 50th Anniversary U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Tour stops at schools, universities, shopping malls, museums and parks on its more than 2,000-mile journey to Washington, D.C.

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Elwood Higdem, driver of the Kenworth T880 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Tour truck, is shown in the cab.

"With some of the streets I've had to navigate to get the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree to its stops, I'm really glad to be driving this Kenworth T880," Higdem said. "The T880's tight turning radius makes maneuvering the truck and trailer in and out of parking lots and city streets much easier."

The official U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree tour truck is provided by Kenworth Truck Company and equipped with the powerful and fuel-efficient 500-hp PACCAR MX-13 engine with 1,850 lb-ft of torque, reliable Eaton Fuller 13-speed transmission and comfortable 52-inch mid-roof sleeper. The T880 was made available for the tour by PacLease, which provides customized full-service lease, rental and contract maintenance programs featuring Kenworth trucks.

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Photo courtesy of Cass Lake Times-Allan Olson

After driving the T880 for nearly 500 miles, Higdem said he and his wife, Joan, who's accompanying him, both appreciate the T880's quiet and comfortable ride.

"We don't have to raise our voices in order to carry on a conversation and I can hear the U.S. Forest Service guys on the forestry radio clearly when they call in," he said. "Both of us also like the way the T880 rides. It's like riding in a luxury car.

Elwood and Joan

Photo courtesy of Art Rink/Lifetouch

Wille Transport driver Elwood Higdem and his wife, Joan, are traveling together in the Kenworth T880 Christmas Tree Tour truck on the way to Washington, D.C.

"What I really like about the T880 is its hydraulic clutch and 13-speed transmission," he added. "The clutch and transmission make the truck very easy to shift. The Kenworth T880 is the nicest truck I've ever driven."

Higdem, a 75-year-old owner-operator who has been driving for Cohasset, Minn.-based Wille Transport since 1991, said he was proud when Wille Transport's fleet manager, Tom Zahn, asked him to pilot the tour truck hauling the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

"This has been one of the best experiences of my life," Higdem said. "I've never really been in a situation before where I drive for an hour or two and then stand in front of cameras and be interviewed two or three times and asked a bunch of questions about what it's like to haul the nation's Christmas tree. I kind of like the attention."

But what he really enjoys, Higdem said, are the look on children's faces and the holiday spirit the tour evokes among everyone.

"It's pretty neat to see all of these people come out and crowd around the trailer, so they can sign the sponsors' banners hanging on the side of the crate," he added. "There are hundreds of people's signatures along with their holiday messages for the rest of the country."

Wille Transport driver Ken Lundgren, who's piloting a Kenworth T680 Advantage with 76-inch sleeper on the tour, accompanied by his wife, Pat, is also enjoying the experience. The T680 Advantage pulls a van trailer carrying 10,000 hand-made ornaments to adorn the Capitol Christmas Tree and 70 smaller trees that Lundgren will pick up along the route. The smaller trees will be displayed in various federal offices.

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Wille Transport driver Ken Lundgren and his wife, Pat, are shown with the Kenworth T680 Advantage Christmas Tree Tour truck, which is carrying 70 smaller Christmas trees and 10,000 hand-made ornaments to Washington, D.C.

Photos courtesy of Art Rink/Lifetouch

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"Driving the T680 Advantage has been a real joy. The experience has been beyond my imagination. The fully automated transmission makes driving the T680 like driving a car. The onboard collision avoidance system is something I would very much like in my truck. The PACCAR MX-13 engine has been very responsive. The fuel economy has been impressive," said  Lundgren, who noted that the T680 Advantage's 9 mpg fuel economy is quite an amazing performance, even when pulling a partially loaded trailer.

T680 Advantage

This is not the first time Wille Transport's drivers have piloted trucks for the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Tour. Wille Transport, which moves lumber and other wood products plus machinery and other equipment on flatbed trailers in the Lower 48 States and Canada, was called on to move the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree to Washington, D.C., in 1992.

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From left are Ken Lundgren, Pat Lundgren, Joan Higdem and Elwood Higdem.

Photos courtesy of Art Rink/Lifetouch

 

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"The trip back then wasn't quite as elaborate," Zahn said. "It took only about a week and a half and there were only one or two stops along the way. Today, the tour is much more elaborate. I don't think a lot of people appreciate the amount of logistics involved in doing a tour like this."

Despite the work involved, Zahn said he believes it's well worth the effort. "It really helps create a sense of community wherever it stops and it connects us all to our nation's capital. We're glad to have participated in this again."

The tour continues through Nov. 20 with these notable stops: Nov. 13 - Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum (Grand Rapids, Mich.); Nov. 14 - Michigan State University (East Lansing, Mich.); Nov. 15 - Henry Ford Museum (Dearborn, Mich.); Nov. 16 - FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland, Ohio) for the Cleveland Browns versus Houston Texans football game; Nov. 17 - Kenworth Truck Company assembly plant (Chillicothe, Ohio); and Nov. 20 - Joint Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

The Capitol Christmas Tree will be lit by Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a special ceremony on Dec. 2. House Speaker John W. McCormack began the Capitol Christmas Tree tradition in 1964.

A complete tour schedule may be found at the 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree web site (www.capitolchristmastree.com) so that the public can track the truck's progress.

Kenworth Truck Company is the manufacturer of The World's Best® heavy and medium duty trucks. Kenworth's Internet home page is at www.kenworth.com. Kenworth is a PACCAR company.

 

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