Around the first of November, my Brother asked me if I could help him out during harvest season. Harvest season for Christmas trees is a busy time of year. It only lasts a month and a week or so and during that time, all the trees and greenery needed to fill customer orders made the previous summer at the Trade shows have to be filled. We’re talking dawn to dusk and beyond.
Frasier Firs, which make the best Christmas trees, only grow above a certain elevation, around 2800 feet, predominately in the mountains of Western North Carolina west of Asheville and also up towards Roan Mountain close to the Virginia line above Mount Mitchell, and they are considered the “Cadillac” of Christmas trees. They are sought after because they have great needle retention and they stay green and give the air a fragrance of Christmas until well after New Year’s Day as long as you keep them watered.
I started on the 5th of November. When I asked my brother how I could help him, he brought me to his two ton flatbed dump truck with the eight foot side boards and said,” I need you to drive this.” Of course, the first thing we had to do was fix the brakes. Brakes are important because the trees are up in the mountains and they have to be transported from the fields to the distribution point 20 miles or so down the mountain. From there, they’re loaded into eighteen wheelers and transported to market where ever that may be.
The first field I had to drive out of probably had the worst road. The ruts looked like gullies and you didn’t want to get in one of those. Starting at the top and working down the hill towards the paved road, the crew stacked about 300 bailed up Frasier Fir Christmas trees on my truck and strapped them down. As I looked down what seemed like a 45% incline, I eased her into first gear and down shifted the transfer case to low and started down the hill. Brother’s last words to me before I started down the hill were, ” Make sure you straddle the rut near the last harvest road.” So I just had to let the truck make it’s way into the dang rut. The truck sharply lurched towards the driver’s side as I slid into the rut, but I gassed her a bit and came out of it without tipping the truck over. Brother and his crew were waiting to see if I crashed the truck before they started laughing their asses off at me. I reckon I pulled seven or eight more loads out of that field after that with nary a mishap.
The next field we went to used to be my Brother’s eighty acre tree farm before the divorce. His Ex soaked him for $800 Large and he had to sell it on the courthouse steps for the alimony. It was the closest and easiest fields we loaded out from. There were a few steep, grassy places we had to be pulled out of with the tractor as we were loading trees.
Then we went up to Glenville, NC. We only had one big field there to load out, but there were quite a few trees to be hauled out. I guess I hauled about ten loads from there. Pine Creek Road is a snaky, steep, narrow paved road. Once you get to highway 107, you turn down hill towards the farm about fifteen miles away. It’s an eight percent grade for two miles with a switchback about a mile and a half down. It’s called Cabbage Curve because back in the day, they used to haul cabbage down from Glenville and a large truck load of cabbage didn’t make the curve and took the shortcut down the mountain.
Our next field was waaay back in the sticks on Wolf Mountain. Steep, grassy harvest roads which we made by cutting a swath of trees up the least slope to make a road for the truck. It was still pretty dang steep and you had to make a sharp right turn at the bottom in to the owner’s driveway. If you didn’t make the turn, you’d run into a cow pasture, but not without a few bumps and bruises along the way. If you started off in low first gear and kept your foot OFF the brake, the truck would just idle down to the bottom where you had to make the turn into the driveway.
The first load out of that field, I got “scairt” and tapped the brakes which caused me to slide a bit and I wasn’t able to make the turn at the bottom. Luckily, the tall thick grass at the fence line stopped me from sliding sideways into the cow pasture. The farm owner had a dozer handy just for such an occurrence. It was also handy for getting pulled up the hill because the grass was slick and the empty trucks weren’t able to make it up the hill.
Most of the tree fields are gated and you have to drive down or up as the case may be, about a half mile of “wagon trail” to get to the trees. A couple of the fields were way out on the far side of the county and didn’t have fences or gates. In fact, the fields were right next to the road. So, whilst working in these fields, where sometimes Christmas trees cut late in the afternoon were stacked until the first morning load, We’d have to have someone sit through the night guarding the trees. Way out there, sometimes, Christmas trees grow legs and “walk away” if they’ve already been cut, baled and stacked. I pulled a couple of full days wrestling that truck up mountain and down, then pulled guard duty that night. Had my .44 with me and brought my dog along. That way I could kind of nap a little here and there through the night and be ready to wrestle that truck again the very next morning.
The outfit we were working for, had about three or four other crews working besides us. They had the easiest fields and the best equipment. We had the stuff that had to be worked on every few days or so to keep it running without losing production. Still though, our crew cut, baled and delivered 35,000 trees to the distribution farm out a total of about of 105,000 trees that year, not counting the trees they brought down from Roan Mountain and Waynesville, NC.
So now you know what goes into harvesting Christmas trees and getting them to market. Of course, this doesn’t include the planting of the seedlings, fertilizing, mowing the fields and pruning the trees.
Next time, I’ll tell about our service business with the Christmas trees.
Cross posted from thatmrgguy