Tree put Colfax on national stage in 1966
“Much Ado in Colfax Over Nation’s Christmas Tree” – That was the headline in the Colfax Record issue of Thursday, Nov. 17, 1966. It was California’s year to provide the White House with the traditional national tree, and the Colfax area got the honor.
The tree selected to stand in front of the executive mansion was a perfectly proportioned red fir. It had been known at the George Washington tree and grew on Pacific Gas & Electric Company land on Grouse Ridge – at an elevation of 7,000 feet near Spaulding Lake in Nevada County – for over 80 years.
PG&E crews, assisted by professional tree lumberjacks from the Pacific Tree Company, cut the tree two days prior. It was carefully situated on a rack on a flatbed truck and brought to trackside in Colfax for transfer to a railcar. The intricately planned transaction was observed by Congressman and Mrs. Harold T. “Bizz” Johnson, as well as Placer County and PG&E dignitaries and the news media.
The “mechanical hands” of two company trucks were used to hold the tree upright for the cutting then slowly lowered it into the cradle prepared for it on the bed of the hauling truck.
On that rainy Tuesday the area behind what was then Sierra Fuel became a bustle of trucks, men in hard hats and a crowd on onlookers as the tree was readied for transfer from the truck to the railroad car. A special affair was arranged by the Colfax Area Chamber of Commerce under the direction of its president John Boehme. The Colfax High School band played for the send off.
The City of Colfax was represented by Councilman Jim Henry, who introduced Congressman Johnson. Johnson gave an overview of what was in store for the fallen giant from Grouse Ridge. Also on hand were Assemblyman Gene Chappie and Will Jones, chairman of the Placer County Board of Supervisors.
During the interval between the transfer and the Wednesday departure, the tree was wrapped for protection during its cross country journey.
PG&E was responsible for the cutting and delivery to the railroad. Four railroad lines took the reins for the safe transport to the east. Southern Pacific, Union Pacific, Norfolk and Western and the Baltimore and Ohio relayed the majestic tree to Washington, D.C.
A core from the tree stump was presented to Congressman Johnson. He hand-finished it and placed it in his D.C. office.
Assisting Boehme with the trackside ceremony were chamber members Betty Velican, Melba James, Dick Wayland, Ken Quinn and Henry.
In Washington, D.C., the Christmas Pageant of Peace at the White House was carried on throughout the holiday season. The red fir was decorated with 6,000 white and yellow lights and metal stars. President Johnson lit the tree on Dec. 16 and the lights stayed on until midnight Jan. 2. Nightly programs were presented by choral groups, concert bands and other musical organizations.
The National Community Christmas Tree has been an annual event since 1923. That year a giant fir was cut from the Green Mountains and presented to President Calvin Coolidge. In 1925 the programs were broadcast for the first time.