TWIN FALLS — Gary Amoth is in it for the long haul.
The local truck driver and business owner has been selected to drive the truck that will take the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree from McCall to Washington, D.C., next month. Amoth leaves for McCall on Oct. 31, and within days will begin the longest drive of his 35-year career.
But Twin Falls residents will get to see the truck (and Gary) again, soon — at a Nov. 14 celebration at City Park, during the tree’s eastbound journey.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Amoth said. “It’s an honor to be chosen. It’s an honor for our entire company.”
Amoth grew up in Buhl, where he started his company, Gary Amoth Trucking, in 1983. He still lives in Buhl, but has since moved the business to Twin Falls. With another lot in Nampa, Gary Amoth Trucking employs about 150 drivers with more than 130 semi-trucks.
In March, Amoth received a call from Kenworth Sales Co. in Boise, asking if he’d be willing to haul the 80-foot Engelmann Spruce during a 4,000-mile cross-country tour. The U.S. Forest Service chose the Payette National Forest to provide the famous tree this year.
Salesman Keith MacKenzie recommended Amoth for the job because of the professionalism of his company, the image he projects and the care he takes for his vehicles.
“When one of his trucks goes down the road, you turn your head,” MacKenzie said. “Image is important to him.”
Amoth accepted the offer gladly, and purchased a red Kenworth T680 for the occasion.
“They had certain specifications the truck was required to have,” Amoth said.
The nearly 10-ton truck has capacity of about 40 tons, and comes with its own special decals, Wi-Fi and refrigerator, he said.
“It’s designed for driver comfort and fuel efficiency,” MacKenzie said.
The decal includes a map of the tree’s journey and the words “From Tree to Shining Tree.”
“It is an honor for Kenworth to participate in this event delivering ‘The People’s Tree’ for the third year in a row,” Kenworth Marketing Director Kurt Swihart said in a statement.
According to capitolchristmastree.com the Capitol Christmas Tree tradition started in 1964 when Speaker of the House John W. McCormack, D-Mass., placed a live Christmas tree on the lawn of the Capitol. It lived three years, and the U.S. Forest Service has been asked to provide “The People’s Tree” each year since 1970.
A different Forest Service region is chosen for the tree every year, said Bruce Ward, president of Choose Outdoors — the nonprofit organization that assists the U.S. Forest Service in coordinating the annual tour. The only other time Idaho has been selected was 2003, providing an Engelmann Spruce from the Boise National Forest.
Trip across the U.S.
Following the Nov. 2 tree cutting in McCall, Amoth will depart Nov. 6 with the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, making 27 stops on his way to D.C. He prepared for the trip by securing additional permits for each of the states he’ll pass through.
And he won’t be alone. Amoth’s truck will be accompanied by an entourage including the Idaho Potato Commission’s Big Idaho Potato Truck — another T680 hauling a six-ton, 28-foot-long replica of an Idaho russet potato.
Inside, the hollow potato will hold commemorative Christmas ornaments that will be sold at stops during the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree tour. The ornaments will benefit organizations that encourage youth to spend time outdoors.
Another truck operated by Gary Amoth Trucking will haul 70 more trees and 8,000 Christmas ornaments.
“Those are made by school kids all over the state,” Ward said.
The ornaments, created with a "re-use and recycle" theme, will decorate The People’s Tree, as well as the additional Christmas trees that will go in federal offices. The trees will be hauled from Idaho tree farms, and were purchased at a reduced cost from a donation by St. Luke’s, Ward said.
Along the route, smokejumper Chris Niccoli will be in charge of caring for the tree, Amoth said. The Engelmann Spruce will be watered using an 80-gallon bladder that will be filled nightly, he said.
“It drinks between 20 and 40 gallons of water a day,” Amoth said.
The top 16 feet of the tree will be encased in plastic glass, for viewing, and decorated with lights at each of the stops, he said.
At this time, Amoth plans to drive the whole way himself. The trip concludes Nov. 28, and one Idaho student will be selected to attend a Dec. 6 tree lighting ceremony.
Editor's Note: This story was updated Oct. 26 with revised information about the companion trucks and length of the tour. A new statement was issued this week.