FAIRBANKS — Even though he’s driven more than 5 million miles as a truck driver, John Schank has never done a cross-country trip across the United States.
When it finally happens next month, the 62-year-old Fairbanksan will be going in style.
Schank, a driver for Lynden Transport, will move the 2015 Capitol Christmas Tree from Seattle to Washington, D.C., next month. The 74-foot-tall Lutz spruce from Chugach National Forest is the first Capitol tree to come from Alaska since the program began in 1970.
When Schank was asked whether he’d like to drive the tree to Washington, D.C., he said it was an easy decision. Although Schank admits “I like to fly under the radar,” he said it was an honor he couldn’t pass up.
“I really didn’t have to think twice about it,” he said.
Based on Schank’s record, the tree should make it to the Capitol just fine. He’s driven the treacherous Dalton Highway for 37 years without an accident — totaling more than 5 million miles — and was named the 2014 Driver of the Year by the Alaska Trucking Association.
Chugach National Forest is supplying the main tree, handpicked by the forest superintendent from 10 candidates.
“We had a beauty pageant for the tree,” said Chugach spokeswoman Mona Spargo.
It will be cut from an undisclosed location near Seward on Oct. 27 and barged to Seattle before Schank leads its cross-country road trip. Each year a different national forest provides the Capitol Christmas Tree, which has become known in the program as “The People’s Tree.”
The voyage will begin with a pair of community celebrations in Anchorage before it’s loaded up for shipping. There will be 11 more events held during the journey, with Schank serving as the ambassador.
Schank, whose long gray beard gives him a resemblance to a well-known Christmas icon, said he’s ready for an adventure, even if every step doesn’t mesh with his low-key personality.
“It’s going to be entertaining, different, maybe by the end tiresome,” Schank said with a smile.
The Lutz spruce is the biggest Alaska contribution to the national Christmas celebration, but not the only one. Since January, Alaskans have made about 4,000 ornaments, along with a handful of locally produced tree skirts. They’ll adorn the Capitol tree and at least 60 smaller trees that will be placed in federal buildings throughout Washington, D.C.
The 17-Mile Homemakers, a North Pole service organization, made an Alaska-themed Christmas tree skirt to adorn of the trees. Eleven volunteers from the club designed and sewed the skirt, which features Northern lights fabric and trim of 16 Eskimo dolls holding hands.
Bonnie Colelli, a club member who supervised the project, said it took at least a month of gatherings to piece the elaborate 60-inch tree skirt together.
“It was a group effort,” Colelli said. “We had quite a few ladies work on it, many, many hours.
Spargo, who has watched the tree saga unfold this year, said such efforts from throughout Alaska have made the process particularly rewarding.
“That’s been the very best thing, is how (Chugach) forest and communities in the state have come together through this,” Spargo said.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: