Fifty years ago this month, a Plumas County man was hired to find, cut and prepare for transport a perfect Christmas tree for Disneyland.
Of course he did it.
It’s amazing the memories a “Remember When” can stir up. One Clio man read Keri Taborski’s column for the week of Nov. 15 only to have memories of 50 years earlier come flooding back.
Carl Hartwig was a Christmas tree harvester for 40 years. He happened to have a lot in Los Angeles where his Sierra trees sold for $5 each. And that’s where Disney representatives found him.
Representatives from Disney didn’t want just any old large tree. They had very exact specifications, Hartwig remembered.
And it took him weeks of scouting the mountains he knew so well to find what they demanded.
First, it had to be tall, and there could be no limbs for seven feet up from the base of the tree. It had to be even with limbs in all the right places. And none of the limbs could be broken.
It also had to fit in a hole prepared for it and it couldn’t be supported by wires.
And what he found was a 115-foot tall white fir.
But that was just the first step. Hartwig had to cut the tree, load it and have it delivered to Anaheim.
Hartwig said he contacted a company in Reno that sent a big crane to manage the tree. As Hartwig cut it down, it couldn’t be allowed to drop for fear of damaging the branches. The idea was that the crane would lower it to a waiting flat bed.
Hartwig said the first crane was too small just like he knew it would be. Taking it back they returned with a much larger one.
Before Hartwig could cut the tree, a man had to be lifted up so he could climb into the tree about three-quarters of the way up. He would remain there through this process to make sure everything was right with the tree.
Hartwig said he used a 30-inch bar on his chainsaw and went to work. As it began to separate from the base the crane took over the weight and gently lowered it on to the 125-foot trailer. A man would ride with the tree all the way to Anaheim.
At the time, the Sacramento Bee ran a photo of the tree being lowered onto the trailer. It was cut near the Middle Fork of the Feather River about a mile-and-a-half from Sloat. They said it was believed to be the largest Christmas tree in the nation.
Once lowered, the tree was hauled the 600 miles to its destination in a parking lot.
Hartwig said that a large hole was prepared for the tree with two-by-sixes used for the shims. It was then decorated with 42,000 lights.
Hartwig said that he doesn’t remember just how much he was paid to procure that tree, but it was a far cry from the $5 he usually received.
But there was a real test ahead. Hartwig said the Disney representatives told him, “We’re not worried about the price but if any child comes there and says he has a prettier tree at home, you’re out.”
Hartwig was referring to a potential contract to provide Christmas trees to Disneyland and then to Disney World when it opened in October 1971.
Winding up in Plumas
One of the natural questions asked of Hartwig, a Los Angeles native, was “How did you wind up in Plumas County?”
During World War II, probably before and after, Hartwig’s uncle owned an anodizing company in Los Angeles. Hartwig’s father ran the operation.
Hartwig himself did his part for his country and was stationed in the South Pacific.
It was during this time that his uncle heard there was gold in Plumas County. He hired three men to come to the area to find it. They didn’t, but Hartwig’s uncle bought property in Sloat.
After the war, Hartwig said he attended the University of California, Davis, and earned his degree in animal husbandry. He wanted to be a cattle rancher.
He said he tried ranching for a while, but there wasn’t any money in it. Eventually he wound up on his uncle’s property.
Hartwig didn’t land the career he was after in rounding up cattle, but one might say he made a good living rounding up Christmas trees — including one particularly large one.