PUXICO, Mo. -- When the lights are lit on the towering 73-foot tall spruce on the US Capitol's west lawn Dec. 4, a little piece of Stoddard County, Mo. will share in the celebration, having experienced a small part of its journey from Meeker, Colo.
Each year for the past 50 years, one National Forest is given the honor of providing the nation with the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree. This year, the White River National Forest in Colorado was selected. The 74-year-old Engelmann Spruce was cut from the wilds of the forest in Meeker and began its journey to Washington, D.C. on Nov. 2 on a custom-decorated Mack Pinnacle model truck driven by former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell from Colorado.
Along its journey to the capitol, young people from the U.S. Forest Service Job Corps were invited to accompany the tree on short stretches of the trip.
Among those selected for the honor was a student at Puxico's Mingo Job Corps, 24-year-old Kandy Kilbreth, who is one of only three female students in the Corps' welding program of about 40 at Mingo.
Kilbreth, who has completed seven months of training at the Job Corps, was escorted to Warenton, Mo. by Job Corps Instructor Carolyn Marshall on Saturday, Nov. 17. After an overnight stay there, Kandy met up with the truck carrying the giant spruce and boarded the rig to continue its trip to St. Louis.
In the city, the truck was pulled up to the Edward Jones Dome, where the Rams were facing the New York Jets in an afternoon game.
"I'd never been to an NFL game before," Kandy said. "We were up pretty high. I got to watch about an hour of the game."
Much of her time at the dome was spent outside with the truck, talking to children and explaining to them her part in the process of delivering the tree to its destination in Washington, D.C.
"Santa was there, too," she explained, "and I helped with the kids having their pictures made with him."
A tradition involved with hauling the tree to the nation's capitol is the signing of the canvas side of the box trailer carrying the tree. Kandy also had a part in directing the public with that task.
For the Mingo student, the entire journey was a lifetime experience.
"I'd never been in a big truck and I'd never seen the dome, and I really enjoyed working with the kids who came to see Santa Claus. I just enjoyed the whole trip," she said.
Kilbreth has a four-year-old son of her own who stays with relatives while she is completing her coursework at Mingo.
"No one wants to hire you without experience," she explained. "So, I'm learning, and I want to work somewhere in Missouri when I'm done with the course."
At the end of her busy day at the dome, Kilbreth and her escort spent another night in the city, and on Monday, Nov. 19, they headed back to Puxico.
Kandy only joined the transport for a few hoursof its 20-day journey, but it was an abbreviated trip she'll always remember.
After a trek of over 5,000 miles, the 9,000 lb. tree arrived at the nation's capitol safely on Monday, Dec. 26. It will be lit on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
Following the holiday season, in keeping with the nation's "green" theme, the Colorado spruce will become part of the Capitol grounds, as it will be recycled and used for mulch.