By MONTE MITCHELL
November 30, 2005
It took five chain saws to fell the Fraser fir last week at Smokey Holler Tree Farm. The tree was more than 18 feet tall.
Not knowing exactly what kind of tree stand will be used in the White House, workers dug around the roots, leaving the tree looking like it was standing on thick, gnarled tiptoes. Rather than cut the trunk, Buddy Deal used a chain saw to cut through several roots. One root in particular was so tough that people speculated it might have grown around a rock.
As the chain saw growled, chips flew. Chain-saw teeth dulled. Workers sharpened the blades and handed in fresh chain saws.
Finally, the tree toppled in slow motion as men reached up to gently lower it to the ground, with the branches already wrapped for protection.
The tree went to a send-off celebration in Sparta, N.C., then left for Washington. Monday, the Deal family - Earl and Betsy Deal, and their children Buddy and Meg - presented the tree to first lady Laura Bush. And on Wednesday, all decorated and shiny, it was unveiled it in the White House's Blue Room.
Smokey Holler Tree Farm earned the right to take a tree to the White House by winning a competition at the 2004 biennial convention of the National Christmas Tree Association, with a tree that got 198 out of a possible 200 points.
Earl Deal, a professor emeritus from N.C. State University's College of Forest Resources, credits his son Buddy for the win. Buddy Deal looked at about 200,000 of the farm's 500,000 trees before selecting some likely winners.
Meg Deal, a CPA in Raleigh, comes to the farm each winter to do the books, pitching in during the busiest season of the year.
"That's been the beauty of the whole thing," Earl Deal said. "We're all working together here. It's a family operation."
It's a lifetime's honor for a Christmas-tree grower to supply the White House tree, and the Deals said they are honored to represent growers in the state.
"This is (North Carolina's) ninth time (to supply a White House tree), more than any other state," said Linda Gragg, the executive director of the N.C. Christmas Tree Association. "That's quite an honor. There's something about these mountains."
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