3,000-mile tour: Trucker delivers 74-foot Capitol Christmas Tree

John Schank still smiles every time someone suggests he resembles another white-bearded guy who makes deliveries at Christmas time.

“I’ve heard that comparison on more than one occasion,” Schank said. “I suppose if I wore a big bright red suit, I would probably get even more kids wanting to tell me what they want for Christmas.”

The Lynden Transport driver, who is a father, grandfather and great-grandfather, said he has enjoyed the attention he received during the 3,000-mile tour across the U.S. to deliver the Capitol Christmas Tree.  He said he feels “pretty amped” about being chosen to deliver the “People’s Tree,” a 74-foot Lutz spruce from the Chugach National Forest in his home state of Alaska to the U.S. Capitol.  

It’s not surprising Lynden Transport chose Schank to deliver the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, powered by a brand new Kenworth T680 with the new 76-inch mid-roof sleeper option: He’s set some standards few in the trucking industry have attained.

Since Schank began driving for Lynden Transport in 1975, he has delivered millions of tons of essential supplies and materials for the Alaska pipeline construction and Prudhoe Bay oilfields over one of the most treacherous roads in America—the Dalton Highway. In fact, Schank holds the record for the most miles driven of any driver who’s operated a truck on the road from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay, 5 million miles, all without a single accident.

Former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell presented Schank a letter of commendation for 37 years of accident-free driving on that road last year. He was also recognized as 2014 Driver of the Year by the Alaska Trucking Association.

Schank said he always approaches every single hauling job with a single purpose – to make the delivery as safely as possible. “I pay attention and stay alert. I stop when road conditions get too bad. And I always try to get plenty of rest.”

Schank said having the right equipment makes a big difference in how well he’s able to perform his job. “Fortunately, I have worked for a company that’s always made sure I have a properly equipped truck.”

For this job of delivering the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree, Schank said the Kenworth T680 provides “a real comfortable ride with excellent visibility.”

“The panoramic windshield gives me a full view of the road ahead and the mirrors make a big difference when I am changing lanes and backing it up,” he said. “The Kenworth T680 has been getting great fuel mileage carrying the tree, which weighs about 9,000-pounds.”

Schank’s Kenworth T680 is equipped with a combination of the PACCAR MX-13 engine and the Eaton Fuller Advantage 10-speed automated manual transmission. 

“This T680 is a great interstate truck, and if that’s the kind of driving I was doing back home, I would certainly be happy driving one,” he added. “I’m certainly glad to have this Kenworth truck on this trip. It’s like driving a Cadillac.”

Schank also feels well supported by the Kenworth and PacLease network of dealers and leasing franchises. It is the second consecutive year that PacLease provided a Kenworth truck for the tour. 

Schank delivered the tree to the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Nov. 20. His wife, Nancy, followed him on the tour starting from St. Louis. Schank now has another delivery to attend on Nov. 30. His daughter-in-law is expected to deliver his 17th grandchild in Hendersonville, Tenn., before he returns to D.C. for the lighting ceremony.

“This has been a wonderful trip and experience,” he said. “The people I’ve met and the family members I’ve been able to visit along the way have made the trip all the more memorable. And I’m really happy to drive a beautiful and comfortable truck, supported by outstanding people.”

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree arrived Wednesday, Nov. 18, at Joint Base Andrews, Md. After a brief stay, the tree was uncrated, unwrapped and then transported into Washington, D.C., to the U.S. Capitol Building. Upon arrival, it was hoisted by a large crane onto the West Lawn and secured. The tree will be decorated with more than 4,000 ornaments, handcrafted by children and others from Alaska communities, and thousands of LED lights. But the tree will remain dark until Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., lights it during a ceremony starting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 2. For more information, visit the 2015 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website (www.capitolchristmastree.com).

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