04. Tumbleweed Christmas Tree

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    That brings us to Chandler’s traditional Tumbleweed Christmas Tree, celebrating the 49th year and the 50th tree.  In 1957, the Chandler Community Coordinating Council decided to plan new decorations for Chandler’s downtown. Chandler resident Earle Barnum came up with a novel idea: a Christmas tree made from tumbleweeds.  He remembered a community tree built out of pine branches in his hometown of Elkhart, Indiana, and thought that Chandler could do something similar. Since pine branches are not exactly abundant in this area, they settled on tumbleweeds. With Mayor Bert Lewis’s approval, community groups built the first tumbleweed tree in the town square on November 27, 1957. Chandler is the only city in the Southwest to feature this kind of community tree.  Each year, employees of the City’s Parks Department search vacant lots and farm fields for tumbleweeds. It’s getting more difficult to find tumbleweeds now, and the builders have to go as far out as the Gila River Indian Reservation for the dried thistle bushes, and not just any old tumbleweed will do. It must be well-rounded and 3-feet in diameter, and just turning brown at the time of its “harvesting.” Today, the builders bring in twelve truckloads of the thistles for the tree.  The method of construction has changed slightly over the years, and the tree has changed height and width.  Here’s how it’s done today:  Two weeks before the tree is built, workers gather the tumbleweeds, which are stored, and dried.  Next, a two-piece metal center pole is bolted to the ground. A top ring is installed on top of the pole, and a four-piece bottom ring is constructed and bolted to the center pole.  Thirty cables are installed from the top ring of the pole to the bottom anchor ring, creating a tree shape. Then, the star is placed on top of the structure.  Chicken wire is installed over the cables to provide the framework for the tumbleweeds.  The tumbleweeds are then tied to the chicken wire frame, and shaped.  The tree is pre-sprayed with flame retardant chemicals, given two coats of latex paint (25 gallons of it), and 50 pounds of glitter is added to the final painted surface. More flame retardant is added to the paint to protect the tree from fire damage. Even so, the tree has burned seven times in the past 49 years.  Once the tree is dry, the workers add 1100 lights.  In all, the tree takes about a week to build, with 10 Parks Maintenance workers doing the job.  This year’s tree is 35’1” tall and 18’ wide at the base. Over the years, the team of builders has found better ways to construct the tree and to create a pleasing shape. In the past, the tree looked more like a haystack than a Christmas tree


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