Alaska Life

Christmas cheer, in the bed of an Alaska pickup

If there were a competition for exhibiting the most holiday spirit, two Alaskans hauling lit-up Christmas trees in their pickup trucks would be strong contenders for first place.

One is in Anchorage. The other is in Fairbanks. Both of them are hard to miss.

Dave Maxell has been driving a Christmas tree around in the back of his Mazda during the holidays for years. He started about two decades ago, when he and his then 3-year-old son Dawson pulled a Christmas tree behind a snowmachine.

"It all started just trying to keep my generator running once a year," Maxell said. "I thought, here's a harebrained idea: a Christmas tree. But it turned into quite a thing. Everybody in Fairbanks expects it. It's actually almost a duty that's overwhelming."

[A living Nativity scene in Alaska, at 6 degrees]

If Facebook is any indication, some people definitely know him by his tradition.

"When I see that on the road, I say, 'yep, there goes Dave,' " one person commented on a picture of Maxell's truck at an intersection, posted in a Facebook group about Fairbanks.

This year he's hauling a white spruce, about 9 feet tall, wrapped in small tree lights. It's fastened with ratchet belts, and powered by an inverter plugged into the cigarette lighter.

In Anchorage, Andy Horazdovsky started putting a tree in his truck in 2009 and has done it every year since. This year's tree, he thinks, is the tallest he's ever had, at about 13 feet.

His family has a fake tree inside the house "because it's more convenient." But Horazdovsky, a civil engineer at CRW Engineering Group, said he still wanted to have the fun of going outside to pick out a real tree each year.

Instead of simply draping the garland around the branches, he'll wrap it tightly so it doesn't fly off his Chevrolet while he's driving. The same goes for the lights.

The result is quite a spectacle, whether he leaves it lit up in a parking lot while he's running errands, or just driving around town.

"I always just kind of look at people's faces," he said. "You can just see them staring up at the tree."

He won't go over about 45 mph with the spruce in the back, even though it's anchored down with enough straps that "it's not going anywhere."

Maxell will go as fast as 50 mph, but it took "years of research and development" to get to that point.

Both put the coniferous holiday cheer on display for most of the month of December. Horazdovsky said he hasn't seen anything else like it in Anchorage, just some other cars adorned with wreaths here and there.

Maxell used to work as a forester for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, he said. And that's where  he gets his trees now — by harvesting an Alaska natural resource.

"I retired, but those are still my trees out there in the woods," he said. "Standard Creek is where most of my tree-gettin' happens."

Sometimes, he'll prank his neighbors with what he calls "a drive-by tree." He'll leave a smaller tree in their driveway until they figure out it must have been his doing, he said.

And the snowmachine part of his tradition isn't over. In his neighborhood, he'll tow the tree behind a snowmachine on Christmas Eve.

The next step, he said, might be to add ornaments.

"Some people won't even notice you've got a Christmas tree in your truck," he said. "Other people take the pictures and post it all over Facebook."

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