WASHINGTON – Ted Chwastyk spends weeks leaning out of a bucket truck 40 or more feet in the air at this time of year, in sometimes bitterly cold weather. But he says he doesn’t really mind.
“I travel a lot and I tell people that I work on the National Christmas Tree and it’s kind of a thrill, the way they react,” said Chwastyk, decorating the 43-foot tree on the Ellipse as he has for each of the last five years.
“The work can be a lot of fun,” said the Prince George’s County resident, who was able to work in shirtsleeves and a red Santa hat during a brief spell of mild weather this week.
While it’s Chwastyk’s fifth year on the tree-trimming job, it is the 45th year that the National Christmas Tree has been decorated by workers from Hargrove Inc., a Lanham company that stages trade shows and special events, including floats for inaugural parades.
“Of the many thousands of events that Hargrove Inc. participates in, this event is one of the most honored things that we do,” said Earl Hargrove Jr., who founded the company with his father in 1948.
Hargrove, now in his 70s, does not help decorate the tree as he did in years past. But the company does, as it has every year since 1954.
Hargrove employees work under the direction of General Electric Lighting, which has designed the tree decorations and supplied lights and ornaments for 37 years. General Electric hires Hargrove to actual trim the tree and the 56 smaller trees on the Ellipse that represent all the U.S. states and territories.
A crew of five Hargrove employees has been working on the trees since Nov. 15, said project manager Ken Bish, and will spend “about three weeks, eight hours a day” on the project.
Bish said they are on schedule to have the trees done in time for the Wednesday’s lighting ceremony, when President Clinton will be on hand to throw the switch.
“This place is packed,” on the night of the tree lighting, Chwastyk said. “The bleachers are full and people are standing outside because they couldn’t get tickets.”
He and his co-workers said they are glad to participate in something that people come to see, sometimes from great distances. But the job is not without its problems.
“You just dress for the weather. This is probably the coldest place in the city,” Chwastyk said.
John Wglodeck remembered one year when he, his son and Chwastyk were working on the tree until late on the night before the lighting ceremony, trying to solve a lighting problem.
It is all part of the job for Chwastyk and Wglodeck, who is now in his ninth year decorating the National Christmas Tree. On any given day, they may be up in the cherry-picker, stringing lights and ornaments, or they may be directing things from the ground.
Another member of the Hargrove crew, Judy Young, said working outside in December is not really that bad, and the National Christmas Tree has its own rewards besides.
“It’s cold, but as long as you keep moving and you dress for it, it’s like any other job,” said Young, working on the state trees without a coat Thursday.
“After we get all the decorations up and the trees are lit, it’s amazing to me. I guess I kind of like the glamour.”