North Texas will again be represented at the Texas State Capitol during the holiday season thanks to the year-round efforts of the Cathey family of Denison. For the sixth consecutive year, at least one tree from their Elves Christmas Tree Farm have been selected to adorn the floor of the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas State Senate.
On Sunday, forestry workers brought in two trucks and trailers to transport two 25-foot trees from the farm. Marshall and Sharlote Cathey, along with their sons Cooper, Hunter and Kensler, were ready for the workers. Marshall Cathey handily cut both trees down with a chainsaw then loaded them with his tractor onto the trailers. The towering beauties met the requirements given by the state regarding what type of trees are needed for the capitol.
“We’ve been sending a tree to the Texas House of Representatives the last six years and then we started sending them to the Senate last year,” Marshall Cathey said. “These trees are both about 25-feet tall and about 10 years old. They want stuff over 20 feet tall. They also want stuff, in the House especially, that can’t be over 12 foot in diameter because they still have to be able to fit it between the desks without having to do a major overhaul of the House floor. After that, the tree has to look good all the way around because the tree is going to be seen from all directions and by thousands of people.”
The Catheys look for possible capitol trees early on, picking from the thousands of trees growing on their farm on Denison’s west side.
“We kind of start keeping an eye on the trees if they’re really good and symmetrical and balanced on all sides,” he said. “If you have a small tree that leans a little bit, it’s not a big deal. But if you get a 25-foot tree that leans, that’s a lot of weight on one side.”
The first couple of years, the state sent people in to visually look over the trees the Catheys selected and then approve them. Now, the state takes Marshall Cathey’s word on the ones selected rather than sending someone to see them first.
“Now I just get a call saying, ‘We trust your judgment. Go ahead and pick one out,’” Marshall Cathey said. “The forestry guys take the trees down and then they start getting it into the capitol. Getting a tree this big up stairs and around corners and stuff to get in the right place takes an army of people.”
The Catheys have never gone to Austin to see their trees once they’ve been decorated. But they plan on making that trip this year.
They explained operating the tree farm isn’t a once-in-a-while job. The work begins every January with the planting of 2,000 or more new trees. Soon afterward, the grass and the trees begin to grow. Keeping the expansive farm mowed and trimming every tree at least twice a year is a chore, especially when there’s between 8,000 and 9,000 Virginia pine trees growing there at any given time. Just getting a tree to the standard seven or eight feet in height takes around five years, Marshall Cathey said.
For the Christmas season, the Cathey’s have the public come in to cut down or choose a live tree from their patch. Some trees are already cut and flocking is even available. For people wanting something other than the Virginia pine regularly grown by the Catheys, they ship in Fraser, Nobles and other types of Christmas trees that can’t be grown here due to the warmer climate. Besides the trees, there are decorations, hot apple cider, hay rides and even farm animal visits available to the public through Christmas or until all the trees are gone.
Sharlote Cathey agreed with her husband that a tree farm is a full-time job in itself.
“People think, ‘Oh, you’re only open a month,’ but we have to work on it all year,” Sharlote Cathey said. “That’s kind of hard with three boys who have active lifestyles, sports and kid things, but we like to be outside and work with things. It’s kind of neat to look at stuff after it’s been there a couple of years and say, ‘Hey, we did that.’”
Like most parents, getting the youngsters to take their chores seriously is sometimes difficult for the Catheys.
“We try to give the boys chores, but they’re typical boys and try to do as little as possible,” Sharlote Cathey said with a big laugh. “We’re kind of easing our oldest son into tree farming, so he’s doing a lot more work this year.”
Hunter Cathey, the eldest of the three brothers, said he enjoys the tree farm.
“I think it’s a neat experience,” he said. “And when people come out here and get a tree from us, that’s making their Christmas more enjoyable and makes us a tradition. That’s kind of cool. … The hardest thing is probably when it gets super busy like opening weekend. It’s crazy. … I have a lot of my friends working with us this year and it’s a lot of fun, but also sometimes a pain in the butt because I’ve known them forever.”
For more information and hours, go to www.elvesfarm.com.