Apparently, people don’t cut down their own Christmas trees in Texas.
So, Moline native Tyggenn White, who now lives in Dallas, decided to reunite with her family this month in the Quad-Cities to share the experience with her young daughter.
“It’s just not something people do there," said White, who traveled back to the chilly Midwest with her mother, husband and daughter. “It's a harsh homecoming weather-wise."
Handed a saw and measuring stick, the family of nine, including three little ones, battled chilling winds to find the “greatest tree” the old-fashioned way at Wyffels Tree Farm in Moline.
Nestled along North Shore Drive just north of the Rock River, Rick and Kathy Wyffels officially opened Friday for their 19th season of selling trees, wreaths and other Christmas decorations.
This year, they hope to sell 200 of the 2,000 fir trees, which cost $7 per foot, on their 13-acre farm. It remains one of the only cut-your-own destinations in the metro Quad-Cities.
The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally a tree-buying day for many families.
Real trees still popular
Within just a few minutes of arriving at the Wyffels lot, the tree hunters, led by Bobby Verbeke, who married into the family, spotted a 6½-foot fresh Fraser fir prime for the taking.
“Growing up, we always had real trees,” said Verbeke, who discovered Wyffels two years ago with his wife, Lakkenn.
Verbeke dragged the tree, with a little help from his toddler son, Lucas, back to the shop, where the owners prepared for their busy season.
Still one month out from Christmas, Kathy Wyffels, who handcrafts five sizes of wreaths and other decorations, is gearing up for the holidays. The Christmas music on KMXG-FM (96.1), or Mix 96, helps.
“I turn it on as soon as I start making wreaths,” said Kathy, a retired special education teacher who taught for 34 years in East Moline.
Rick and Kathy shook excess needles off the tree, wrapped it and helped strap it atop their customers' vehicle. They even supplied the rope, assistance they offer every visitor.
“I don’t know if anyone else does it, but we’ve been doing it ever since we started,” said Rick, who suggested the buyers water the tree every day. "That will make it last the whole season."
They also have balsam and Canaan fir trees on site, but Frasers "smell the best," Kathy said.
Although they require more maintenance and care, a majority of Americans still prefer real Christmas trees over artificial ones. In 2015, about 25.9 million real Christmas trees were sold in the U.S. That compares with 2015 sales of 12.5 million fake trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Just 24 percent of those trees were cut down by customers.
Before the shoppers left with their tree and a few other decorative pieces, they toured other areas of the property and tossed bread to chickens in a nearby coop.
"I never knew all this was here," said Schona Ruark, one of three sisters in the group. "I'll be back to get fresh eggs."
'Trees take a lot of work'
Rick, who taught and coached for 25 years at Alleman High School in Rock Island, said his parents purchased the land in 1950. After his father, Marvin, retired from International Harvester Co., he began boarding race horses for the former Quad-City Downs.
He also farmed hay, raised cattle and pigs for meat and introduced his children to the 4-H world.
"I learned a good work ethic from my father," Rick said. "Surprisingly, these trees take a lot of work."
The couple planted 3,000 trees on his folks' land in 1993 and built a home there on two adjacent acres in 1996. They launched the business to help put their three children through college.
As they approach their 20th season, they're about ready to retire the Christmas tree farm, as well. They have a little more work on their plates than they would like at this point, but it keeps them active and healthy, Rick said.
"We've tried to quit," Kathy chimed in as she designed a wreath in her cozy workshop, "Jingle Bell Rock" filling the airwaves. "I said we need to keep going, but I don't know why."