Tree Topper: The Pantego water tower Christmas decoration takes season’s greetings sky high
When it’s time for Pantego Public Works employees to trim the town’s most prominent Christmas tree, they first have to climb a nearly 200-foot water tower.
Former public works director Scott Williams first had the idea to put a tree on top of the water tower in 2016 as a way to give recognition to the employees in his department.
“You have guys out there that are committed to providing the highest service levels for the community,” he said. “But people … they’re in the kitchen and they turn on the water in their sink, and that’s just an expectation. They don’t really have any concept of what it takes for that water to come out of your sink.”
To make that work more visible, he had a lightbulb moment that inspired him to put a Christmas tree on top of the water tower.
Having climbed up the tower several times for his regular duties he knew that there was already a safety rail and power, and he was confident that his team had the mechanical and problem-solving skills to safely carry out the plan.
The tree has been an annual tradition for the city ever since.
“The residents here have a Facebook page and almost immediately there was a post (of workers) … on the tower,” Dale Alexander, the city’s current public works director, said. “They look forward to it every year.”
Pantego Mayor Russ Brewster loves the tradition and the notoriety it brings to the city.
“We just tell them, ‘Hey that’s Pantego. We’re a little on the unique side,’” he said.
He remembers hearing about the idea when he was still serving on the City Council.
“At the time, I couldn’t even comprehend how they were going to get it up there without having a crane,” Brewster said. “But they get it up there relatively easily since they’ve been doing it for so long.”
The process requires a skid steer loader, backhoe and pulley system with a long rope.
“We use a series of pulleys with a very long rope and then some heavy machinery,” Alexander said. “We tie everything to the rope and pull it up there piece by piece. Then we’ll have three guys on top of the tower and those three will assemble everything as it comes up the side … The crew that’s on the ground are the ones making sure that everything gets secured on the rope and sent up to them.”
Typically, three people are tasked with climbing the tower, putting lights on the safety rail, trimming the 12-foot-tall tree and topping it with a snowflake that is two feet in diameter; some of the crew look forward to the climb but others are happy to be part of the team that stays on the ground.
The city tries to put the tree up ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday each year and it usually stays up through the first or second week of the new year.
“This year, it was in the 40s when we went up, and when you get up to the top, the wind is probably about 20 miles an hour while we were up there,” Alexander said.
“When you’re up there … you can see water towers from a few different cities. … We can see a lot of Arlington, (we) could see a couple in Fort Worth, Mansfield, so it’s pretty nice. You’ve got a pretty good view.”
For Pantego’s city manager Joe Ashton, the tree is a unique and unifying thing for the city that speaks to its determination and innovation.
“Somebody had that idea and actually put it to work,” he said.
“It’s not every city that looks at a water tower and says, ‘Let’s put a tree up there.’”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.