Archive for Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Tree farm tradition for families

December 5, 2001

Some grunts, mixed in with a few grumbles, were the only things that could be heard coming from the pair of legs that stuck out from underneath the 10-foot Scotch Pine tree.

As his wife held the tree and his two children offered words of advice, David Rios struggled to work the saw through the tree's trunk as he attempted to cut it down.

After about 10 minutes of sawing, a pine-needle covered Rios emerged from underneath the branches and pushed the tree over, which drew cheers from his son and daughter.

Sunday was the Olathe family's first trip to Hemley's Pines, a Christmas tree farm located about three miles north of Wellsville. In fact, it was the Rioses first time to any Christmas tree farm.

"One of our friends told us about this place," Rios said. "It was really hard to choose a tree. It took us about 20, 30 minutes for us to find one. It's great here."

The Rioses aren't the only ones who take some time choosing their Christmas tree.

Hemley Pines owner Michael Hemley said it's not unusual to have people spend a couple of hours finding the perfect tree.

"Some people spend half of the day out there," he said. "They like being out in the country. It's kind of a neat experience, especially for city people. It's just kind of old fashioned."

Hemley's Pines, which is just one mile north of the U.S. Highway 56 and Kansas Highway 33 intersection, has been selling Scotch Pines during the Christmas season since 1978.

Hemley runs the Christmas tree farm with his son-in-law, Tom Eckelberry. He also gets some help from his wife, Vicky, his son, Derek Thompson and other family members.

"Mike works very hard during the summer, but this is the fun time," Vicky Hemley said.

Hemley's Pines opens the Friday after Thanksgiving and is open every weekend until Christmas. There are around 4,000 trees to choose from, ranging in heights from three feet to 13 feet. Customers choose and cut their own trees, which Michael Hemley said is much of the attraction.

"It's mostly a tradition," he said. "People love the smell of fresh pine trees."

Part of the tradition includes the weather. Vicky Hemley said many people want the weather to feel like Christmas when they get their trees.

"They don't always like this nice weather," she said. "They like it cold. And if it's snowing, they just love it."

Michael Hemley said people come from all over including Kansas City, Spring Hill, Ottawa and even came as far away as Liberty, Mo. He also said they have quite a few Baldwin customers who make the short jaunt east.

"We've had customers coming here ever since we opened," he said.

But about a quarter of Hemley's Pines' customers are making their first trip to a Christmas tree farm, he said.

"They kind of look puzzled when you hand them a saw," he said. "But they come out laughing at the end."

Getting the trees home doesn't seem to be a problem for most people either, Michael Hemley said.

"People drive up in almost anything," he said. "One time we had a Volvo come in and a guy bought five small trees. He managed to get them all on."

Overland Park residents John and Barbara Parks, who have been going to Hemley's with their family members for several years, have made a tradition out of getting their Christmas trees.

"We caravan out with family every year," Barbara Parks said. "We make a nice day of it."

"We've been coming out here so long, we wouldn't know where else to go," John Parks said.

The Parks won't be the only ones returning next year.

"I think this has now become a family tradition," Rios said. "But next year, I'm bringing a chain saw."

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