Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2010 11:00 AM
Hal Schudel has gone from a farm kid in Nebraska to become the world's largest Christmas tree grower.
Schudel of Corvallis, Ore., tells the story in his autobiography: "From the Great Plains to the Great Northwest -- My 90-Year Journey."
Schudel, patriarch of Holiday Tree Farm Inc., weaves a story covering nine decades that is presented in more than 300 photo-packed pages.
In his book, Schudel tells how he made his way from tiny North Loup, Neb., to Corvallis, where he founded a family-operated business that today ships over 1 million trees a year.
Born into a Swiss-German family during the Dust Bowl years, Schudel made several stops along the way to becoming a Christmas tree grower.
After high school, he attended the University of Nebraska, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in agriculture. Later, after serving as a B-24 Liberator pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps during the close of World War II, he journeyed to Oregon State College -- now Oregon State University -- and earned a doctorate in farm crops.
While attending OSC, Schudel published a technical pamphlet on vegetable seed production in Oregon. He also taught several ag courses, including one in lawn and turf management. Christmas trees -- an industry relegated at that time to wild, forest-cut species, mostly Douglas fir -- had still not showed up on his radar.
Schudel, now 92, devotes over 50 pages of his book to Christmas trees. He writes about the disheartening news he and his partner, Paul Goodmonson, got when they first applied for a loan and other topics such as how a cabbage-planting machine revolutionized the industry and how Holiday Tree Farm grew to become a major force in the industry.
Another chapter deals solely with Schudel's active outdoor life away from the Christmas tree farm, from stalking wild trophy sheep in the far reaches of Alaska to learning the secrets of fly fishing.
The end of the book is filled with family photos that document Schudel's growing family through the years. His plantations are managed today by his three sons: David, Steven and John.
-- John Schmitz