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DAVIS TREE FARM DOING BRISK YULE BUSINESS

SHARE DAVIS TREE FARM DOING BRISK YULE BUSINESS

The full rows of lush Scotch and Austrian pine trees belie the troubled start of Lynn Criddle's Christmas tree farm.

In 1976, Criddle's family planted 3,700 spruce and pine trees on a 2-acre parcel behind his house. They worked hard to weed, water and protect the tiny trees from disease and weather. But it wasn't enough."We lost 60 percent that first year," said son-in-law Clair Ross.

Nearly 14 years later, the tree farm does a brisk business each Christmas season. People from as far away as Orem, Tooele and West Valley City drive to West Point to buy their trees. The family sells 200-300 each year.

One reason, Criddle says, is the price is right. The trees cost $20 each, regardless of size or species.

"You know, people are funny. If you tell them you'll sell them a big tree or a small tree for $20, they usually take the big one. But that's OK. That way it keeps us out of large trees," Criddle said.

By comparison, trees sold in lots about the Salt Lake Valley are cut weeks or months in advance and cost $3.25 to $5.25 a foot.

Ross said one advantage of buying a tree from the farm is it's fresh and will better withstand the heat of Christmas lights and home heating systems. "It's a lot nicer. They stay fresh all the way through," he said.

Some people go so far as to reserve their trees in August. And the family has had more than one Thanksgiving meal interrupted by an overanxious tree buyer.

"It doesn't matter. We're here to sell trees," Criddle said.

When they chose their trees, some families make the outing a full-blown theatrical production. They plan hayrides. They bring food. They videotape their children as they cut down the family Christmas trees. They photograph Dad loading the tree into the station wagon.

Others skip the fanfare and ask to have the trees cut for them.

Criddle started the business as a means to raise extra money for college tuitions and send the Ross children on LDS missions. The Rosses have six boys and one girl.

"They've learned to work. Maybe I'm old-fashioned but I think that's important," Criddle said.

The family plans to give up the business in two years. West Point City has purchased the family's land and plans to develop a 10-acre community park.

Criddle said he will miss meeting people and the satisfaction of helping the pines grow from tiny seedlings to full-grown trees. But asthma and a bad knee (he's had one knee joint replaced) have slowed his ability to work the farm. And one by one, his grandchildren are leaving home.

"You get mixed emotions. We've just had the nicest people you can imagine come here. But after a while, you run out of steam."