This week I am posting a column written 44 years ago by long-time Reptile Gardens General Manager, Jim Campbell. In 1965, Reptile Gardens ran a series of newspaper columns in celebration of the move to our new location on Highway 16. For our first 28 years we had been closer to town but were forced to move when the highway was widened and moved.
Right smack in the center of the giant dome at the new Reptile Gardens there is a huge, gnarled pine tree, some forty feet high. And lots of it is underground to keep it from falling over.
Cavorting, or resting, in the tree are lizards, monkeys, snakes, and hundreds of beautiful birds from all over the world. [Over the years we tried a lot of different animals in the Safari Room, including monkeys, muntjacs, wallabies, giant fruit bats, and, free roaming iguanas and snakes. Some worked and many did not. JM]
Several times daily someone asks casually, “Where did the tree come from, was it already here?” When we tell them “No, we had to move it in,” it is always with the feeling that if they really knew the whole story they might be less casual about it.
At least to someone not in the tree moving business, it was quite a chore. First, Earl Brockelsby selected the tree, down over a hill on Skyline Drive, after several months’ search. After obtaining permission to move the tree, we selected a day for moving. Needed were eight or ten men, a huge lowboy truck, and the biggest truck crane available. Moving day dawned clear and windy. Gusts to…50 miles per hour.
Some superfluous limbs were trimmed away, the crane hooked up, and then a fearless (or foolish, I haven’t decided which) workman volunteered to sever the trunk with a chain saw. And then things happened fast. The wind caught the tree as it came free and it started down the hill, lifting the wheels on the far side of the crane completely off the ground.
I recall seeing the man with the chain saw running for his life and I decided to take a vacation myself in the opposite direction, when I saw the crane men rushing to the crane and jumping on the high side. I recall thinking how silly this looked, but I didn’t want to seem chicken, so I joined them. But it helped, and this along with some quick action by the crane operator kept the whole mess from winding up in the bottom of the canyon. From then on it was just a lot of slow, careful work to load the tree and plant it where it now is.
The crane crew was very offhand about the whole thing, but I can still see that huge tree dancing in the wind whenever someone asks about it. And the worst was the suggestion of the dome designer who found the tree to be such a hindrance to his planning that he suggested we cut it up for kindling. Not on your life. We’ll defend that tree to the death.
[After the fire in 1976 the tree still stood, with the collapsed dome structure around it. It was a bit shorter and singed but still there. Now it is covered with our huge bougainvillea vine. JM]