Trials and Tribulations of a Texas Christmas Tree Farmer


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November 10, 2001

The October Outing is history.  Now we are in the process of getting ready for families to come to the farm and choose and cut their Christmas tree.

The Annual Tire Rolling Contest started fourteen years ago between the Branan boys, Sarah and I.  We did it again this year even though two of the original participants were off in college.  We even have a picture of participants getting mentally prepared to roll. 

Now for the bad news.   I was detroned as last year's winner.  Justin with a small car tire with plenty of tread out rolled the rest of us.  I am sure his brother Chris and his dad will agree, we need to make a rule about small imported tires with thread not allowed in the race.  

Is this a big thing.  Well, it is to me even if I did loose and definitely is to the Branan family!  This is what Mill Hollow means to families.  It is a place for memories and traditions which keep families coming year after year.   Justin, just wait until next year when we roll again!  

The Fourteenth Annual Mill Hollow Internation Invitational Down Hill Tire Rolling Competition (I like the name) started back fourteen years ago.  Bruce brought his very high energy three boys up to the farm to choose a tree.  With it getting dark and time to leave, it was obvious that they were too excited to get in a car for the long trip back to Houston.  

Well, we had a contest of seeing who could roll the tire down the hill the farthest.  Justin, this years winner, was my partner since he was not big enough to roll the tire by himself.  We all rolled the tires in several heats with the boys and Sarah bringing them back up the hill.  Written history does not record who won.  However, my "fading" memory is that Justin's tire rolled the farthest even though his brothers, his dad and Sarah may disagree.  So as to keep peace among the participants, my "fading" memory suggests this may have been the last time he won until this year!  Any written evidence to the contrary by Justin is welcome.  

The rules governing this contest are simple.  We make them up as we go.  Some of the more important ones are that hitting the "blue buildings" is a winning roll.  This can be beat only by having someone in the port-a-potty or having it go in the front door!  If this does not occur, the winning tire roll is one which goes the farthest.  All participants must bring their tire back up the hill for next heat.  This rule is applicable only if you can not get someone else to bring the tire up for you.  Pleading injury, old age senility etc. is allowed.  

We have many more family traditions at Mill Hollow.  It is a natural thing to do.  It may be getting wet on the Adventure Crossing, wondering lost among the Christmas trees, taking the "short" walk to ruins of the old mill or even swapping stories over hot dogs.

How are the Christmas trees?  They are beautiful.  Our only concern at this time is temperature.  We do like to have one freeze before Thanksgiving to make sure we have on aphids on the trees.  If this does not occur, we will remind you check for bugs and spray the tree if in the unlikely chance any are found.   

October 8, 2001

We are in the process of getting the farm ready for the October Outing Festival.  This event is the last two weekends in October.  The letters have been sent.  Only the emails reminding you to RSVP are waiting to hit cyberspace.   It is a marketing event for us.  This is another way of saying please invite anyone who you will think will enjoy this day at the farm.  Our customers have historically provided us with our new customers.  

This year, we have added a couple of activities for the younger customers. We have set up a Mill Hollow tricycle course near to the haunted house and swings and have tricycles available for your child to try.   Near to the hay stack, we have set up a hand pump for children to see how much work it was to get a drink a hundred years ago.  We have also added a cooling tree for your children to hopefully rest under if it is very hot.   

We have also worked on adding more infrastructure to the farm.  This includes a hand wash sink near to the portable toilets and the horse ride.  As my mother kept reminding me, you must wash your hands if you expect to eat.  Well, I hope you do the same with your children.  We do not want any kids getting sick with ecoli from dirty hands either from using the toilets or riding Rebel the horse.  

We have also run electricity underground to the barn.  It is not yet hooked up but should be by Thanksgiving.  With our customers staying well after dark and the need to park equipment in the barn, it was very difficult to back a trailer in with a tractor will holding a flashlight.  I have broken several trailer taillights doing this.  Hopefully, now all I will have to do is turn on the barn lights.  

We are going to continue with the witch at the old house.  In addition, we are going to alternate with a walking christmas tree.  If we can find two witches, maybe we will do both on the same hay ride.  By the way, I have found some more snakes for the snake talk!  It is amazing how the adults are afraid and the children are so interested  in these rubber snakes. Based on the number which disappear, a few may have even made it home with a few of our customers.

We had an excellent year for trees with all of the rain and the relatively "cool" summer.  The fragrant Virginia pine are now putting out the fall growth.  The delicate looking Leylands cypress with the cold snap this last weekend should be doing it very soon.  .

For those of you who are very uptight about recent events, I would strongly suggest spending a day in the country with your family.  This time together may do wonders for your outlook on life.  

Our farm has done wonders for both Marge and I when we need to reassess the world around us.  As you probably know, Marge and I are a "few" years older than most of our customers.  I have been through several life changing events during my life to put September 11  in perspective.  This includes being drafted during the Vietnam war in 1969, being called up for desert training during the Arab Oil Boycott of 1973 and then experiencing the devastation of the Houston economy during the 1980's.  

Based on my experience, my thoughts are not so much directed towards the current recession and depressed stock market but towards the serviceman we are sending around the world to fight and possibly die.   The economy will recover.  I am hopping all of our military people will return and enjoy this recover.

Next time you see some one in uniform, your smile may make his day and put his worries aside.     Again looking back on the Vietnam era, the one thing I did not get to experience is a smile from the people I passed when in a uniform.  Considering, I was only making 1/12 of my salary in the Army or less than one hundred dollars a month, a smile and a beer would have sent me in to ecstasy!

June 1, 2001

This update is long over due.  Marge and I are having to deal with the death of her mother and all of the related activities to settle the estate.  Worst of all, we are having to deal with Sarah turning 21.  Happy Birthday Sarah!

Well, I got my Pasquale "bend in the middle" tractor running.  The only problem is it runs for only five minutes before it dies.  I am slowly going over the trouble shooting instructions (written in Italian )and slowly trying to find the cause.  If I do not get it running soon, your children may have a very small and unique tractor to climb over when they come up to the farm.  

The trees are growing and the grass is growing faster!  This looks like it will be a great year if we can avoid a hurricane.  A hurricane can lay a Christmas tree on its side.  During Alicia, we had probably a hundred trees this happened to.  We tried to place them back upright but very few if any developed into a premium tree.

Jude, the puppy dog, is growing and hopefully will be maturing one of these days.  His favorite pastime when left alone is to take a five gallon pail and toss it around.  Whoever left the football at the farm, Jude found it and thanks you.  This is his favorite ball even if it is half inflated.

We have developed some plans for the farm to be done in stages over the next two years.  We have been getting requests to use the farm for weddings.  This last January we had one in the house.  In order to do this and not be limited to small weddings, we will be starting this next selling season in building a very unique Texas barn.  It will also have an apartment at the top overlooking the Christmas tree fields below.  Marge is debating on whether this will be our office (unlikely) or a bed and breakfast.  It will also provide your family and you with a very scenic shelter when it rains.   

We have also started on clearing a amphitheater for future shows using local talent and also in building a tricycle course for our younger customers.  Also watch for a mound topped by Fort Mill Hollow.  Like the treehouse, this will be a hit for the younger set with an imagination.  For those who must show their strength and eye hand coordination, we are also looking at setting up a water balloon shoot.  Timing on this is really dependent on how much we can get done over the next few months.  If you have seen something your family enjoyed somewhere else, please let us know.

Our target is to have a Spring festival at the farm in April or May of next year using these facilities and activities.  It will be a chance for you and your family to visit the farm with the only objective of enjoying it.  (No preselection of  Christmas trees will be allowed).  In order to pay for the hot dogs, other costs and maybe even a profit for us, we are considering a very reasonable admission charge.   Watch this web site for more information.