Editor's note: This is the first in a quarterly series highlighting area farms, their histories and their owners.
HOLLIDAYSBURG - When Dave and Betty Robertson started selling the Christmas trees they had planted six years before, they made transactions out of a pickup truck and had little equipment.
Twelve years later, things have changed dramatically. Robertson's Christmas Trees now has a large building used for storing some precut trees, displaying decorative items for purchase and equipped for shaking dead needles out of trees.
Mirror photos by Patrick Waksmunski
Dave Robertson hangs trees for easy display at Robertson’s Christmas Trees on Reservoir Road outside of Hollidaysburg.
Betty Robertson uses a shaker on a tree at Robertson’s Christmas Trees on Reservoir Road outside of Hollidaysburg.
"It's fun to be part of people's tradition," Betty said, standing in front of the more than 30,000 trees of all different stages of growth on their Reservoir Road property.
"We try to make updates every year," Dave added. "We try to make it easier for people."
People can choose from blue and Norway spruces; Fraser, Douglas, balsam and concolor firs; and white and Scotch pines. They can either tag their favorite tree ahead of time or bring the family to cut it together.
At a glance
Name: Robertson's Christmas Trees
Location: 860 Reservoir Road, Hollidaysburg
Owners: Dave and Betty Robertson
Established: The farm was passed down to the Robertsons by family and turned into a tree farm 12 years ago, with the first plantings about six or seven years before that.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday throughout December, weather permitting.
For more information: 696-4105.
The Robertsons, their friends and family members also will cut the tree for customers and load it on their vehicles.
Firs are the best variety to get early in the season because they have good needle retention, Dave said, noting his favorite is the balsam fir.
"They smell really good," Dave said of the trees with straight trunks and earlier growing season. "People that get these come back every year and get the same kind."
Different types of trees have varying colors to their appearance, too, with blue spruces and concolor firs having a bluish tint to them. Other trees have a silvery hue to the underside of the branches.
While some tree farmers replant an entire field or section of a farm at one time, the Robertsons will plant a new seedling in the spot where a tree was cut the previous December.
Trees of all different sizes mix together on the Robertsons' 65 acres, 15 of which are used for their business.
Betty's grandparents and father used the land for many years before it was left idle. Now it's put to good use, the Robertsons said.
"It's really nice to have the people come out and use the farm," Dave said.
It's a type of farming most people don't consider when they think of agriculture, he said, but it's just as dependent upon the weather and soil conditions as any other type of crop and takes just as much hard work to make possible.
"The time becomes very long," Betty said.
"We work pretty hard all year," Dave said. "December is the nicest time of the year."
Planting and mowing begins in the spring, with trimming taking place starting in June.
Trimming is an intricate process that involves going through one tree at a time, cutting of branches to give the trees a nice shape.
"It's a process," Betty said.
In the fall, the farm gets ready for spring planting. In the winter, fertilizing is done to help give better growth and color to the trees.
"This wasn't a good year," Dave said of the winter's snow damage, late spring frosts as well as heat and drought damage that can take their toll on new plantings. "Our trees recovered well. They look nice. I think we're ready."
The Robertsons manage the tree farm while both working other full-time jobs.
Dave's favorite memory took place one of the first years the business was open when a mother with three young sons found their favorite tree.
The boys wanted to cut it themselves and try as they might, they only butchered the trunk with their attempts, Dave said.
"It was really neat," he said, laughing. "They were so excited."
While two weekends before the holidays is their busiest time, the couple has received calls as late as the night of Christmas Eve.
"We've been out with the lights on the four-wheelers cutting trees," Betty said.
"You get your families, kids running around, playing in the snow," Dave said. "The people are great."
Mirror Staff Writer Wendy Zook is at 946-7520.