Those who regularly make the drive along a remote stretch of Interstate 90 between Sheridan, Wyoming, and Billings, Montana, notice that at about the halfway point a single pine tree growing in the median puts on its holiday best this time of year.
For nearly 15 years, this lonely tree in the middle of nowhere on the Crow Reservation seems to magically decorate itself for the Christmas season in the days after Thanksgiving. It’s a festive oasis that becomes a beacon for those hardy souls forced to drive this stretch of I-90 during sometimes brutal winter conditions.
While it seems magical and has that effect on people who see it, the tree has a little help from a long-haul trucker who moonlights as a Santa elf when he reaches milepost 523 north of the Wyoming border.
Meet German Segura
German Segura (pronounced Herman) is a veteran trucker from Mission, Texas, who for 23 years has been driving a route between Garland, Texas, and Calgary, Canada. He drives three days up, then three days back.
Originally from Mexico with a thick accent, Segura is as gregarious, jolly and cheerful as one could expect of any of Santa’s elves. And while saying he never did it to get any kind of recognition, he’s glad to tell the story of the little tree.
“It’s the same route, same schedule all the time,” Segura told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s kind of funny. I’ve been doing that same route for 23 years. And as always, I get over the hills (north of Billings) one afternoon, but a little storm one night about 12, 13 years ago, I couldn’t and had to stay overnight because the storm had shut the highway down.”
‘An Orphan In the Middle Of The Road’
He didn’t know it at the time, but that weather layover would lead to a fun and festive holiday tradition that’s generated quite a following from people in Sheridan, the Crow Reservation and Billings.
The next morning after the storm, Segura said he was talking with his wife Elsa — aka “The Boss” — about the icy conditions and quipped while passing by that the little lonely tree looked cold.
“I see that little tree, a little baby one, covered with maybe 1 foot, 2 feet of snow,” he said. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s just a little fellow in the middle of the road and he has no jacket. It’s naked. Oh, it’s just an orphan in the middle of the road.’”
That’s when The Boss made an executive decision.
“She told me, ‘You’re going to make a U-turn and give him a jacket,’” Segura said.
She insisted, so he went back to the tree and put one of his old spare jackets around it. After that, he decided to bring extra Christmas decorations and ornaments with him to decorate it right.
“When I got home, I was thinking about it,” he said. “And I think that I’m going to bring some decorations and start doing the tree. So, I pull over and did that about 12, 13 years ago, and it’s been going on since.”
Birth Of A Tradition
For the last five years or so, Segura has had some help from a group of Sheridan elves who assist in decorating and undecorating the tree each season.
Jonnie and Carl Stark are two of those, who noticed the tree and were so impressed with it, stopped and left a note for Sugura.
“It started out as this great mystery,” Carl Stark told Cowboy State Daily. “German never, he did that expecting nothing, no recognition or anything. None of the locals knew who was doing it, and then this sign went up next to it that said, ‘Feliz Navidad from Texas.’”
Jonnie put together a nice thank you card for whoever was decorating the tree, put it in a baggie and they left it on the tree, Carl said. A little while later, Segura called.
Now, the Starks and some other Sheridan families help keep the tradition rolling.
“We’re there to help him, and we have some friends who are kindred spirits,” he said, adding they have fun drinking coffee, eating cookies and telling stories while they decorate.
But Carl said the tree, its impact and the good will it spreads is all on Segura.
“German did that for years and years, and he’s just one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle men you’d want to meet,” he said. “He’s all about his family and his grandkids.”
While the Montana Highway Patrol has said they can’t put up the “Feliz Navidad” sign anymore, the tree speaks for itself.
And Stark said there’s an answer to the one burning questions readers have had up to this point: How do they keep all those decorations on the tree during the region’s famous winter windstorms?
“A lot of zip ties,” he said. “That’s the secret.”
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