I’m pretty sure we didn’t know which teams would be playing in World Series this fall when my daughter asked me why there were Santa lights at the hardware store. And the Black-Cyber-Friday-Monday-weekend seems to go on for weeks.
But there is a happy place in all of the commercialism: the experience of selecting and cutting your family’s Christmas tree. You can’t do that online, and the day after Halloween is too early.
We’ll leave the tree selection to you, but we do have advice on getting your tree home intact—roof rack or not. We recently spent a day at in Easton, Connecticut—which has been operating since the 1700s and growing Christmas trees since the 1950s—trying various methods of securing trees to cars.
If your vehicle does not have a roof rack, here’s what to do:
How to Make a Quick “Roof Rack”
Your car may suffer from a lack of tie-down points. If it doesn’t have a roof rack or side rails, there are no good tie-off points to use. Often people will roll down their windows or open their door, pass the twine or rope through the cabin of the car, and tie their items to the roof. While this might (kind of) work, it certainly isn’t elegant, and you might have twine passing through the cabin of the car at eye level.
Take a two-foot length of webbing—essentially flat rope—and tie the two ends together with a stopper knot such as a figure eight. Close it in the top of the door, and you have created some nice loops from which you can use any of the methods discussed below. (If the car has frameless windows, be careful with the tension.) If you do this in the two rear and front passenger doors, there are now three points that the ropes, bungees, or ratchet straps can grab onto.
Once you have your tie-downs in place, here are three approaches to holding the sucker down:
Most tree places—big-box store, seasonally converted lot, family-owned farm like Maple Row—have twine. But the mere presence of twine does not a successful tree-tying make.
You need a knot.
I used to work on a mooring field on Long Island Sound in New York. My supervisor, Dustin, was a former Coast Guardsman and he had a saying: “If you can’t tie a knot, then please tie a lot.” While this is a nice rhyming couplet, it does not secure an item well.
The knot to use is known by various names, the most common being the trucker’s hitch. This is basically a 3:1 mechanical advantage, meaning for every pound of force applied to the running end of the rope, you gain 3 pounds of force on the standing end. Here’s how to tie a trucker’s hitch.
We will use it in conjunction with a bowline, one of a few basic knots you should know. The bowline is the “rabbit comes up the hole, runs around the tree, goes back down the hole” knot.
Start by securing one end of the rope using the bowline, pass the running end of the line over the tree, making as many passes as is practicable; ideally the rope or twine should be passed over the tree more than once so it holds it nicely in place. Secure the line using the trucker's hitch, tucking the loose ends to minimize any flapping or wind noise.
The Bungee Cord
Full disclosure, I’m not a huge fan of bungee cords. They can slacken if shock loaded, possibly leading to a hook coming loose, thereby losing the load. But they are extremely convenient, quick, and simple to use. One drawback: Unlike twine or rope, you’re limited by the length of the cord you have on hand.
We had a good result with ours. They stretched nicely over the tree and held it securely in place. Several points should be used to secure the tree. (Note: Bungee cords can be dangerous. If they slip from your grip, the hard plastic end can have devastating effects, whipping back and hitting you or your helper, causing head and eye trauma. Always wear eye protection.)
The Ratchet Strap
Lastly, my personal preference, the ratchet strap. They can be purchased in various lengths and are incredibly strong. They also have one big drawback: If you’re not familiar with how to use them, you’ll be standing there for long minutes, turning them over in your hands, wondering how the heck they work.
How to use a ratchet strap: The ratchet should be folded closed so the barrel is easily accessible. • The free strapping is passed through the opening in the barrel from the bottom up, taking up as much slack as possible. • The ratchet gets cranked until the desired level of tension is reached. • To relieve the tension, press the release (in the handle) and open the ratchet flat. • While not as easily deployed as a bungee cord, the secure nature of the ratchet strap makes the extra time well worth it. And having a long strap makes it easy to take several passes over the tree for a solid job.
A few last points to keep in mind:
• Carry a moving blanket, tarp, or old beach towel with you. A Christmas tree is not 80-grit sandpaper, but it can scratch the roof of your car without proper protection.
• The orientation of the tree is important. The trunk should point in the direction of travel to prevent damage from wind resistance.
• Most places have some device that wraps the tree for transport. This is both to prevent damage to the tree as well as make carrying the tree easier. In the event the tree isn’t wrapped it can be wrapped in the moving blanket or tarp and then secured to the car.
How to Tie a Bowline: Start by making an overhand loop in the rope, approximately double the distance from the end of the rope that you would like the end loop to be. To do this grasp the rope between your thumb and forefinger and give a twist clockwise. There should be a loop formed, with the loop end sitting on top of the standing end. Take the running end of the rope, in this case the end that is going to form the loop, and pass it up through the loop. Next pass it around the back of the standing end, and finally back down into the loop, essentially creating the letter ‘u’ around the rope. Pull the standing end and the short running end to secure the knot.