About 40 years ago Daryll and Mary Lou Raitt made a decision that would change the rest of their lives.
Daryll, recently retired from his federal government job, settled on a 200-acre plot of land just north of Hartsburg. From the start he had planned to build his home and subdivide the rest of the area, but with his background in economics, he knew there was an imminent need for generating cash flow in the meantime. That’s when Timber View Tree Farm was born.
Along with his wife, Mary Lou, they began planting in 1969, eventually moving into their first house on the property in 1972. After the trees had grown into prime Christmastime centerpieces the Raitts began selling their Scotch Pines in 1975.
“We’ve got second generations coming now, which is something we’ve built through the years.” Daryll said. “Some of our customers had been here as kids and now they’re bringing their own children.”
For years the couple has sold trees in their own way, tagging each of some 2000 trees on their property by hand, with each tag noting the price and height of the tree. Instead of selling by the foot in the tradition of most tree lots, each tree is priced individually so as to put a premium on the best trees, while still maintaining a solid price structure and providing the more cost-conscious customers with options for larger trees that might not look as good from all sides.
The tree business though isn’t all about friendships, pine smells and cider sipping, there’s also a year-round schedule that has to be kept to ensure that they can continue their business for years to come.
First, tiny trees are planted each spring that will grow for a couple of years until being chosen by their family and having their destiny fulfilled. As spring passes, the summer mowing and trimming season begins. This process is streamlined using summer-long high school student labor to0 create a tree crew that takes on the tough tasks in the July heat. After the weather turns and the mowing and trimming stops, the busy season begins.
“Around September 1, usually after Labor Day weekend, we’re busy getting ready,” Mary Lou said.
This is when tagging begins, walking tree-to-tree, deciding the quality, measuring the height, and then moving on.
The day after Thanksgiving is their opening day, and usually the biggest day of the year.
“We’ll have cars lined up all the way down the road,” Daryll said, “from the time we open and throughout the day.”
With coffee, cocoa and cider, a wagon ride through the orange woods, across two creeks to their secret tree garden tucked between wooded valleys on the back half of their property is an obvious draw for fall-time adventure seekers.
“It’s a cheap outing for a family,” Daryll said. “We take them out on a wagon, they get to pick the perfect tree, cut it, and bring it home.”
The Raitts will also shake off any dead needles, and straighten the tree on one of their stands which makes the process of taking it home and putting it up almost hassle free.
Decades have passed and the orientation of the farm has seen a few changes, but the key element remains: family.
About five years ago, the Raitts turned over part of the ownership of the farm to their daughter and son-in-law, Sandi and Steve Wyatt.
“They’re young and energetic and they brought in some new ideas,” Mary Lou said, “it’s really helped the business.”
With this new influence came some new ideas, and the tree business is as good as ever for this Mid-Missouri tree dynasty.
With some tree farms disappearing either from the fear of fire or switching to artificial trees, Daryll doesn’t notice any change in his personal business, in fact, their traditional tree farm is doing as well as ever.
“The last few years we’ve seen some increase in business,” Daryll said. “Some new customers have been older people who have family coming in for the holidays and want a real tree, while others have had artificial trees for years and decide to switch back to the real thing. A lot of our customers have been coming for years, though, and wouldn’t have it any other way.”