Photo: Sugar Grove resident Tom Renk’s unique Christmas tree stands in his kitchen every holiday season. The tree weighs close to 600 pounds and takes between seven and eight hours to construct and decorate. Courtesy Photo
by Keith Beebe
SUGAR GROVE—Have you ever seen a Christmas tree that weighs close to 600 pounds and can support the weight of 32 miniature porcelain houses?
Sugar Grove resident and Village Board Trustee Tom Renk has. In fact, it’s in his kitchen every holiday season.
Renk’s tree isn’t an actual tree, per se; rather, it consists of five 3/8 inch-thick wooden platforms attached to a metal pipe trunk that sits in a foundation of glass block. The structure is decorated with lights, figurines and miniature re-creations of village homes, a village square, a railroad complete with electric train, a bubbling brook and bridges. At the top of the tree is a church with a tall spire.
All electrical cords used to light the tree are hidden inside the structure and covered by fake snow.
“There’s so much weight involved with the tree. It’s the type of tree that you have to build where you intend to put it. Once it’s up, you don’t move it,” Renk said. “It’s the only one I’ve ever seen, though there was a partial sample down in the store I bought the plan from. I’ve never seen another tree like it.”
Renk bought the blueprint for the structure 12 years ago in a Christmas tree shop in Savannah, Ga. He finally mustered up the courage in 2003 to begin putting the tree’s components together, which took several months to finish, he said.
“I didn’t do anything with it for four years, but I finally decided I was going to try to build it, because I was looking for a project,” Renk said. “Everybody raves about the tree every time they see it in our house. It’s made of threaded metal pipe and various levels of 3/8-inch plywood that are stacked so that (the structure) can be assembled and disassembled, piece by piece.”
Twinkling lights can be found underneath and around the edges of each wooden platform, as well.
At the time he purchased the tree blueprint, Renk had a growing collection of miniature porcelain houses that he would display in his home during the holiday season. Renk had initially constructed a foam snow scene in order to showcase six or seven of the houses, but upon seeing the structure in the Christmas tree shop, he knew he could place all of his porcelain houses on the tree’s platforms.
“I said, ‘my gosh, that is a beautiful tree. How does it support all that weight?’ And the store owner said he had a plan for the tree, so I bought the plan for $20,” Renk said. “You obviously can’t put a porcelain house on a regular tree branch—it would just snap off and the house would fall down.”
According to Renk, the entire structure takes between seven and eight hours to assemble and decorate.
“Everything has to come from the basement, piece by piece, and then you put each level on, one at time, and screw them into threaded metal anchors on each level so that everything holds together. Then you wire the tree with electrical cords up the middle, and all the individual houses get plugged into those cords.”
Disassembly of the tree typically clocks in at a more modest five hours, he said.
Because of the amount of hours and work needed to assemble the tree, Renk has spent the last few years unsure of whether or not he’s going to put the tree up the following holiday season. At this point, his grandchildren are the only reason he continues to put the structure up in his kitchen.
“I think the first year the grandkids don’t come over will be the year I don’t put the tree up,” he said.
Renk intended to put the tree up during Thanksgiving weekend, but will instead construct the structure this weekend. The tree is his main contribution to the decorating that takes place at the Renk home every holiday season.
“I make a day or two of it and put the tree up; along with the outdoor lights, that’s all the decorating I do. My wife does the rest,” he said.