James Cooper, 55, still has visions of eucalyptus trees along Highway 99 from a childhood roadtrip from Washington State to Southern California.
"What we saw along the way was California, in a way that really you don't see on I-5," Cooper said.
The trees were only sprouting then, but today they have fully grown. Some of them in Galt are about to come down.
Cooper works to keep trees alive, even if they may not live on in the ground. His organization, Sacramento Education Events for Art, started its Legacy Trees project in 2007, which acquires historic trees after they have been cut down and distributes the wood to local artists. So far it has claimed a 129-year-old tulip poplar tree that was cut down from the State Capitol grounds, as well as a 90-foot California black walnut that had stood on the corner of Howe Avenue and Fair Oaks Boulevard since the road was only a wagon trail.
Cooper has his eye on the Central Galt Interchange Project, which will transform a main entrance into town at the expense of 495 trees, most of them eucalyptus. He contacted the city of Galt in hopes of receiving some of the wood.
While the Galt eucalyptus trees are not as old as his past acquisitions, their place along Highway 99, once the Central Valley's main north/south artery, intrigues him.
"Highway 99 is like California's Route 66," Cooper said. "You saw it all."
Sitting on the end of the bed of a pickup truck eating a sandwich across from the Galt High School softball field, Jon Gibbons pointed to a row of eucalyptus trees across Highway 99. All of them were coming down, the tree worker said.
Gibbons' truck sat in a muddy shoulder next to a busted-up basketball hoop with only a backboard just off Camellia Way. The area is overgrown with weeds and littered with sawdust, downed tree branches and truck tread marks as Atlas Tree Surgery works through the month to dismantle the surrounding foliage. The city of Galt is paying the company $277,565.
"I've been known to grab a saw and cut," Gibbons said, but these days he mostly drives and operates the wood chipping machinery. He started out working on the ground helping remove trees, then spent 20 years climbing them.
"I could still do it, but I don't want to," he said. "Somebody else's turn."
Few cars use the frontage road, which loops around the right field foul line of Galt High School's baseball field before entering a residential area, but the noise of diesel engines from Highway 99, about 30 feet away, is incessant.
Atlas is leaving tree stumps and spare wood out in hopes that residents will claim it for firewood, but so far only a few have, Gibbons said. The only caveat is that people cannot enter the job site while they are working — a disruption, and worse, a liability issue. Thus, a debris field is starting to form as the construction carries on.
While Atlas is making firewood available to the public, the rest of the wood will be sold to a biomass plant in Woodland. Atlas recycles more than 250,000 cubic yards of material each year — enough to make about 3 million pencils — but that takes place at its headquarters in Santa Rosa. It's too far to transport material there from the Central Valley, Jim Finney, the project manager for the Galt tree removal, said.
Five things you didn't know about eucalyptus trees— More than 600 species of eucalyptus tree grow in its native habitat of Australia.
— Abbot Kinney, president of California Board of Forestry from 1886 to 1888, distributed thousands of free eucalyptus seeds throughout the state. At the time many believed eucalyptus trees could populate the state's barren hills, provide great economic benefit, and even prevent the spread of malaria.
— In Australia, Aborigines use eucalyptus roots as a source of water and also cook and eat the roots.
— Zoos in the United States have fresh eucalyptus leaves shipped to them from California as food for their koalas.
— The earliest roadside eucalyptus trees were planted along Highway 160 near Rio Vista. The California Department of Transportation planted more in the 1950s and 1960s.
Finney estimated that about 3,200 cubic yards of wood would be burned for electricity from the Galt interchange trees, which will take Atlas about 30 to 40 truckloads to move. Revenue from the sale will offset Atlas' expenses on the project.
"Nothing is technically wasted," Paul Cavanaugh, Galt's city engineer, said.
Traffic into town flows over the C Street overpass, a narrow, two-lane bridge with waist-high railings that has remained largely unchanged since it was built in the 1950s. And that's a problem, especially when the Galt Flea Market brings about 3,500 cars through its series of stop signs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, creating backups that frustrate drivers.
If all goes as planned, in two years when construction finishes, the connection to the freeway will look little like it once did, as the C Street bridge transforms into a six-lane boulevard and another six-lane bridge for adjacent A Street is built.
Five new traffic lights will sprout in as the trees disappear and the dated infrastructure is removed.
Camellia Way along the baseball field will jump 20 feet to the west as it makes room for the longer off-ramp. This will require Galt High School to build a net where 14 eucalyptus trees used to be; otherwise foul balls could land on the freeway.
"The trees that were there probably served that purpose," Cavanaugh said, but the new net would do a better job.
Contact reporter Sam Pearson at email@example.com.