For most teenagers, jacking up your car is usually a matter of adding a huge stereo system or an over-sized pair of fuzzy dice. For Dillon Prestidge, it involved an eleven-foot Christmas tree and enough lights to recreate the aurora borealis. The curious sight of Prestidge’s tree-laden truck has thrilled and confused many in McLean, Virginia. However, it was first and foremost intended for an audience of one: his 80-year-old grandmother who he wanted to cheer up in this pandemic-driven holiday.
“She lives alone,” Prestidge explained, “She was sad that she couldn’t see us [and] was kind of chugg[ing] along.”
After weighing his options of how to safely visit his Grandmother, Prestidge had a flash of brilliance. The type of idea that separates the holiday pedestrians from the holiday participants. If his Grandmother couldn’t come to him for Christmas, he would bring Christmas to her.
Prestidge started small with a 6-foot tree, piling it into the back of his crimson red car. His grandmother was thrilled, and her reaction led Prestidge to go even bigger and better this year, not only attempting to brighten his grandmother’s holiday season, but also his whole community.
When you have a vision like tree-bearing pickups, it is useful to have really supportive parents. As Prestidge left for his local garden shop to buy a tree, his parents knew that he wanted to top last year. They were not quite prepared for her son returning with an eleven foot tree that would be more fitting for Rockefeller Center than the back of a Ford F-150: “I got home and my Mom was like, I hate you,” It seems she envisioned something a tad more ornamental than colossal. Prestidge soon found that the logistics of mounting an eleven foot tree was a bit more challenging than he thought. “I had to get about five people to help stand it up,” Prestidge recalled. “So on top of the truck, it’s about 14-feet total.”
Once he secured the towering tree, he assessed his next challenge: keeping it there. The first time he actually attempted to drive, things didn’t go quite as planned. If you have ever had to struggle with your Christmas tree in one of those stands in your living room, think of doing that for a moving base open to the wind. The sheer quantum mechanics is daunting and, as a pioneer in the field, Prestidge required some trial and error: “I didn’t think about the fact that the wind would be hitting it when I drove forward. It fell back instantly when I drove away.”
Prestidge went to work on solving the problem. The solution? 180-pounds of sandbags in the bed of the truck. With stabilization behind him, Prestidge turned to the question of electrification. Working at a movie theater, Prestidge saved up his earnings for the decorative touches and particular safety features to deck out his whole truck, neither coming cheap.
“I had to work to save up for the lights and I needed to get a new battery,” Prestidge said. “[At first], the lights weren’t on the tree because everytime I turned them on, I kept blowing a fuse in my truck. I was taking too much power.”
Nonetheless, his work paid off, yet it didn’t come easily. In the end, he became a regular at the hardware store, consistently coming in for Christmas tree supplies.
“[The lights and power bank] ended up working fine, but only after about five blown fuses and four different trips to the hardware store,” said Prestidge.
Then came the legal work. It turns out that you cannot simply drive around with an eleven-foot tree standing upright in your pickup. Who would have thought? So Prestidge spoke with the local police force to confirm the legality before making his trips. They were very supportive but did note that the lights need to be festive but not authoritative.
“The only thing I can’t do is put colored lights on because then you’re impersonating an emergency vehicle. So colored lights, bad. White lights are fine,” said Prestidge. Of course, covering his tree and truck required a lot of lights . . . and a Christmas list addition of a 600 watt battery.
Finally, after all of the painstakingly work decorating, manual labor, and a couple mysteriously disappearing ornaments, Prestidge was ready to showcase his truck to the town. That is when he faced his final challenge: actually driving the truck.
“All I see in my rear mirror is a tree,” Prestidge said. “I just drive exactly the speed limit. Slow acceleration and braking; I drive like my grandma.”
Soon his creation was mobile and Prestidge began to park it at McLean High School, arriving early to guarantee a well-placed parking space. The result was total Whoville. Students and teachers surrounded the truck each day.
Prestige cruises around the city wearing his Santa hat and blaring Christmas music. People stop to watch the unexpected scene at first with surprise and then giant smiles. Many whip out their cellphones to show family and friends. “People have held up traffic just to take a video,” Prestidge said. “People wave, shine their brights… I’ve even had other trucks come up to me to ask me how I did it so they could do it themselves.”
Prestidge says it is all a two-way street: “I love driving by and seeing everyone smiling. If I can make just one person smile, like on a bad day, it can make them just a little happier. Why not? It’s simply fun to do.”
Like all visionaries, Prestidge is already thinking about next year. “One of the ideas I have is putting a piece of plywood along the bottom of the bed so I can put presents on it.” However, his first priority is to pay back a loan to his parents for this year’s expenses: “The tree wasn’t very cheap.”
When asked about next year, Prestidge gets a certain elfish twinkle in his eye: “I was thinking about getting a bigger one. It’s eleven feet right now, I might get a twelve. That might be the limit.”
*An earlier version of this article was originally written for the McLean High School newspaper, The Highlander. Ms. Turley is no relation to the host of this site other than by blood, law, and living proximity.