JOSHUA TREE MOVER CALLS IT QUITS TONY BAAL WILL GROW GOURDS.
PALMDALE - After two careers - planting pine trees and native shrubs and later moving Joshua trees and growing Christmas trees, Tony Baal is retiring.
A former county forester, Baal - with help from his son, Tom - has been known for saving Joshua trees from subdivisons and highways - and for the Christmas trees and annual gourd art festivals on his property, The Tree Mover farm, east of Air Force Plant 42.
``My doctor said, 'Tony you have two fake knees, I've worked on your shoulder, I've worked on your femur twice and now I've worked on your back. What are you doing?,''' said Baal, who was recuperating last week at home from back surgery.
``And I said, Well, I've this feeling that it's such a shame to take an unused body and bury it. When I go into the grave I want to have accomplished something utilizing my mind and body.''
The Los Angeles County sanitation district is buying out Baal's tree farm property and plans to use the acreage to dispose of treated sewage effluent.
Baal's son is now transplanting 900 Christmas trees to create a visual barrier that will shield the view of the 40 acres from adjoining streets.
``When this all is going to be consumated, maybe the middle of May, then we'll no longer be the tree farm, The Tree Mover,'' said Baal.
But he's not giving up.
Last year's crop of gourds will be moved to the 2 1/2 acres that Baal and his wife, Pat, have owned in west Palmdale for nearly 40 years. He's also trying to grow some on the land.
``Because I have this crop of gourds I don't want them to go to waste, and people are clamoring for me to open up so they can come and buy the gourds,'' Baal said. ``Whether or not I continue this depends on how many people come and buy the gourds, because the water is a little more expensive.''
Sounding somewhat feisty but with a touch of humor, Baal recounted his personal history living in the Antelope Valley and his future retirement plans. He and Pat still live in the tract house they moved into in 1964 and in which they raised seven children, enlarging it as the family grew.
His first career dealing with nature began in 1947 when he joined the Los Angeles County Fire Department's Division of Forestry after a stint in the Army. He left a bank career in Lebanon, Pa., to move to California, where he loved the variety of climates - desert, beach, mountains. His job was to raise trees and native shrubs to plant in the Angeles National Forest.
``I was the type of person who enjoyed the outdoors and so I saw out here what I wanted,'' he said. ``... you have the ocean, you have the valley, you have the mountain, so many different climates ... to me it's an insatiable appetite to visit those places.''
One of his jobs was to plant trees on 400 acres around the Castaic reservoir, and he often took his kids along on the weekends.
``On every project I've been on, they've followed along,'' Baal recalled.
He also planted along 26 miles beside the California Aqueduct.
`I don't remember having a day I didn't want to go to work,'' he said.
But eventually dissatisfaction with his supervisors caused him to resign in 1979, after 32 years.
``Besides marrying my wife it's probably the best move I made,'' said Baal.
For eight years, he sold Christmas trees from the 2 1/2-acre lot on the west side, before leasing the 40 acres off 50th Street East in 1989. He began selling landscape trees a year later and Christmas trees four years after that. Gourds were added in 1994.
In 1985, Baal and son Tom obtained a piece of machinery called a tree spade, which can pick up trees, roots and all, out of the ground for transplanting elsewhere. They began relocating Joshua trees for developers.
The tree-moving business took off, and over the years the two moved thousands of Joshuas as well as other types of trees.
``We have traveled to San Joaquin and down into the desert below for fruit businesses who have experimental plots and want to save certain trees,'' said Baal. ``So we used the tree spade, because it is the most reliable way of moving a tree and not killing it.''
As for his latest retirement, Baal may be just as busy as ever.
``Depending on how many people are interested in gourds, I may continue into the next year growing gourds, but we have more traveling to do,'' said Baal.
He also wants to buy a cabin in Flagstaff, Ariz., for his family to use.
``It's an area rich in nature. I'm ready to settle down, to a point, and have the family come to something I may build and just have a wonderful time,'' he said. ``They're all interested in nature, even the children - even the persons that my family married into - they are all lovers of the outdoors. I can't think of a more rewarding thing to be interested in.''
(color) Former forester Tony Baal saved Joshua trees for years by relocating them from new construction sites.
Jeff Goldwater/Staff Photographer