During the late 1960’s/early 1970’s, Ernie Camuso built the 26 foot tall, rotating Christmas Tree that would become the centerpiece of the Camuso Display. Camuso is believed to have built the tree in his shop in Hillside, using round, machined and drilled aluminum collars to secure nearly 5,000 separate pieces of heavy wire tree garland to make up the 90 branches.
The tree has been an amazing site for decades. However, after some 45 years on display in the harsh New Jersey weather, the branch garland started to rust. The heavy gauge wire used to make the garland had rusted through in many spots, reducing the life expectancy of the branches likely to just a couple of years. After each season since 2011, garbage bags full of garland that had fallen off were gathered and stored.
In 2012, a visitor to the display provided information that the National Tree Company in Cranford might be able to provide some insight on how to restore the branches. After meeting company owner Joe Puleo, it was believed that their company, known as Puleo’s Novelty Company (in Elizabeth) in the 60’s, very likely supplied the garland that Camuso used in building the original branches. At that time, their company was the only supplier of such an item in the entire area and samples at the office looked exactly the same. Mr. Puleo’s father later confirmed that Ernie Camuso had, in fact, purchased the original garland from him to build the massive tree.
National Tree imports artificial trees for major retailers in the United States. Since no companies in the United States mass produce wire Christmas tree garland anymore, Mr. Puleo took samples of the branches to his fabricators in China. After a number of trial runs and experiments, the same heavy gauge, this time weather resistant, wire garland was produced just for the Camuso tree. National Tree has provided all of the needed garland as a donation to the project as they certainly have a nostalgic connection to the entire story. The construction had to be exactly as Mr. Camuso had intended in order to work on the tree stem and to survive the harsh environment of the Gazebo area.
The restoration process of mounting the garland was still very much uncertain even when the garland had already arrived. Removing some 850 aluminum collars and pressing out the old wire would have taken years, if not longer. Round aluminum rods of the same diameter were ordered as the Committee set out to build brand new collars to hold the new garland. The 6 foot rods were then cut into hundreds of one inch pieces by Tracey Stansfield in Bridgewater (also a donation to the Committee) and brought to the Elf Shop in Livingston. The tedious process of drilling some 5,000 holes into the collars has begun. They are each mounted on new aluminum rods of different lengths (from 6 feet on the bottom to just 12 inches on top, also supplied by National Tree) using set screws tapped into each. Using several drill presses, specially welded jigs to hold the material, and a 12 ton machine press, the completed branches are exact replicas of the originals. The tree is expected to be fully restored by the 2016 season. The old branches are an exact color match and will be used until each can be replaced by the new ones.
While a time consuming, pain staking process, the Committee will complete all 90 branches as an antique restoration to ensure the tree will last for future generations to enjoy. Thanks to Eastman Management, the shop space needed to do the work was made available or the project might have been impossible.