What’s a picture of a shiny red engine doing in an article about a floral arrangement?
Whether you’re curled up on the couch with cocoa or bundled up on a sidewalk in Pasadena, if you’re watching the Rose Parade chances are you’re only admiring the mammoth floral arrangements that are gliding by.
But while the botanical displays are what the parade is all about, it’s what’s under the hood that keeps things running smoothly. In the final analysis, a Rose Parade float, no matter how ornate, is just a vehicle.
Your Tournament of Roses Examiner went undercover (so to speak) to find out what makes Rose Parade floats run.
It starts with a chassis, of course, welded to a steel axle mounted with truck tires. Next comes the seats for the driver and observer. These are bare-bones—or perhaps bone-breaker—plywood affairs. No padding, no bunwarmers, despite the fact that overnight temperatures in the 30s are common in a Pasadena winter.
A retired float driver, out for the T1 test of the Los Angeles/Natural History Museum float, said that the rigid frame “bounces a lot. There are no springs or suspension.” Some drivers bring foam pads or cushions to sit on. He added that drivers often bring sleeping bags to camp out under the float on the night before the parade. “Last year, a guy I worked with brought a cot,” he said.
And it does get toasty underneath the float deck. Lisa Ely of Phoenix Decorating Company, which designs and builds around half of the Rose Parade floats, said that temperatures can reach 120 degrees. “The drivers love it,” she said. Even with a protective plywood wall between the engine and the driver, the heat builds up as the float moves along the parade route. A hose (much like a clothes dryer duct) attached to an air blower helps keep the air moving underneath the deck.
Take a tour of the underbelly of the Los Angeles/Natural History Museum float in the photo gallery at left. The photos were taken at various stages in the development of the float.
The innards necessary to get and keep the huge vehicle moving along at a pace of three to five miles per hour are pretty simple. A battery, engine, automatic gearbox, parking brake, gas tank, and accelerator pedal are pretty much it, along with the fan and radiator. The observer in front also has a handbrake.
The gearbox for the LA/NHM float is a four wheel drive transfer case, and the float is locked in low to whatever RPM is recommended. Gas mileage is not very good with so much weight to move around, but with only about 20 miles of driving, it doesn’t really matter. Flat-out speed? According to the driver, a blistering 30 miles per hour.
Tires on the LA/NHM float are a combination of big truck tires (front and back) and two small truck tires in the center. The driver said he had never had a tire blow on a float.
The components are not mounted in the usual array one finds in such an expensive vehicle. The batteries are behind the driver’s seat, the engine is to his right behind the plywood wall. A marine battery switch allows the driver to alternate between two batteries, or use both.
Fire extinguishers are kept handy—Phoenix actually had a float catch on fire in the 1983 parade—and a tow bar is built into the float in case the float breaks down. According to Tournament of Roses float liaison Philip Orozco, the driver has 30 seconds to get the float going before the liaison calls for one of the tow trucks that are posted on side streets throughout the parade route.
For links to all the articles on the LA/NHM float, including video of road tests, see “Follow that float: Los Angeles/Natural History Museum, from plans to parade”
The theme of the 123rd Rose Parade and 98th Rose Bowl Game is “Just Imagine…” The events take place on Monday, Jan. 2, 2012 to avoid interfering with worship services on Sunday. The Tournament of Roses is a celebration that lasts several weeks in the fall and winter, with the high points being the Rose Parade presented by Honda and the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. Keep following your Tournament of Roses Examiner for the latest news and for upcoming announcements.
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