Parade Float Planning

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Getting Started


Making a Beginning

To begin with, you will need four wheels, attached, of course, to axles, and a framework. In some cases, float builders have started with nothing but wheels and axles, sometimes only wheels and one axle. Two-wheeled floats can be found. But the four-wheeled variety is much more stable and easier to work with. Floats may be built on trailers, trucks, cars, wagons — almost anything that can move, even boats, though the chance to build floating floats comes infrequently. Eighty per cent of all floats start with a flat platform: a truck bed or a trailer. If it's a truck, the design should blend the cab into the picture, or the cab may be removed and a special space left for the driver. A small tractor generally pulls a trailer, and that, too, is included in the decorative scheme. Suppose you're planning to build a float, and you already have a trailer. Your next concern is a place for construction, and space of this type is at a premium. If several floats are to be built, the construction site should be a large, open building, preferably without roof support posts. And with doors large enough for egress. An airplane hangar is the ideal location for float building. In a small town, the lumberyard building generally offers the roominess needed, as well as a good supply of basic materials.

Try for Novelty

There are a few basic designs, which are always good, with different decorative touches, but you may prefer to try for novelty. You have two elements to work with: shape and color. Too often the effect of a float is spoiled because it sticks too closely to the practical outlines of the vehicle on which it was built. The idea is to mask the underpinnings completely by varying the overall shape, by working curves and swirls into the ground plan, and developing an imaginative topside form. Almost every float has a climactic point: the place where the personalities ride, or the massive emblem is mounted, or an animated figure goes through its paces. The upper levels of the float are shaped to lead the eye to this point. Once you have established your design, you fill out the ground outline with plain, light lumber, cut in whatever curves are necessary, and fastened securely with nails or bolts to the trailer bed. When your lateral shape is set, the vertical outlines, transverse, fore,- and-aft, are cut in plywood or wallboard and securely mounted. If your float is to carry live figures, platforms for them must be rigidly built and provided with unobtrusive braces for float riders to hold on to. If several riders are to populate the float, they should be placed at two or three different levels, highest at the rear and center. Any float should be symmetrical, one side the same as the other. The sidewalk-bound onlooker will get no opportunity to move around and look at any mysteries on the other side. In all this construction, you make allowance for wheel clearance, springing, and the turning radius of the float. You should inspect the parade route to note any bumps or depressions for which allowance must be made, so your float doesn't scrape a forward or rear overhang. If the float is on a truck, see to it that no flammable material is near the hot exhaust line. You may decide to rig a special extension to carry exhaust beyond the overhang. It's advisable, and it's wise, too, to wrap the exhaust pipe to increase the safety factor. Having come this far, you have the skeleton of a float or basic framework, undecorated, only partially shaped. Next you round out the shape, to form it into curves and hollows, or to give it that streamlined look. Perhaps part of the exposed portion of your float is solid material, woodcut to shape, or plaster. These surfaces should be painted before any of the other finishing material is added. You might sprinkle or glitter over the freshly painted surfaces to give these an eye-catching sparkle.

Putting on the Finish

Many special decorative shapes are available already molded in heavy materials exclusively for float use. To the outline, after the exposed portions are painted, attach any of a number of finishing materials—vinyl or metallic floral sheeting, in a rainbow of colors, or with designs worked in; aluminum foil paper, also in many colors, used flat or crumpled before application to increase its light-scattering properties, sparkle sheeting, or any other of various finishes which may catch your eye. Artificial flowers, or real ones, may be attached, as may stars, crescents or other appropriate decorative cutouts. Part of your float may require mats, or vinyl and metallic twists to accentuate its lines. Your choice is wide. The materials you select are applied with special adhesives or stapling devices. And the finish itself is subject to some corrective shaping to get exactly the outline you want. Metallic or vinyl fringe goes around the bottom of the vehicle to mask the running gear. A float is generally built with its bottom level spaced from the pavement to suit the length of the fringe. If a fifteen-inch fringe is used, the float edge is built fifteen inches from the pavement. With a one-inch overlap for fastening, this allows a one-inch clearance, just right to create the illusion of floating. You now have a standard float which, it your estimate of limitations is correct, is ready to go into the parade.