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"We are Penn State" at the Rose Bowl

By Sandra Scott


Big Ten plan
Attending the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl football game in Pasadena, CA, was not on my "Wish List" of travel experiences. But there I was on New Year's Day 1995. Three of our children are Penn State graduates, so when the university joined the Big Ten they agreed, "When Penn State plays in the Rose Bowl, we'll all go?" The very next football season Penn State received an invitation to the Rose Bowl.

La Canada invite
We made reservations, scrounged around for football tickets, and planned to attend all the pre-game events. Without a doubt, for me the highlight came about when the communities of La Canada/Flintridge asked for volunteers to help build their float. We were assigned the morning shift from 8 a.m. to 2:45, with the advisement that we were "expected to perform whatever job was necessary," and reminded that it was "No fashion show - wear your grubbies. Floral glue is extremely difficult (often impossible) to remove from clothing, shoes, and hair."

Flying Elephant
Promptly at 8 a.m. on December 31, we arrived at the float building site under the 210 Freeway overpass bridge. The area was a carpet of flowers, all arranged by type and color, and in the midst of this kaleidoscope of flowers a huge, pink flying elephant was taking shape. We received instructions for various tasks involved in float building and were designated "decorators." As decorators we had the choice of gluing (it might get in my hair), flower bucket washing and filling (a sloppy, wet job, and it was cold under the bridge), vial filling (vile?), rose cutting (a thorny job), application of flowers, seeds, and leaves (a sticky job), or flower preparation (popping mums, cutting stems, separating petals, etc.).

Flower Power
John and I decided on an easy job. For hours we inserted the stems of flowers into individual plastic water holders. Occasionally someone would rush over with an order, "We need Number 3 pink carnations." Over 260,000 flowers had to be prepared! Luckily there were many volunteers. Our children opted for a sticky job, pasting green leaves, one at a time, on the skirt of the float. Project managers reminded them to, "Keep the rows even and leaves pointing to the front of the float." The four of them worked steady for four hours and only completed an area four feet long and three feet high. "The Float" became "Our Float." We barely stopped for lunch. The level of frenzy and anticipation grew as 2 p.m. neared, the "witching hour," when the official judges arrived for their final evaluation.

Float Facts
Thousands of man-hours go into building the floats. A few floats, like "ours," are built solely by volunteers but most are built by professional float building companies. Construction begins shortly after the previous year's parade is over. After the design is approved, a framework of steel and chicken wire is constructed on a specially built chassis, then the frame is sprayed with a polyvinyl material, which is painted in the colors of the flowers to be applied. Every inch of the float must be covered with flowers or other natural materials, such as leaves, seeds, or bark. To figure out how many flowers will be needed there's a simple formula based on the size of the bloom. For every square foot of float surface, it takes 20 daisies, 30 roses, or 36 marigolds. Then there are the parts viewers never see: the hydraulic, sound, and animation mechanisms. A super-powerful engine is needed to haul the float, some weigh up to 45,000 pounds. It's not unusual for a float to have 17 to 20 forward gears. The tires are filled with foam to ensure against flats. All this for a 2-hour parade!

Pink Pride
When "our" float, entitled "The Wright Stuff," came down Colorado Boulevard on New Year's Day and was announced the First Place winner in the "The Best Animation" category, we were pink with pride. We were double winners that day because Penn State won, too. This year La Canada/Flintridge's entry, "Just Imagine," is just as whimsical as "Our Float." Look for a boat with two children and a dragon blowing into the sails.

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