In just a few short weeks, the City of South Pasadena’s float will set sail on a 5-½-mile voyage down Colorado Boulevard in the 131st Rose Parade to the fanfare of thousands viewing it from the sidelines, and millions more watching on television around the world.
Few of those know the behind the scenes intricacies of just what it takes for the float to go from a concept – a rough design on paper – to the floral masterpiece it becomes, in full display on New Year’s Day.
Along with long hours put into construction and decorating the city’s entry, Pasadena Tournament of Roses officials require it to pass a series of inspections long before it makes its way to the starting line area, just hours prior to the 8 a.m. start.
Joss Rogers knows firsthand how important it is to ensure South Pasadena’s float is in good working order as he’s been a part of all three of the Tournament of Roses’ inspections to date where a critical observation is highly enforced every time the team of TOR workers, wearing white overalls with the familiar giant red rose emblazoned on the back, show up at the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses work area behind the War Memorial Building.
There are what Rogers calls three “check-ins” from the Tournament officials, each one having its own specific checklist of highly technical requirements, but basically falling into a trio of buckets – the MI, T1 and T2.
The MI or technically Mechanical Inspection, usually held in late summer, is a check of the basics, making sure the float operates, including the engines, wheels, chassis. Potential issues are identified and addressed by the next phase – T1 or formally the Technical Inspection 1, usually held in late September/early October. “It calls for confirmation of the design, all the parade day plans and how those plans align with tournament requirements,” explained Rogers. This would include overall dimensions, weight, basic safety and operation. The overall structure (length, width, height) must be finalized for this.”
Any issues identified must be addressed by the third and final phase, T2 or officially Technical Inspection 2, usually in late November/early December. In South Pasadena that phase occurred last Saturday morning when the city’s float was taking out for an important test drive in front of TOR officials, insisting the float’s construction must be 80% complete with all structural fabrication and operator compartments completed. “The focus of this test is also on overall maneuverability,” explained Rogers, after South Pasadena’s entry was driven out of the tent, north on Fair Oaks for just over a quarter-mile before making a U-turn at Columbia Avenue, before heading south back to the work tent or what local float builders call “the barn.”
During the third and final phase, inspectors evaluate the operation and stability of the float going up and down the street, in this case Fair Oaks Avenue, where mostly patient motorists headed in the same direction avoided honking behind the slow moving rig.
A pair of emergency tests, designed to see how the crew on board handles perhaps a fire on board, complete the T2 inspection. Any issues with the float identified must be completed before December 27, when a follow-up inspection will be held.
Two final dates to determine the float is ready to go will take place December 30 at 7:30 a.m. when as TOR design judges give it a look before returning December 31 at the same time for final judging and ensuring everything is in good working order and a majority of the flowers and natural products are in place.
In the end, South Pasadena’s creation – “Victory at Last” – will be a salute to Women’s Suffrage, selected as the theme for the city’s float, reflecting on the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting American women the right to vote, ending almost a century of protest.
Graphic designer Mike Mera created the design, returning for a second straight year in support of the South Pasadena float committee.
Elements on the float feature a scroll depicting the 19th Amendment, along with iconic period pieces representing women from the start of the movement, including hats and jewelry worn at the time.
Volunteering has become a way of life for Rogers, who feeds off the community of South Pasadena explaining his involvement, saying, “It is an addiction I continue to develop as many I know in this idyllic town do. As I’ve raised my children here, my volunteerism has evolved and perhaps I’m lining up a role I know will sustain when my youngest goes off to college. My addiction began humbly with our local co-operative preschool, then evolved into arts at the elementary school and middle school, coaching and refereeing, joining the board of AYSO, then the SPEF board, then calling SPHS Bingo. The SPTOR board feels a natural progression for me as an outlet to contribute to something in town that is bigger than me and to play my part to keep it growing for the future of this wonderful town. I’ve been a part of some really special ‘crews’ in town, but this is the first one that gives me an opportunity to promote to the rest of the world just how special South Pasadena is. Not only are we the oldest entry in the annual parade, we are one of only a handful of self-built floats left in the parade. It’s a legacy I’m proud to be a part of and I’ll do what I can to do it justice and make us all proud.”
Supporting Rogers is a construction crew consisting of about 15 team members of varying skill levels and complementary creative talents. His team, like all who lend a hand are all volunteers, consisting of a local barber, software developer, Trader Joe’s manager, video game designer, architect, carpenter, retired school teacher, “and others with eclectic backgrounds that come together to share in a collaborative process that results in something bigger than any of us could have imagined or created on our own.”
Rogers has co-chairs at his side, Lisa Henderson, a local small business owner – Harvest Architecture – “who focused her efforts early on to help translate the 2D rendering into scale blueprints we could work from which included an immersive 3D virtual experience that helped us fine tune the overall scale of key elements,” Rodgers said.
The other co-chair is long time float builder and former SPTOR President James Jontz, “who has been providing guidance and support for all that I don’t know during my rookie year while also handling logistics with our worksite to keep us out of the dark, wet and cold,” said Rogers.
The end is near on the construction side and soon many of Rogers’ team of workers will join those doing much of the decorating, under the direction of Deco Chair Janet Benjamin. “We’re in really good shape, but that’s not to say we can relax at all,” said Rogers when asked how the float was moving along. “ We’re in the most critical part of the schedule now and will be working almost every day until the end of the year to make it to the finish line on 12/30. For many on the construction team, we’ve been at this since about April/May.”
With many months into the project, Rogers says it’s “hard to believe we’re already in sight of the finish line, but we can’t lose sight of the mountain of work ahead of us in these final weeks. Since so much of the float is made up of perishable decorations (flowers and organic materials that simply do not last), the decorating crew compresses the bulk of their activity on this final push, plotting and strategizing deliveries, preparations and volunteer schedules to make sure that every minute of these final weeks counts.”
In the float-building world it’s called crunch time, the time reserved for exhaustive days and nights when a frenzy of activity is the norm, as thousands of flowers are placed on board by a team of hundred or more to meet yet another deadline.
“Our Construction team will begin to transition from slow and steady metal and plywood fabrication to an accelerated pace with rubber gloves, buckets of glue and stepladders to do what we can to keep pace with the deco superstars starting to arrive on the scene to turn our ugly beast into a beauty to behold for international recognition,” Rodgers noted. “This is essentially the part of the process where we go from leading to following and must quickly adapt to fill in any gaps we can. Like any successful marathon runner, we’ve been trying to keep a steady pace to be sure we don’t collapse before crossing the line.”