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LCF group keeps pulling off volunteer-built Rose Parade floats, as costlier commercially-built counterparts dominate

LCF group keeps pulling off volunteer-built Rose Parade floats, as costlier commercially-built counterparts dominate
Assistant Chief Technical Inspector Eddie Villasenor chats with float driver Aram Dergevorkian before the first test drive of La Cañada Flintridge's float entry to the Pasadena Tournament of Roses at the Valley Water Co. Saturday. (Miguel Vasconcellos / La Cañada Valley Sun)

October has only just begun, but for a handful of local residents New Year's Day is right around the corner.

That will be the day a full year's worth of work — wrought by some of the community's brightest minds and ablest hands — will come due as the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Assn. submits its 40th volunteer-built entry into the 129th Rose Parade in Pasadena.

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It will also mark a transition from one substantial fundraising campaign to another, as members strive to raise, yet again, upwards of $125,000 for materials and permitting fees. The group supplements its annual income with grants from the city's budget to help fund needed equipment and site improvements, but most of what parade-goers see is made possible by donations.

LCF Tournament of Roses Assn. President Chuck Terhune acknowledges that the few stalwart groups who still submit self-built floats (there were six last year, out of 41 entries), as opposed to those who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a commerically-produced version, face steep challenges.

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"The struggle is getting people involved long enough to develop the skills to finish the float, to have enough people who understand how to build things and weld them — that's the real tough part," he said.

Another difficulty is the fact that time marches by. As Tournament members age, their ranks grow smaller and talk turns to how a new generation might discover in float-building the same joys and togetherness they do.

Construction volunteer Dwight Crumb directs La Cañada Flintridge's entry to the Pasadena Tournament of Roses during its first test drive at the Valley Water Co. on Saturday.
Construction volunteer Dwight Crumb directs La Cañada Flintridge's entry to the Pasadena Tournament of Roses during its first test drive at the Valley Water Co. on Saturday. (Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos)

Despite these perennial issues, progress on La Cañada's newest float, "Panda-monium," which depicts three young panda cubs enjoying an excursion after escaping their home at a Chinese rescue facility, is humming along.

In a first inspection of the float vehicle Saturday morning, Assistant Chief Technical Inspector Eddie Villasenor checked the operating functions and maneuverability of the 43-foot-long vessel.

The vehicle passed inspection, but with that milestone accomplished, much more work remains to be done before parade day. Figures must be welded, then screened and cocooned and painted before they're ready for decoration in December.

Organizers have estimated each float submitted for the city of La Cañada Flintridge takes up to 40,000 man hours to complete. Luckily, the builders who meet behind the Foothill Municipal Water District office on Hampton Road for construction still have a lot of enthusiasm for their work.

"This is our shop class," said builder Ernest Koeppen, who's volunteered for 22 years.

"When you get near the end and it's decorated, seeing the faces of the people who come and see it for the first time — being part of that is amazing," Terhune said. "It's kind of emotional."

Volunteers and inspectors follow the first test drive of La Cañada Flintridge's float entry to the Pasadena Tournament of Roses at the Valley Water Co. on Saturday. The float drove down Hampton Road to the intersection of Baptiste Way and returned.
Volunteers and inspectors follow the first test drive of La Cañada Flintridge's float entry to the Pasadena Tournament of Roses at the Valley Water Co. on Saturday. The float drove down Hampton Road to the intersection of Baptiste Way and returned. (Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos)

Lance Tibbet, this year's president of the organizing Pasadena Tournament of Roses Assn., said Rose Parade float building has become a cottage industry, with most entries constructed by for-profit companies.

Still, there's a lot of affection for "self-builts" and the sense of civic pride they instill.

"It's that spirit of volunteerism that makes America special," Tibbet said. "This year's theme is 'Making a Difference,' and our self-built floats are definitely the poster boys for that theme."

La Cañada Mayor Mike Davitt, who in his youth accompanied dad John on the Pasadena parade route every year for a decade, couldn't agree more.

"There are very few organizations and cities left who build their own floats," he said of the effort. "It's a community builder and something I'm very proud of from a city standpoint."

Volunteers and inspectors follow the first test drive of La Cañada Flintridge's float entry to the Pasadena Tournament of Roses as it returns to the Valley Water Co. on Saturday.
Volunteers and inspectors follow the first test drive of La Cañada Flintridge's float entry to the Pasadena Tournament of Roses as it returns to the Valley Water Co. on Saturday. (Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos)

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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