Volunteers with the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association were hard at work Wednesday welding frames, spaying foam and even keeping the books — all part of a painstaking yearlong process to bring the city's 33rd annual Rose Parade float entry to life on time for New Year's Day.
By the time it motors down Colorado Boulevard, this complex network of steel and wire frame that was getting a fast coat of quick-dry foam will be a bright floral ballet of cartoon construction equipment in motion for millions of eyes to enjoy.
But all the fanfare starts with an idea, a sketch, a lot of fundraising and a little elbow work, said Sharlyn French, a longtime volunteer and former association president, as she tended to the float, which is stored and constructed in an area behind the Valley Water Company and Foothill Municipal Water District lots.
"There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes," she said, from submitting design plans in February to stripping last year's float in March to the painting and floral decorating planned for the coming weeks.
In a humorous nod to the necessity of teamwork among a core of more than a dozen consistent volunteers, "I just come and get dirty when I want to," French said.
This year's entry employs computerized hydraulic motion to power a crane and two earthmovers at work on a fictional park scene, a scene detailed down to a scuba-diving gopher peeking out from a decorative fountain, a concept titled "3-2-1 Dig!"
"Our floats always tell a story," explained current LCF T-of-R Association President Pam Wiedenbeck, who also led the group's "Scissored Wizard" float effort that last year earned the Tournament's Fantasy Trophy.
"We thought if we had the machines building a park, people would see the park and the equipment as things from childhood, invoking memories," she said of the float's relation to the parade's theme, which is "Building dreams, friendships and memories."
The building element is obvious, and the blossoming of friendships appears to be a natural part of the float building process.
And then there's the dazzle factor.
"The machine arms have several joints, the earthmovers' buckets will move, and new for us this year is the fact that the three machines will rotate a full 360 degrees," said Wiedenbeck, who joined the association in 2006 after working as its "white-suit" Tournament liaison.
When robotic arms are fully extended, the float is about 65 feet long, but the full effect is in the details.
The construction machines are to be covered by 16,000 yellow carnations and given rice, onion and strawflower accents. Nearly 1,000 potatoes will go into creating the illusion of stone walls, and ground seeds and beans will make for exposed dirt. Blue iris will simulate flowing water, and a band around the base of the float will be created with 7,000 roses of six different types.
For such efforts, the association annually raises about $125,000, said Wiedenbeck.
The idea for "3-2-1 Dig!" started as a concept by JPL mechanical engineer Randy Bartos, inspired by an Internet video in which construction equipment performed elaborately choreographed movements.
The next step was "taking that idea and coming up with a concept that would fit the theme of the parade and the kind of action we wanted to have on the float," explained Jacob Maitless, a concept artist who first began working with the association six years ago as a student at Art Center College of Design. "We always like to do whimsical, humorous floats that are very animated," he said.
As a crew with Azusa-based Artistic Entertainment Concepts sprayed foam Wednesday, 28-year volunteer Carol Imbriale welded wire together to create the float's gopher critters, Treasurer Betty Jones updated the books and former association President Robert Neilson studied a steel-frame sketch.
"We wouldn't be down here except for one thing: It really is a lot of fun," said Neilson.
Those who wish to volunteer to help build the "3-2-1 Dig!" float can register at lcftra.org.