Float nearly ready to roll

When the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association's Rose Parade float makes its way down Colorado Boulevard on New Year's Day, hundreds of volunteers of all ages can say with pride that they helped make it happen.

Cheery swarms of teens and adults spent much of this week applying the finishing touches to "3-2-1 Dig!" — a lively floral landscape in which three full-motion animated construction machines work to build a playground under the watchful eyes of curious gophers.

More than 17,000 carnations are giving the moving machines their familiar bright yellow, 150 square feet of wheat grass is becoming healthy green lawn and ground seeds and beans are making for exposed dirt. Ground carrots are brightening orange safety cones. Blue irises are transforming into water, palm fiber becomes gopher fur, and multi-colored potatoes and a rice-cornmeal grout are coming together as lifelike stone walls.

In the middle of it all is longtime association volunteer and membership chair Sarah Marshall, whose job it is to coordinate the army of teens and adults who come together for the final float-decoration process — a weeklong blitz of biodegradable artwork that caps off a whole year of engineering, design and construction work to build the moving canvass.

"It gets a little more intense, but we're right on schedule," said Marshall, who attributes the group's 33 years of successful float building to volunteers who return year after year.

That the process is so much fun only helps, said Pat Foltyn, a 17-year veteran decorator.

"There's always something going on. I've become endeared to these wonderful people I see year after year," Foltyn said.

On Thursday morning, the float-building site under the freeway at the corner of Hampton Road and Foothill Boulevard is expecting five busloads of visitors — four from a special Tournament of Roses tour and another full of senior volunteers through the Road Scholar travel program, said Marshall.

Newcomers would do well to speak with volunteer Dwight Crumb, whose son Dustin was lead engineer for the float.

Crumb explained how float-makers must compensate for the varying thicknesses of decoration material — raising the seed-paved path so it'll appear flush with the wheat grass lawn, for example — and hide functional elements, such as frame supports and hydraulic cables, inside seemingly decorative features.

"It's that hidden stuff and understanding what kinds of things go into making the float work that I think makes it all so interesting," said Crumb.

The La Cañada float receives on-site judging Thursday and Friday afternoon before it's driven — at eight miles an hour, tops — east to Altadena and then south to the parade route, where in the morning La Cañada High School student Evanne Friedmann will reign over the festivities as this year's Rose Queen.

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