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Shawn Qualley is known for his hand-painted business signs, like this one at Unique Designs, a business he helps run with relatives in Hawley. He is spending three weeks in Maryland helping make floats for the presidential inaugural. And yes, he gets to drive one. Photo by Heidi Shaffer, The Forum

DL sign-painter working on Obama inauguration floats in Maryland

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Shawn Qualley is helping to make history -- literally and figuratively.

The Detroit Lakes man is in Maryland, helping his former employer create floats for the presidential inaugural parade, which will take place Jan. 21.

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"They've done every inaugural (parade) since Truman," he said of Hargrove, Inc. "It's a huge exhibits, events type place, and part of what they used to do in the past is parade floats."

Qualley worked for Hargrove, Inc. for three or four years in the graphics department, he said, when he and his family lived in Maryland. Originally from Detroit Lakes, they moved back to Detroit Lakes a few years ago and now run the business Unique Designs, Gifts and Signs in Hawley with his mother-in-law Kathy Reidberger.

A rare talent these days, Qualley hand-paints signs for a living.

"We were out here (in Maryland) to see my daughter, I stopped in to say hello and they asked if I could come back to help with the floats because they have nine new floats for the inaugural parade this year," he said.

The planning behind the job isn't the battle, though. The rush to get them done in time for the parade is where the crunch comes in. Once an inaugural committee approves the floats, the business has about two weeks to produce everything.

"That's why this company gets the contract every year -- because not everyone can handle that kind of timeframe," he said. "It's all hands on deck when they get the go-ahead."

This week, the workers will be putting in some extra hours since the parade is only a week away.

Qualley has been working on carving and painting projects for the floats.

"There's a liberty bell on one of the floats and I repainted all that and made it look as authentic as I could."

He also worked on a Martin Luther King, Jr., float and carved out Diamond Head Mountain for a Hawaiian float.

"It's a huge-scale thing. One aisle of the building houses all 13 of the floats. I'm used to working out of my little shop at Unique Designs there, so it's quite a big difference," he said.

Not only is Qualley creating the floats, he will be driving one in the parade, as well.

"I'm getting cleared by the CIA, or whoever takes care of that. I had to get a background check and send in pictures, so I guess I'm elected to drive one of them," he said. "It'll be an experience, anyway."

Qualley said this is a good time of the year for this experience, since he's "rebooting" for the summer and his schedule was open enough to enjoy his 22 days in Maryland.

As an added bonus, he's gotten some extra time to visit his daughter while there.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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