Anatomy of a homecoming float

Homecoming at my high school usually meant two things for creative dorks like me: the talent show skit and the homecoming float designed on behalf of my class.

Homecoming at my high school usually meant two things for creative dorks like me: the talent show skit and the homecoming float designed on behalf of my class.

They usually shared one trait: a complete lack of preparation despite the best intentions.

The casting, writing of the script and rehearsal for the skits usually spanned about two hours on the eve of the show. Enough said.

The floats were a bit more planned, if only by necessity. You just can't throw together a parade float in two hours; unless, of course, you're my wife's New York Mills class reunion float, where you just need someone to bring the hay bales and someone to buy the beer.

Since Wadena-Deer Creek High School is bringing back the homecoming parade this year, I've been thinking of those float-building days.


Floats have five distinct elements, at least as we built them. First, you had to secure a hay rack. Second, a skeleton usually made of lumber would be constructed. Next came the chicken wire, an easily molded medium that held the basic shape of the float. Fourth, there was the paper mache, which covered the lumber and chicken wire -- the skin on the skeleton, if you will. Fifth, there was the paint, making sure the gray beast sprang to life with color. A sixth, but secret component of the process, was demolition. That was the fun part, attacking our glorious creation with sledgehammers before we returned the hay rack to the understanding farmer. It was secret because my friends and I didn't want or need any helpers for this step.

As audio nerds, my friends and I usually found a way to add sound and/or music to the float -- usually some boppy Beach Boys music or something. And I'm not talking about a little boom box here.

"Yeah, but where are we going to vent the gases from the portable generator?" someone would ask.

We, of course, found out the hard way you should vent the gases from the portable generator.

"Portable generator?" you ask?

Of course. How else are you going to power the huge amplifiers, mixing board and CD players you've stashed away inside the float? I mean, something has to drive those 15-inch subwoofers, silly!

One oddity which seemed perfectly logical at the time was that floats were usually built to the Homecoming football theme. The theme involved what our team was going to do to the other team, making some fun play on their name, such as "Ride the Green Wave." That was for the East Grand Forks Green Wave.

Here's the odd part: the floats we built that year would be big, green waves. It was like erecting a huge monument to our opponents. Shouldn't we have built floats honoring our own teams?


Of course, otters are notoriously hard to get just right with chicken wire and paper mache.

So we'd chug along, my friends and I usually stowed away in the bowels of a green wave with surf songs blaring far too loudly. When the parade judges announced our class got third place for our float, we'd let out a big cheer, despite the fact that only four classes had floats, and one of the floats was a bunch of kids sitting on hay bales.

Our most successful float, and the only winning one our class built, was a huge plunger and toilet built on the theme that our team would be "flushing" the other team that year. It stood about 15 feet high, and demolition was a lot easier than you'd think.

As the parade route ended that year, we hung a right off the main road and decided we'd take back streets on the return trip, mostly since our top speed was 10 miles per hour.

As we crossed under the railroad bridge, maximum height 10 feet, 4 inches, I heard someone faintly say, "Uh, hey ..." just before the plunger and toilet had their heads ripped off. Those "maximum clearance" signs, we learned, were pretty accurate.

Luckily, that year, I wasn't riding in the bowels of the float as it was razed by the bridge. Also, lucky for us, the judges had already proclaimed our float the winner before the run-in with the bridge.

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