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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A Float for the Rose Parade

By Vicki E. Jones

The year was 1966, and I was a sophomore at Cal Poly Pomona (then California Polytechnic State College, Pomona, California). A sister campus, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, was hundreds of miles away.

In spite of the distance between the two campuses, every year the two schools would coordinate their efforts and design and build a float to enter in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade that would take place on New Year’s Day. Work would begin in January of the year before the parade was to take place and take an entire year.

The 1966 float interpreted the parade theme of It’s a Small World as A Child’s World and consisted of a gigantic Puff the Magic Dragon – depicted as a huge dragon, humorous in appearance, with a gigantic fat belly.

It would waddle along upright, hind feet moving along the ground with “smoke” spurting out of its nostrils and small front legs holding a little boy – a live real little boy – as it moved forward with the music Puff The Magic Dragon, Peter Paul and Mary version, playing as it moved along.

All of the work on each year’s float was done by student volunteers. Cal Poly was blessed with engineering students of all kinds, a poultry unit to supply chicken wire (fencing of galvanized wire in a hexagonal pattern) for framework, a horticulture unit to grow and supply the flowers and other natural materials that were needed to cover the float by the morning of the parade, and more.

Student volunteers would have to stay up all night during the night of December 31, 1965, gluing flowers and flower petals all over the float and complete everything by the time the floats had to line up for the parade. I was one of those volunteers.

If we finished our work early, we were expected to help our competitors finish gluing materials on their floats. The spirit was one of cooperation and good will.

The Tournament of Roses (or Rose Parade) in Pasadena, California required covering the float completely with natural materials including flowers, seeds and other plant materials, and some of it had to be roses or rose petals.

The Cal Poly float would move because an old vehicle was underneath, providing the means of moving our dragon along. Computer animation was still off in the future as were computer components for the floats.

Our float would compete with professionally-built floats that cost sponsoring companies hundreds of thousands of dollars to build or more - even way back in 1966.

The day of the Tournament of Roses Parade dawned and it was sunny and bright, although a bit cold. A friend and I sat on the sleeping bags we had laid out by the curb along the parade route. The floats would soon be rolling by. We were exhausted but elated that we could help Cal Poly prepare the float for the parade. Cal Poly had entered a float every year since 1949.

In the end, it was all worth it. Puff the Magic Dragon was well-received and the judges were so impressed that the float won the much-coveted Judges’ Prize for Best Display of Humor. The float had defeated many fabulous professionally-built floats to win this prize.

As of January 1, 2011, Cal Poly had won a total of 47 prizes for its floats in the Tournament of Roses Parade over the years - and all of it done with student volunteers at a cost that was a fraction of that of floats produced by professional companies.

I don’t remember the floats prior to 1966 because I entered Cal Poly during the spring term of 1965, so the floats I recall are the 1966 float and the floats Cal Poly has entered in the Rose Parade since then.

No matter how impressive the subsequent floats were, though, there was never a float that impressed me as much as the 1966 float - Puff the Magic Dragon waddling down the street with “smoke” coming out of its nostrils, a little boy riding in its arms, and the sounds of Peter, Paul and Mary singing Puff the Magic Dragon coming out of its sound system.

Cal Poly 1966 Rose Parade Float_Puff the Magic DragonVJones

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I remember seeing that fabulous float from Denver on New Years Day. It's always such a treat to see something accomplished by "regular folks" that beats out the pros!
We are truly a nation of savvy amateurs that make our country great.
Well written!

I loved the picture of the float you volunteers put together. Just shows what ingenuity minds alone can do without computers and all our modern gimmicks.

I have always wanted to be involved in the flowers on a float! You were lucky to be able to work on that.

What a wonderful recollection. I must have seen photos of the float in the newspapers since I was living in Seattle and at the UW at that time.

I don't remember it, but your story brought it all back. The float was so creative, so well put together. Your dedication and hard work brought pleasure and joy to many, many people.

Thank you, everyone. Yes, I was lucky to be able to work on the float. Back then, everyone was so trusting that all I had to do was walk in and say that I was with Cal Poly and was there to glue on flower petals. I can't say I did much compared to those who put in an entire year designing it and building it!

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