It’s 4:30 a.m. and the temperature has plunged into the 30s when the Cal Poly Universities Rose Float is finally in position for the 128th Rose Parade. The four-member team that will operate the float along the 5.5-mile route tries to grab some sleep.
They are Cal Poly Pomona’s Ryan Martin, the driver and a senior majoring in electrical engineering, and Jason Mclean, the drive-engine operator and a senior mechanical engineering student. From Cal Poly San Luis Obispo are Sara Novell, an observer who is also operating the secondary brakes, and Kendall Searing, the animation operator.
The day before, the float performed flawlessly during judging. Although the animation engine quit minutes before, the team was able to restart it and show the float in all of its glory. The 27-foot-high float with three chameleons was stunning in its vibrant colors. All of the animations looked great. The three chameleons moved and eyed their surroundings.
That night, it had taken hours for all the floats to get into position. During the process, the team faced its second challenge. The drive engine wouldn’t restart. While McLean was running through the checklist, the crew called for a tow. Fortunately, when they gave the engine one last try, it started.
“We came to the consensus that because we ran the engine for a short period of time, one float length, the propane was not given ample time to vaporize, and it froze in the fuel line,” Martin said.
At 6:30 a.m., the students conducted a last check of ‘A New Leaf,’ testing the animation. Almost everything worked perfectly. The giant chameleons’ eyes rotated. Heidi, the largest chameleon looked side to side, and her stripes changed color. But, they couldn’t get Chomper, the purple chameleon, to open and close his mouth, and the dragonfly wings didn’t move.
Rose Float team members have been working 16- to 20-hour days in the final push on campus and during Deco Week as more than 60,000 flowers and other natural material were attached to the float.
At 7:30 a.m., the crew climbed back into the float. Martin, positioned under a leaf on the right front, can see straight ahead and 90 degrees to his right. Prior to driving this year’s float, the largest vehicle he’s driven is a large pickup. Driving a 52-foot-long float with a joystick is more than a little different.
As the float inched up to the official parade start, the animation engine started stuttering.
“We all agreed that it would eventually die, so we thought the best course of action would be to shut it down and restart it before the TV cameras and the Cal Poly section to make sure it was working,” McLean said.
While moving slowly toward Colorado Boulevard, Searing was able to crawl deeper inside the float to switch batteries and see if the problem was battery-related.
“Initially, it was turning,” Martin said, “but it was not firing up. After several tries the engine was no longer turning … the starter motor had died. Once we realized that, the operators understood there would not be (any) hydraulic animation.”
Fortunately, the chameleons’ eyes were electronically powered. To get those online, Searing was able to attach the power cord to a long rod and pass it through a two-inch space to McLean. With some body contortion, McLean was then able to plug the cord into a power source run off the drive engine. For most of the parade route, the chameleons are able to eye their environment to the delight of the crowd.
“The best part was driving past the Cal Poly section [and] seeing all of my teammates cheer and look so proud at what they had accomplished,” Martin said. “I am extremely proud of what we accomplished.”
McLean enjoyed “seeing the final product in all its glory, and just stepping back and watching the crowds admire it. For me, the icing on the cake is when people ask questions about the process and realize how much work goes into the float. Their level of appreciation skyrockets.”