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How to Build a Parade Float

Building a parade float can be intimidating the first time. With our simple, easy-to-follow guide, you'll have all the basic knowledge you need to build the best parade float in town.

Starting Out

Your first step is to find an appropriate vehicle. Parade floats may be built on trailers, trucks, cars, wagons — almost anything that can move — and most floats take advantage of a vehicle with a flat platform, such as a truck bed or trailer. A float built on a trailer will likely be pulled by a small tractor or truck, and these should be incorporated into the decorative scheme of the float.

Your next concern is a place for construction. If several floats are to be built, the construction site should be a large, open building with doors large enough that floats can exit without hazard.

A space without roof support posts is preferable for taller floats. Airplane hangars are ideal for large, elaborate floats, and lumberyard buildings usually offer ample space and a good supply of framework materials.

Creating a Shape

Too often, the intended visual effect is diminished because a float's design sticks too closely to the practical outlines of the vehicle at its base. Instead, try to mask the underpinnings completely by varying the overall shape, working in curves and swirls, and developing an imaginative topside form.

Almost every float has a main focal point: the place where personalities ride, where a massive emblem is mounted, or where an animated figure goes through its paces. The upper levels of the float should be shaped to lead the eye to this point.

Floats should be symmetrical, since sidewalk-bound onlookers will only get to see them from one side. Be sure to make allowances for wheel clearance, suspension and turning radius. Inspect the parade route beforehand to consider any bumps or depressions that might cause your float's overhangs to scrape the street.

If your float is on a truck, keep flammable material away from the exhaust line. You might want to rig an extension to carry exhaust beyond the overhang, or wrap any exposed exhaust pipe to avoid potential burns.

Once you have established your design, build an outline with plain, light lumber, cut into shape and fastened securely with nails or bolts to the trailer bed. When your basic shape is set, plywood or wallboard should be securely mounted to create a flat surface. If your float will feature a human element, platforms must be included and you must provide unobtrusive braces for float riders to hold on to. If several riders populate the float, they should be placed at different levels, highest at the rear and center.

Next, round out the shape by forming curves and hollows. If your float has exposed surfaces made from wood, plaster or any other material, they should be painted before any finishing material is added. You could also sprinkle glitter over the freshly painted surfaces to add a sparkle effect.

Finishing Touches

Now attach finishing materials to complete the look.

The word "float" refers to the illusion of floating, and this is created by lining the bottom edge with fringe, which should hide the wheels and flow gently in the breeze.

Floral sheeting is a longstanding parade float essential, which is made of a layer of shiny vinyl material with flower-shaped petals glued to it for texture. To outline and emphasize shapes, garland twist can be used. You could also wrap objects in vinyl film for color and decoration.

All of these materials can be attached to your float using a variety of methods. Two-sided tape works wonders, and hook-and-loop fasteners can be used if you're planning on reusing the frame you built for multiple events. If you're attaching materials directly to a vehicle, magnetic strips are perfect since they won't leave residue behind when removed.

All of these materials and fasteners can be purchased right here at Victory Corps.

If you've followed these instructions, and planned around any potential obstacles you might face, then your float should now be ready for its grand procession.

The information in this article comes from Vaughn's Parade and Float Guide by L.F. Vaughn.

A Brief History of Parades

Celebration is a fundamental aspect of humanity, and we can find evidence of this dating back to the beginning of recorded history. The parade has been linked to this for almost as long.

The first recorded reference to a parade might be a quote from Khakaure Senusret III, an Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled in the nineteenth century B.C. The quotation is a reference to the Abydos Passion Play, which dates back to around 2500 B.C. This religious play included a celebratory procession, or, as we would call it in modern times, a parade.

Evidence of parades can also be found across ancient civilizations such as Babylon, Greece and Rome, and parades were a mainstay in Medieval Europe.

The first parade in the United States was the procession of George Washington in 1789, in which Washington was boated to New York to become the first President of the United States. Ten years earlier, when the colonies were still under British occupation, approximately 400 Irish soldiers marched in New York and shortly thereafter abandoned Britain to join the American Revolution. This march became the beginning of a longstanding tradition, the St. Patrick's Day parade.

By the 1950s, the world's largest manufacturer of parade float kits and supplies was Vaughn Displays, Inc., which was later renamed to Victory Corps. To this day, Victory Corps maintains its legacy as a world-class provider of parade supplies.

The information in this article comes from Vaughn's Parade and Float Guide by L.F. Vaughn.

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