Happy Birthday America! 244 years since our independence, we thank our forefathers who fought for our freedom and make us proud to be Americans. To celebrate, taking a day off to have a barbecue, watching fireworks, and marveling at those amazing parade floats have become tradition. But have you ever wondered how the parade floats we love so much actually work?
What are Parade Floats?
Parade floats are essentially platforms which were built to be towed by trucks or built right on top of the truck’s frame. These platforms are designed to suit the theme of the parade they’ll be driven in and hide the mechanism it is attached to. The name “Float” was used because the design seems to be floating above the street as it rolls by.
The bigger and more intricate the design, the better. Some of the iconic events where floats take center stage are the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Rose Parade in Pasadena and the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where about 2-million people flock to the streets to watch larger than life parade floats drive by.
What drives a Parade Float?
There are two commonly seen parade floats—the towed type and the driven type. As the name suggests, the towed parade float is built on a chassis with wheels and is towed by a truck from the front. Full-size pick-up trucks are typically used to tow, but this is ultimately dependent on the final weight of the float. The heavier the float, the stronger the truck’s engine needs to be.
The driven parade float is built by first assembling the chassis, followed by the engine, transmission, and the axles. Only when these are installed can the builder start on the engine controls, steering system, and the tires and wheels. A gasoline truck engine mated to an automatic gearbox with a wide gear ratio is used to propel the parade float. The main goal for this parade float’s power plant is to stay within the average speed of 2.5-mph without bogging down. To prevent any problems along the parade route, a large radiator is fitted to keep the engine from overheating, tires are filled with foam so they won’t encounter flats.
Who drives a Parade Float?
Hidden away from plain sight are the men and women that operate parade floats enclosed underneath the designed platform. It takes 3-5 people to fully operate a float during a parade. Much like a traditional truck, a parade float has a steering wheel, a gear selector, and a camera screen showing what is ahead in place of a windshield. Operators sit in close proximity to the engine making the cabin temperature very uncomfortable. The locations where the driver sits and spotters are located depends on the design of the float.
The longest and heaviest float to ever participate in the Rose Parade in Pasadena is a 120-foot long vehicle weighing 110,000-lbs powered by a Ford V-10 truck engine. It is no joke designing these floats and entering them into parade contests. Companies which sponsor these floats typically spend $50,000 upwards to $200,000. So when you see a float during your 4th of July festivities, try to see how they’re driving it around and give them a wave or a thumbs up to let them know they did a great job!