2011 Float

Building a larger-than-life gingerbread village on wheels, full of sugar and spice and everything nice

Christmas floats are a contradiction: whimsical and delightful, yet filled with unique challenges and intense pressure in construction. This float, built for the 2012 Greenville Poinsettia Christmas Parade, began with a design team brainstorming session. We came away with the idea of building a gingerbread village; this was brought to life in a marvelous illustration by the talented Jessica Lindsey of Jessica Ellen Studio.

Transforming an artist’s concept into a giant, lightweight, portable, disposable, two-sided structure is substantially difficult. I moved into Sketchup to plan it out, creating not just the shape but the engineering and construction details. I decided to do the major work in EPS foam from ACH Foam Technologies in Atlanta. ACH will cut foam to size, so I modeled the 3D structure with dimensioned blocks. This enabled me to place a foam order of exactly what I needed, in the sizes I needed, resulting in minimal waste.

We projected the model onto foam sheets and used hot knives to cut and sculpt the pieces. A 50-gallon drum of PVA glue from The Reynolds Company was used both for assembly and for coating the entire structure, giving it much more strength. DOW Great Stuff provided additional adhesive, but was especially used to add detail like the “icing.”

Hidden inside the largest house were two Yamaha EF2000IS inverter generators — redundancy, learned from previous float problems — driving LED and CFL lights and a sound system centered around a Yamaha EMX512C. A smoke generator was included and piped to each little chimney.

Finally, paint and glitter and decoration were added, speakers placed, and banners hung on the sides. Start to finish, construction happened in less than two weeks.

Parade floats are, by their nature, impractical projects. They seem even more so when you realize they are only used for an hour or two, then disposed of. And yet, standing on the side of the road with tens of thousands of festive observers, I find that a great float provides immeasurable pleasure.

The “gingerbread” float