California Polytechnic State University’s “Road to Reclamation” float was poised to make heads turn on Monday morning, Jan. 2, on the 5.5-mile route for the Rose Parade.
The stunning multilayered naturescape was lined up behind only one other float – that of presenting sponsor Honda, which has opened the parade for the last 13 years.
Cal Poly’s towering animated float is impressive in and of itself, but even more so when one considers the fact that it is the only student built float in the entire parade.
Students manage the budget, design the layout, manufacture the components, engineer the animation and motor, and carry out all decorations. It’s a year-long process that takes a small army of volunteers and countless hours of work.
This year’s design was dreamed up by Baldwin Hills native Benjamino Cruz, who served as construction chair and has the honor of driving the float.
“Thoughts? I’m tired, excited, and incredibly proud,” said Cruz as he waited to roll onto the parade route Monday morning. “Can’t wait to show off what we’ve made”
The 55-foot float features whimsically large snails that are animated to move their heads and travel on the float, a dainty trio of lady bugs that flap their wings, and a collection of colorful giant mushrooms. The creatures are perched atop a fallen tree branch, which represents regeneration and natural regrowth as a nod to the parade theme of “Turning the Corner.”
As a graduate of Pasadena’s Marshall Fundamental High School, Cruz has fond memories of camping out on Colorado Ave. before parade day. He also has dreams of becoming an entertainment engineer, so it was only natural that he joined the Rose Float program when he enrolled at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Cruz is a fifth year mechanical engineering major and music minor and this is also his fifth year working on a float.
“Pretty immediately I fell in love with the program and so from the first year on I climbed the ranks from just a participant, to a mechanism lead, to assistant chair, and finally to construction chair,” he said.
Cruz said he loves applying what he learns in the engineering classroom to the float’s construction and design.
“How are you going to make it move? How are you going to make the movement look natural? How are you going to keep the float running parade day and not overheat under three inches of insulation foam?” said Cruz. “There are so many so many interesting engineering problems that we have to solve and we have to solve them in such a way so that nobody even knows they’re there.”
The Cal Poly float is a collaboration between students at Cal Poly SLO and Cal Poly Pomona. Cal Poly Pomona Construction Chair Logan Hauptman also played a pivotal role in getting the float parade ready, Cruz said, and is one of one of three operators riding unseen below the float shell.
“I could not have done any of this without my entire team. A lot of times all I had to do was give them a general direction and they would just run with it and blow my mind every single time,” Cruz said. “Float building is such a team effort and I wish all of them could get an interview because they all deserve it.”
The students face a big challenge in building the float using two teams living over two hundred miles apart.
Construction is completed at Pomona given its closer proximity to Pasadena. This means that almost every weekend of fall semester Cal Poly SLO students wake up at 5 a.m. drive three hours to Pomona, work all day and then drive back.
Another early wake up call is warranted for parade day when the final touches of preparation take place before dawn.
Still, it’s all worth it, Cruz said, as there is nothing that compares to the energy and excitement of parade day, nor the sweet satisfaction of a well deserved victory nap.