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Sequim’s most visible art piece rolls through town this weekend.
For 118 years, the Irrigation Festival’s royalty float has become a centerpiece of what Sequim represents and the people who live here. Each year, designers focus on the festival’s theme — this year “Dancing Through the Valley” — to create an inspired piece of art on four wheels.
Guy Horton has designed this year’s 1950s-themed float and conceptualized eight total floats over the years. His 1950s diner float is the featured entry at the Irrigation Festival Grand Parade, starting at noon, Saturday, May 11.
Horton said ideas begin flowing once the festival’s board of directors chooses a theme, more than a year in advance.
“I was driving home from Seattle one day and Bam! it hit me,” he said. “I got home and drew it up in five minutes. I talked to Lynn (Horton, royalty mom and his wife) about it and Deon (Kapetan, festival executive director) later and they liked the concept.”
At first the drawing is basic with stick figure princesses drawn over the design, but Horton said the concepts from the initial drawing don’t deviate much later on.
“There have even been a few floats drawn on bar napkins,” he said.
The float has been built on the same chassis for six years since an accident burned up the previous one. So for five years, volunteers have built a theme around a 1980s Ford Crown Victoria chassis.
Horton said a group got together to decide the basic dimensions for the chassis so that it would fit into a trailer to transport it to the many parades the royalty visit every year. Recently, they took off six inches vertically from the chassis to make an easier fit.
“It all has to fold up and fit inside the trailer (8 feet wide, 7 feet tall and 28 feet long) and the driver has to drive it in and get out easily,” Horton said.
“Last year’s float was 11 feet tall and 14½ feet wide, so we have to account for that. It’s like a big puzzle that you have to put together and take down.”
When designing any float, Horton said his primary thought is safety for the young women on it and the driver.
“Everything is designed so that if there is a brake failure or something is up high, everyone can be safe and get off easily,” he said.
“Plus there are float buddies (escorts who walk beside the float) at each parade who can help.”
Horton said they learned a lot about the float at the earlier Tacoma Daffodil Parade, making things easier to move and consolidate for the Irrigation Festival.
This year, Horton handed over construction to Dan Rigg and Guy Eldrege due to work commitments.
“I’m real proud of Dan and Guy,” he said.
“I fed them the product and consulted with them once a week. They’d take a picture and text it to me while I was in a different part of the country.”
Horton brought Rigg and Eldrege conceptual and architectural to-scale drawings, on which they offered suggestions throughout the process.
Rigg said one of the biggest concerns was making sure it fit in the trailer.
“The day we finished, the tires looked low and we found they were half of the pounds we needed. We filled them up and it lifted it up an inch or two, and we were already an inch too high with the height. We held our breath that first time, but it fit fine,” he said.
Hands-on work begins
Construction begins for next year’s float at the end of each parade cycle, usually the Issaquah Salmon Days in early October. The float is torn down to create a blank canvas.
Horton said they clean up the platform and paint it with a waterproof paint to prevent mold.
Last year, they narrowed the driver’s seat about seven inches for more room on the deck and to add more decorations.
The idea behind Sequim’s floats is to represent the town and its people along with the annual theme, Horton said.
Each parade’s judges are looking for certain specifications: flowers, animation, overall design and more.
The color of the royalty’s dresses influences the colors used on the float.
Horton’s goal is to be unique and dynamic, such as with last year’s theme “Where Water is Wealth,” for which he incorporated a large ditch that recycled water into the float’s design.
“We’ve been to parades where people have tried to do water and it’s a trickle,” Horton said.
Judges were impressed with the amount of water used. The same is true with new features on the themed float this year. They’ve already heard from judges that there are parts on the float they have never seen before.
Rigg said he and Eldrege stuck fairly closely to Horton’s design.
Once the chassis was painted, they worked on the wings that fold up and down.
For the flooring, Horton said he knew from the beginning he wanted the design to be monochromatic and reflect the 1950s theme by using checkered tiles.
Rigg said the flooring was the most difficult part because placing it at a 45-degree angle made it hard to line up, especially with the wings on the side.
Much of the work was done in the winter, too. Inside the barn where they worked was as cold as outside so the adhesive wouldn’t stick as well to the tile at first.
Adding festooning, fringe and streamers was the quickest part of the process, Rigg said.
“The decorations make the girls’ dresses pop,” Horton said. “They become the focal point of the float.”
A big part of the float’s glimmer is all of its LED lighting. The programmable lights come in thin strips, which the float makers plan to use for years to come.
“It really sets things off especially when you have that glow because at nighttime it takes on a whole other dimension,” Rigg said.
The float also incorporates two flat screen TVs, encased in waterproof glass, that loop 1950s dance videos and music.
Its metal backdrop showcases spinning records and the front has the festival’s logo in motion, too.
For the music, there are four speakers and two subwoofers for which Rigg said they spent extra time on building shells so that future designers can move the woofers wherever they are needed.
Horton said they reuse as much material as possible but themes change and so do the materials. “I don’t see a whole lot from this year’s float helping next year,” he said.
But they’ve made it modular and forward compatible for years to come with the chassis.
“It was the same shape year after year, so we’ve changed it up dramatically,” Horton said.
“The first thing is for the footprint to be different from year after year, so it’s not, ‘Here comes Sequim again.’”
“The pieces on the side can be adapted bigger or smaller, too.”
For his first year on lead, Rigg thinks it turned out great.
“I picked up on a few things and where to start,” he said. “A lot of things just start coming to you as you go along.”
For more on the festival, visit www.irrigationfestival.com.