How To Drive A Float? (Hint: It Takes A Lot of Help)

South Pas resident and float driver Steve Fillingham stands next to the city’s “Victory At Last” float after completing the Rose Parade route on Wednesday. Photos by Skye Hannah

It takes a village to raise a float, and that teamwork extends to its navigation as it delicately cruises across Pasadena to the delight of onlookers.

Wednesday’s Rose Parade was the maiden voyage in the South Pas float driver’s seat for Steve Fillingham, a 54-year city resident and member of the construction crew. Fillingham said that piloting the float was “smooth sailing,” with only a few turns to make it from Orange Grove Boulevard, down Colorado Boulevard and to the end at Victory Park.

But his view was limited to a small rectangle covered with mesh at the center front of the float, so he relied on assistance from spotters Diane Giles and Lisa Henderson, who were tucked into the side corners at the front. He also had a backup in Andrew Hunter, who will take up the wheel next year. Everyone relies on one another to make sure the process goes off without a hitch.

Earning the driver’s seat for South Pasadena’s float is not a walk in the park -— it’s earned with dedication. Fillingham joined the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses float committee three years ago and soon found himself on the construction crew. This year, he was involved with just about every aspect of the construction from start to finish, from woodworking and welding to steelwork and decorating. It’s his second time in a parade float, after assisting with the navigation of a previous one.

“It’s great camaraderie and it’s fun to go up and meet people and work with different people,” said Fillingham.

After entering a well-hidden door on the port side of the float, Fillingham got into the compact driver’s cabin after crouching through a passage between beams and wooden floorboards. In the tight space, every motion counts, and he said the hard wheels made for a sometimes jostling ride.

Lisa Henderson, one of Fillingham’s “spotters,” shows the driving area of the float.

“The spotters were in tighter situations,” said Fillingham. “You hit a road reflector and this thing sends you about a foot up in the air.”

“It’s like hitting a speed bump at 50 mph,” Henderson added with a laugh.

Henderson said her favorite part of being in the float on parade day is the up-close view of people’s reactions to the spectacle of the team’s creation.

“Just seeing all the faces,” said Henderson. “Everyone’s just waving and excited.”

As for next year’s Rose Parade, Fillingham has his sights set on forging ahead with building another float and continuing to forge relationships in the community.

“I’m looking forward to next year and the group of people,” said Fillingham.

Paul Abbey Tribute On SP’s Float

For those who watched the float pass by, its tailgate featured a turtle tribute to a special teammate.

“Sheldon the Turtle” was designed by Paul Abbey, a South Pasadena resident and dedicated volunteer on the city’s floats over the years before he died in September at age 66.

The turtle was not in line with the rest of the float’s theme — “Victory At Last,” a tribute to women’s suffrage — but it was added after judging was completed as a nod to what Abbey meant to the city and team.

“We just wanted to give a little tribute to him,” said Fillingham.