Stop & Smell the Roses

Stop & Smell the Roses
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Spray Foam Magazine – When spraying a building or partaking in something a little more creative, all contractors appreciate that SPF is serious business. This was also the case when entering a float into the historic Pasadena Tournament of Roses, famous ‘Rose Parade.’ The pressure was on for SPF to perform at its best while millions of spectators watched the spectacle. The Spray Foam Magazine team (SFMT) caught up with a squad who came together to help with the SPF advice and application on the Cal Poly Universities’ ‘students float,’ which ultimately claimed the ‘Extraordinaire Trophy’ in the 134th Tournament of Roses Parade. 

Since 1890, the Tournament of Roses has featured in America’s New Year Celebration, bringing the traditions of the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game to Pasadena, California, and the world for nearly 130 years. The competition is immense and although the floats are creative works, the history, pride, and utter love of creating these floats is what shines through with a deep-rooted passion for being part of history and a special event.

This year’s 2023 Rose Parade float theme was “Turning the Corner,” celebrating the unlimited potential that each new year brings. The parade featured four types of entries: floral-decorated floats entered by a participating corporation, nonprofit organization, or municipality, equestrian units, bands, and Tournament of Roses entries. There were only two float entries in the parade that were student floats.

The process to create the ‘Road to Reclamation’ Float launched last spring when teams from Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo worked hundreds of hours to make the giant float come to life. The students first took a small scene in nature, featuring snails, and blew it up to gigantic proportions. The float looked like something out of a page of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The students wanted the whimsical illustration of the regenerative power of nature to reflect the end of one phase of life delivering to the next and making spectators smile.

Near the front of the 55-foot float, a snail devours a green leaf. Further up on an arched section of a downed branch, a snail mom watches her baby hanging underneath. On another part of the branch, more baby snails are chasing each other. Towering 25 feet above this scene, perched atop a large flat mushroom cap, another gastropod watches over the forest diorama that includes a trio of ladybugs daintily airing out their wings. The attention to detail on the float came together to create a larger-than-life picturesque ecosystem.

More than 20,000 linear feet of welded pencil steel provide the foundation for the base shape, the log, snails and other design elements, said Pomona team design chair Michael Sturman, a construction engineering and management student. The University students chose SPF as the preferred material, to create the base of the float due to its flame- retardant properties, being easy to shape and bonding to surfaces very securely.

Each university team-built half of the float at their campus, bringing them together a few weeks before Thanksgiving, with both teams working together to get ready for the spray foam application. All materials and labor were donated for this project. Will Lorenz, President of General Coatings, has been donating the foam for this event for 20 years through various companies he was with. Now with General Coatings, he kept the Cal Poly float close to his heart. Steve Goold of General Coatings Manufacturing Corp. (GCMC) emphasized, “GCMC is honored to be a small part of the pinnacle Rose Parade event by providing our spray foam as the canvas for these amazingly talented Cal Poly student engineers and designers to express their talents and gifts in award winning floats.”


A Cal Poly Alumni, Jim Doose, is a long-time chemist in the spray foam business and the first person to suggest the use of spray foam on the float roughly 25 years ago. He had previously asked a spray foam contractor friend to install spray foam on the floats prior to GCMC taking part. Will Lorenz, a long-term spray foam industry veteran, kept spray foam present at the parade and working for GCMC made sure they were involved in this incredible event. For the last 5 years, Steve Goold has worked with Mike Wiltshire, from Wiltshire Urethane, one of the float’s applicators. Mike happens to be a Cal Poly Alumni. He became involved in the project since his father started spraying the floats over 25 years ago. His mother also worked for Cal Poly, so the connections to the university run deep with Mike too.

The Road to Reclamation theme encourages a deeper look at nature and how the end of one phase of life can bring opportunity for the next.

The university students chose SPF as the preferred material, to create the base of the float due to its flame-retardant properties, being easy to shape and bonding to surfaces very securely. The flower vials also needed to be inserted with foam after the crew helped create a canvas for the deco team to apply the beautiful flowers. Prior to the SPF application, the students did all the prep work, like covering the floor with plastic and hanging plastic from scaffold towers to catch any overspray, with the total spray area being 15 to 18m2.

The shape of the float was made of pencil steel over a chassis. The chassis has large solid rubber tires and two V8 engines: one to drive the float, and one to power the hydraulics. Cloth was attached to pencil steel with staples, so the spray foam crew could shoot the foam to the cloth backing and it attached itself to the wire.

They used a laser pointer to show the applicators where they wanted the foam to be built up to achieve the final shape. The students all wore PPE and were fully covered with eyewear, gloves, and respirators. Annie Doody served as the San Luis Obispo Cal Poly Rose President for the 2023 float, she stated, “Spray foam provided a sturdy base for our float- it made it safer to traverse the float, provided definition for different areas of it, and gave us a place to stick vials of flowers to create a veritable sea of floral.”

General Coatings Manufacturing Corp provided two types of closed-cell foam. One kit of wall foam was applied, to accept the vials, and half a kit of roofing foam on the top of the float so the students could walk on it. There were three spray foam applicators, Mike Wiltshire from Wiltshire urethane, Rusty Schrader of Allstate Spray Foam and Justin Taylor with Everest Coatings. They used a PMC P-25 hydraulic proportioner and a fusion gun with a 52/52 chamber for this project.

The crew had to be careful, due to certain areas being tight and difficult to access, but they combated these issues using their experienced foaming techniques. Applying the foam was roughly eight hours, which was a little longer than last year, but this float was more complex and challenging due to its multiple design factors. The float weighed 44,000 lbs., was 52 feet long, 18 feet wide and 25 feet tall. Half of the float was constructed at the Cal Poly University Rose Float Lab in San Luis Obispo, CA and then transported to Pasadena after the animation was installed.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, both teams, aided by scores of volunteers working in shifts, watched as the spray foam was applied. The float was then to be moved to the deco warehouse close to the parade to then be covered in a variety of floral blooms and other organic materials during what they call Deco Week.

The judged floats rolled down Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena on January 2 at the 2023 Rose Parade presented by Honda. with the jaws of spectators dropping at the site of these incredibly creative floats. The Cal Poly entry was the fourth in the lineup that includes 39 floats, 21 marching bands and 16 equestrian units and was awarded the Extraordinaire Trophy.

Participation in the parade is conceivably the highest-profile Cal Poly student project, due to its extensive international reach. Parade officials estimated at least 700,000 people watched the parade in person, and judging by the 2022 numbers, at least 28.5 million Americans and a worldwide audience estimated at 28 million watched it on TV with the 2023 event estimated to have even higher numbers.

The float team takes a break to capture a photo (from left to right) Ryan Ward, Quinn Akemon, Annie Doody, Saira Mapes, Mike Sturman, Alana Heinlein, Justin Taylor, Rusty Schrader, Mike Wiltshire, and Steve Goold.

The entire spray foam crew working on this incredible float, and all at General Coatings Manufacturing Corp. are extremely impressed with the students’ creativity, determination, and willingness to learn about spray foam. Together, student, sprayer and manufacturer proved that vision, skill, and hope led to a trophy-winning float.  

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