What does it take to turn a 72-foot flatbed truck into a tropical Christmas Safari?
Lodi's D&M Fabrication figured it took almost a million tiny lights, 5,000 zip ties, plenty of wood and paint, duct tape, a little sticky bubble gum, a surfboard, six palm trees, grass skirts, as many pink flamingos as you can stand, beach umbrellas and thick rope to hang on the dock.
D&M's Tropical Christmas float was No. 69 of dozens of floats to drive through darkened streets in the Downtown Lodi Parade of Lights on Thursday night.
While Lodi residents sitting in rain-soaked lawn chairs enjoyed the sparking lights of each float, only the float builders knew the work it took to get their rolling artwork to the main event. From woodwork to figuring out how to maneuver the huge rig through tricky Downtown, there's more to building a float than many might think.
Though staff members planned the float in advance, D&M didn't start building their float until Monday, only four days before their creation would be unveiled.
The first step was deciding what would haul their float. They opted to use D&M Fabrication's transportation specialist Jeff Pyle's truck.
"This is my baby, my brand new 2008 Peterbilt truck," said Pyle, who was Thursday's float driver.
Cutting out the wooden waves and faux beach sand were the first steps. Chad Hughes was the main woodworker. On Monday night, Hughes, Pedro Ochoa and shop foreman Adam Woods figured out how they would attach the short surfboard to the waves.
While Ochoa and others worked on building the rippled sand and circling waves, owner Michelle Weisz and Jamie Weisz did the shopping. Though some supplies were left over from past years, they bought most of their grass skirts and tropical accents at Orchard Supply Hardware and Wal-Mart.
On Tuesday, a beach house and a handmade lifeguard perch were ready for painting.
While Woods oversaw 45 workers at D&M Fabrication, a company that makes sprinkler systems for large buildings, he juggled work time on the float. On Tuesday, staff stayed until 10 p.m., working on the float.
They worked at a steady pace, but realized details are important. They took time to paint and apply window trimming, and even drilled holes in the planters to stick the metal legs of the flamingos.
By Wednesday afternoon, the float was nearing completion. The biggest concern seemed to be where exactly to hang a colorful stuffed parrot. As Jamie Weisz walked back and forth, trying different spots, other crew members stood on the floor offering their direction. Eventually, they chose to hang it from the eave of the house.
Strong planning and smart building skills proved to be key in D&M's tropical float. The only main concern was not having enough lights, which they fixed by buying dozens of extra boxes. They hoped it wouldn't rain, but each person marked their spots. Jamie Weisz called the beach chair in the front, and Woods claimed the beach house, where he would be completely covered.
But Pyle also worried about driving the truck. He wasn't quite sure how he would get his rig through the small streets and around the corners near Rose Street. Knowing that, Woods planned on getting in the float line at 4:30 p.m., almost 3 hours before the kick off the event.
Though it took people away from the sprinkler production and cost about $1,000 to build the float, D&M management agreed it was worth being involved.
"The Light Parade has turned into a great community event. It fills the void of not having the Grape Festival Parade," said owner Byron Weisz. "It brings the community together."