Float Building 101

This page is dedicated to the Men and Woman of the 135th Signal Battalion in St. Joseph, Missouri

    In 1991 I was transferred to the 135th Signal Battalion as a Unit Clerk and Training Specialist. I quickly tried to hide my artistic endeavors from the commander, but my reputation as a Graphics Illustrator caught up with me again. I guess the longer you do something the harder it becomes to keep it a secret. After being approached by my commander and the leader of the Family Support Group (Mrs. Audrey Paine), a concept was born to honor the Desert Storm veterans returning home. The city of Saint Joseph, Missouri hosted a parade with the theme “Salute to Veterans” This is a diary of steps taken to accomplish the Signal Battalion's answer to that salute.


    After much though, and the help of a $1,500 dollar prize to the first place entry submitted in the parade, the gauntlet had been thrown. But what could we dream up as an entry submission?  Many concepts were put together, and the theme we came up with was a “Stormin Norman Float” (The Desert Storm Field Commander); for those of you who aren’t familiar with military syntax that’s General. H. Norman Schwarzkopf. To this day I am so glad the Elvis idea failed. And off we went, led by yours truly (Essex), and fearlessly pushed by Mrs. Paine. Henceforth float building 101.

Step One

Thematic Development
A Volunteer Crew

Note: A lot of clay, plaster, newspaper, chicken wire, paint, brushes, photographic studies, researchers, support framing and people to go get all that stuff..




Any artist must have a primary assistant; in my case it came by way of Chief Warrant Officer 4 Larry Paine, you may notice a name connection with the fearless one. Husband and wife teams work well in these scenarios; one is usually not too tired to drive home, and they usually show up together for work.



As you may notice in the background a second float is coming to life; we will discuss that later. To your immediate right is my leader in this matter (Audrey Paine and one of her assistants Captain Mike Riggs). There were many parts in constructing this phenomenon, and the hat for Schwarzkopf was just one part of this total motif.



Family Support Group Leader before retirement, and one of the friendliest people I ever met.




After using up most of the materials available in St. Joseph and about two weeks nonstop work; you can finally started to see Norman materialize.  (From a hump of plaster and clay, to a big hump of plaster and clay.)


Remember, people see the float coming and going in a parade; the front can be just as important as the back. Clay reliefed painted map to scale of the Middle East; two inked dot matrix images of a Cobra Helicopter, and Schwarzkopf, and the names of each Missouri Army National Guard Military Police company deployed from Shield to Storm.



Norman's hat in it's final stages; without the stars at this juncture.

Materials: Canvas on cardboard and painted with acrylics. Captain Riggs is not painting by the numbers.



Three weeks later, and no more clay left in St. Joseph, Missouri. The uniform is constructed of basic canvas cloth, acrylic paint and cardboard. The face is a combination of a wood support structure, with an initial and supplemental base of chicken wire. A mix of a plaster and newspaper foundation and clay relief spreads completely over the frontal, sides and back of the head. Then a Fork Lift pallet onto a flatbed trailer. (That's it) pretty simple.



Full frontal view



Parade Day





Desert Storm


SPC Darrell Coy

CPT Riggs

Float Driver

There it is, float building 101,  P.S. The Family Support Group won first and second prizes. Remember that float with the liberty bell? The map on the back of the float was donated to the Military History Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri.

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