Saturday, May 3, 2008

Wood Family Float for 2008

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LAST UPDATED 7 JUNE - scroll down...


This year's theme was announced a month ago... it is to be "AROUND THE WORLD".

We had a few thoughts as a family and decided that NEW ZEALAND would be great to do, since we went there for our family holiday last year and Emma's brother Adam and his family live there.

However, all we could come up with was Sheep, thermal pools and beautiful scenery. And lovely huge sticky pastries.

I couldn't face turning the trailer into a hot tub and the thought of making 6 sticky pastry costumes was a bit daunting so I decided to do an enormous Sheep, built on the battery powered Jeep.

I made the plans and it was going to look great.. the sticking point was how to get it to look woolly.

The Giant concrete Merino Sheep I saw in Australia many years ago looks a bit like a sheep but I realised that the key part of what makes a sheep look like a sheep is its woolly fleece. My attempt at building the shape may need all the help it can get in making it look sheepy, so I hunted out some suitable material.

Cotton wool was too expensive (and I hate the feel of it!). The only other thing I could find was loft insulation. Despite the pretty pictures, the actual stuff idn't white but a horrid dirty grey. It's ecological, see, so they don't bleach it.

The pretty white stuff has been bleached so is as environmentally friendly as a Chelsea Tractor. Oh, and it would cost me about £100 to cover my sheep.


I liked the idea of building a smoking volcano from Japan onto the Jeep, but wasn't sure about dressing us all up as Japanese people... a bit uneasy. Reminded me a bit of Black & White minstrels...


Anyway, with our sights set on the bottom part of the globe, we finally decided upon AUSTRALIA!

We are to focus on THE FLYING DOCTOR ... I'll create a plane on the Jeep and we can all be walking wounded patients...

Watch this space.

Well, I drew up the plans the other day and decided to base the plane on the Piper Tri-Pacer.

I wanted a plane that the flying doctors used, plus which had wings above the drivers' heads (Joshua and Daniel (6) are to share driving - the 2 mile walk is too far for them to walk on a hot day). The wing will shade them come rain or shine. The pics are from

I've got some of the wood from last year but I'll need to buy some more and a few screws etc... Time to sort out the loft and flog some rubbish on Ebay to fund it.

Success... sold three knackered old wheel trims from my car for £21; a plastic play kitchen for £25 and some old ink cartridges from a long defunct printer for £25, so the kitty is full!

Off to Homebase I go (10% day)...

MAY 2nd/3rd and 4th:

Sorted out the wood and got the Jeep into the back garden.


Laid out the rough plans. The wings and the tail are going to have to be removable, so I can transport it to the procession start line in our trailer.

Not sure about the length of the wings... Need to be longer.


Built the main frame pretty easily...


The front framework went on pretty well too. The nose section has to be solid, as it will house some sort of motor for a working propeller, and it'll need to balance the weight of the tail section.


The tail section was added. I did have a concern about how to make it detachable though... Put a plywood roof on the frame, to protect the drivers and support the wings.


...but came up with a nifty hook system. Seems to work a treat!


Trouble is, after 5 minutes, the tail started to droop, so I realised that I needed a tail wheel. Real planes have them so I guess there's a reason for them.

Hunted around the shed for a wheel and found a battered toy lawnmower that I told the boys they had grown out of.


Result, a lovely tail wheel.


Added the tail fin on hinges... beautiful!


Trouble was, it didn't work. The wheel that is. Whenever the Jeep went forward, the tail wheel seemed to behave like a teenager - i.e. it had a mind of its own, went where it wanted to as opposed to where I wanted it to (and had an untidy bedroom).

I think this was because it was fixed and, as it probably wasn't 100% in line with the Jeep, went off in a straight line, twisting the tail.

Time for some physics.

Tim was upstairs studying for his Physics SATS, so I left him alone and decided to copy the shopping trolley/castor principle.

Yay! It worked!

Check out my neat castor system below...


Bank Holiday nearly over. I only spent about 2 hours a day on this so it didn't take over our weekend. It all detaches easily and sits in our back room fairly unobtrusively (Emma hasn't been in there yet).


12th MAY:
Busy family weekend, so I didn't have much time to spend on the float.

However, managed to sort the wings out. Joshua and Daniel (plus houseguest Kealan) helped create the frames.

Biggest issue was the width of the thing... Some of the roads we process down are narrow and car-lined - the articulated lorries sometimes get stuck and cars have to be bounced out of the way.

Solved this by making the wings hinged so Emma and I can quickly flip them up and hold them if we get to a narrow bit.

Worked out a simple way to latch the wings in place for the normal mode... When I cover the frame with card I'll need to cut some small holes to accommodate the brackets though.

Went to the brilliant Spelthorne Council Resource Centre with the boys to get the card for covering the whole plane with. They normally only allow one or two small sheets per visitor but our family are regulars and I took along a poster I'd made for them of last year's float (the house), to help inspire others and show what can be done with stuff from the centre. Needless to say, they were happy for me to take what card I needed for this project. I also found a tin of blue paint (I'll need to deepen the colour a bit somehow) for the fuselage. The boys came away with lots of bits of junk, which kept them occupied all afternoon with a glue gun, making their own models.

Decided time was not available to cover the wings etc with card this weekend, so I concentrated on the propeller mechanism. Found a bit of 'Foamex' plastic which I cut to a (sort of) propeller shape, then soaked in boiling water to make it pliable. I then twisted it and ran it under the cold tap to retain its bent shape. Looks alright really.

Used one of the big wheels from the toy lawnmower for the front of the propeller. Lovely touch!

Decided against a motor driven propeller. Instead, the passenger will have the job of turning the propeller manually - it'll give him something to do while his brother is driving/crashing.

Slight problem is that the prop shaft obscures entry to the battery compartment, so I won't be able to cover that bit nor fully install the prop shaft until the morning of the carnival, as I'm not surehow long the battery will keep its charge.

Anyway, Here's our happy tester...

As you can see, the wings come off easily from the hinges for transport/getting into the back room. Next weekend, then, for the grand covering - have card; have staplegun... also have school fair to run a stall at though...

May 14th:
Realised carnival is only 4 weeks away and weekends look busy... spent 15 minutes covering the tail with card. Looks pretty good I think - the seam along the top will be covered with wide dark blue ribbon (courtesy of the Resource Centre!). Tricky bits will be the cab and the bonnet... wings look simple to do, although may have a problem with the clip things that secure the bottom of the wing supports in place.

Decided to have a sound system in place. I want to broadcast sound effects of a plane idling as we go along. Can't quite find the right one yet, so I'll keep hunting...

I want one like this. Or this one...

MAY 17th:

Busy weekend with School Fair, then a Scout activity day, but managed to almost completely cover the plane. Also sorted out a door (not pictured). Going to find time over the bank holiday to paint it and add the details, lettering etc.

Managed to sort out the battery access really easily.

Emma has started commenting that it really quite large for the back room (or 'aircraft hangar' as I inadvertently described it) so I have to dismantle it at the end of a working session.

Going to sort out the loop of the engine sound at lunchtimes this week...

27th May:

Bank holiday weekend and last real opportunity to finish the float. Weather forecast is for the rainiest weekend since records began, except for Saturday... so that's my day!

Painted the whole thing quite quickly. Daniel and Joshua helped a bit, so did Oliver. Spent an hour getting resultant blue gloss paint off the patio.

Decided to leave the wings white, partially because that's what the real planes are like, but mainly because the boys used too much gloss decorating the patio and I might run out.

Started to put on some of the decorations...

Realised that it looks a bit like I've plonked an aeroplane on top of a kid's Jeep, so had to come up with a way of covering the sides of the car...

Done it! Look closely and you'll see I've added some white fuselage stripes, the call-sign and some blue wing stripes, all using ribbon and stuff free from the Resource Centre.

Look less closely and you'll see the tail is drooping a bit. I've since solved this by extending the length of the rear wheel.

Next... sorting out the costumes: A ripped-off arm for Oliver; Boomerang embedded in hat for Tim; broken legs for Emma and something gentle for me, like a mild headache.

The thing still dismantles for easy stowage in the back room, where Emma has yet to spot it.

...only 2 weeks to go!

MAY 31st

Received the Carnival Brochure and programme through the door this morning and phoned up to register our float.

We were told that there was a slight problem as some committee members had, last year, complained that we had won the trophy for 'best decorated bicycle' when, in fact, we had built the float on a mechanised child's Jeep. (Don't know how they'd classify an electric-assisted bicycle!) This was despite the fact that Emma and J&D were on a decorated bicycle as part of our float!

Anyway, the chap in charge of the floats said we would therefore be classified alongside the juggernaut lorries since our plastic Jeep is not manually powered (until the battery runs out and I have to drag it - perhaps we get reclassified if that happens!).

So, our plane is now going to be alongside the 8+ enormous lorries from the schools, Scouts, guides etc... we are going to look very insignificant... Also, they are always mega-impressive as they have up to 20 families helping build each float! Oh well.

I'm now waiting to see if we have to complete the same risk assessment forms as the lorries have to, and which we had to do a couple of years ago when we entered our car and trailer - can't wait to write the answers to the health and safety questions - "will you keep under 5mph" etc - the Jeep struggles to do 3mph downhill, with a following wind!

Watch this space...

Going to make the costumes this weekend.

JUNE 2nd:

Made a fab boomerang-embedded-in-hat thing for Tim yesterday... lots of blood! Used very light card-covered foam display board from the Resource Centre and a bit of brown paint.

Also sorted out a ripped white shirt with blood everywhere, plus dismembered arm with bloodied stump for Oliver to carry. Also sorted the inflatable shark to be following Oliver on a piece of invisible thread.

We also picked up from the Resource Centre lots of white material for slings and bandages. I found a neck brace in the lost and someone at work has promised me a pair of crutches.

Joshua (nearly 7) is the driver, as he crashes a lot less than Daniel (nearly 7 too)... trouble is, he loved the gory injury costumes and declared he wants to be a patient. Aaargh! I think we will put some bandages on him and he can be a sort of ironic flying doctor. Should satisfy him, assuming he understands the concept of irony.

Decided against the plane engine sound effects... Basically, the sound of the plastic tyres on the road and the motor would drown out the nondescript recorded plane engine sound. Instead, I'll be carying a portable ghetto blaster and playing a selection of Aussie tunes, including:

  • Waltzing Matilda
  • Home Among the Gum Trees
  • Skippy
  • My Boomerang Won't Come Back
  • Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport
  • Waltzing Matilda
  • Pavlova
  • Sun Arise
  • Neighbours_(2nd_1992_ver)

Who needs iTunes at 79p when there is my favourite MP3 search engine:

JUNE 6th

Hmmm... us being a lorry seems to be a hot topic of conversation in the village!

My mate Dave popped around last night to inspect the float and ensure it complied with health & Safety regulations (he works in the aerospace industry and is eminently positioned to advise on our aeroplane). He did point out that we really needed port and starboard flashing lights on the wings but, since I didn't have any and he couldn't find his ones, we decided to compromise and add a blue emergency services flashing light on the top of the cabin instead.

Just checked the weather forecast - yay!


Emma took J&D to swimming lessons this week so I could be free to finish off the float. Managed to get it out of the back room, through the dining room and into the front garden without damaging much stuff.

Assembled the float to check I would be able to do it quickly on site - just need a manual screwdriver and 8 screws.

Attached the propeller permanently, wired up the Chrysler's mega-battery and affixed two baskets inside the float, out of J&D's way, for them to put their drinks and snacks in - they tried it out for size and are really excited... especially Daniel as chief propeller-turner!

Weather is really hot and sunny - can't believe that 10% of rain is going to come by this afternoon - not a cloud in the sky.

Just going to finalise costumes - J&D want to bandage up several of their soft toy animals, so that'll keep them busy for a bit - they're really getting into the swing of it.

Took the float apart and it all fitted perfectly into the trailer. I tied it down securely so we don't scatter stuff en route to the start zone. I plan to drive straight to the start place this time, offload the float and drive the car/trailer elsewhere to park it... I usually park and then we drive the float the final way but I don't want to risk damage this year!

So, We're all ready and it's only 9.15am and we don't leave for 3 hours. Time to do a bit of preparation for J&D's birthday party next Saturday (Dinosaur theme - 'Jurassic Party') - lots of grass to cut, hedges to trim, games to make, magic to rehearse... before 25 little people converge on the house... it never stops!

There... all lovely!

Off to the carnival then... To the place where the floats assemble. We are found by a representative of t'committee who informs us that, after much discussion, they have decided to place The Wood Family in the 'Buggies' section, ie the old and infirm. Oh well - it's the fourth section they've put us in using the same Jeep!

The procession was great fun - lots of laughs as Oliver got chased by the inflatable shark on invisible thread behind him, with severed arm in his hand. Tim's boomerang, impaled in his head drew laughs too.

Joshua steered really well - we only had to lift the wings a few times as parked cars nearly got thwacked ('Near Miss' I believe they're called in aircraft parlance). The rear wheel I was so proud of fell off after ten minutes, so I quickly made a faux one (at the first rest break) using the plastic top of a drinks bottle and lots of gaffer tape - this was great - it just glided along. I put more gaffer tape on at the three later rests.

Anyway, into the arena for prizegiving.... We were delighted to win first prize in the buggy section, to the dismay of all the old folk who had worked really hard on their mobility scooters!

Only thing was, the prize wasn't a trophy but a bottle of Sainsbury's Cava. A somewhat bemused Carnival queen handed it to Joshua and Daniel - who had driven the float so were the main stars of it - and sort of muttered well done. J&D were equally bemused... although we were all delighted to win and, anyway, we had so much fun!

Home for a swift drink then 30 minutes to rip the float apart, saving the wood for next year, when we are no doubt going to be classified as 'Animal Act' or something!

Thinks... more than one person commented that the prize was a bit odd for a family, and one anonymous person said they would happily fund a new trophy for Family Entry, to encourage families to enter and to accomodate groups like us which nobody can work out what to do with! I shall pass that on to t'committee!

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