UPDATE: Chinese American Heritage Foundation float from a director’s perspective

A beautiful way to honor the sponsor on “Harmony Through Union.” Photo by LB Monteros

John Schulte emailed The Rose Examiner to give an update on the fire that stalled the Chinese American Heritage Foundation float, “Harmony Through Union,” at the start of the 2019 Tournament of Roses Parade. Schulte is one of the directors of the float, and his daughter, Blythe Abigail Su-Ren Schulte wrote and sang the theme song.

Schulte writes, “Since it’s been a month, I felt it was time to shed light on some of the folks who were involved in helping to safely resolve the fire that erupted inside the float — most specifically, John Strube, our driver.”

He included a link to an article he wrote, which is studded with shots of the float and riders. An additional link at the end of the article connects to more photos and background information on the riders, many of whom are descendants of the original Transcontinental Railroad workers.

The Rose Examiner did a debrief on Jan. 3  with Fiesta Parade Floats president Tim Estes.

 

FIRE! Chinese American Heritage Foundation float, the little engines that could

After the fire, the Chinese American Heritage Foundation float was towed the length of the 2019 Rose Parade, still looking beautiful. Photo copyright LB Monteros 2019

  • Fire due to transmission fluid spray
  • All riders were safely evacuated
  • Fiesta Parade Floats president Tim Estes tells what happened

by Laura Berthold Monteros

Like the sturdy immigrants the Chinese American Heritage Foundation (CAHF) float honored, “Harmony Through Union” made it down the 2019 Tournament of Roses Parade route on Tuesday, despite initial difficulties. The float celebrated the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The Rose Examiner communicated with Fiesta Parade Floats president Tim Estes to get details on what happened when the 90-foot float, designed by Mike Abboud, had a fiery mishap.

When unexpected things happen, minutes twist around in a timey-wimey way. Sometimes it takes photos and time stamps to put things right. Using our photos, here is how I saw it from the scaffolding on the corner of Orange Grove and Colorado.

Descriptions are in the photo captions in the gallery below.

The float, moving north on Orange Grove Blvd. at 9:42, had just crossed Green St., one block before the turn onto Colorado Blvd. The smokestacks on the locomotives were emitting steam. Thirty seconds later, photos show a small puff of smoke on the right side, at the same time that colorful streamers were shot into the air.

I was not in a position to see flames, but Estes confirmed reports that there was a small fire, caused by a spray of transmission fluid from a fitting. There was a lot of smoke. Tournament of Roses quickly ran to the float, the riders and outwalkers evacuated, and no one was injured. Evacuation of the 26 riders took approximately 40 seconds. From first puff to dissipation of the smoke was nearly four minutes. [Note: TRE originally reported 10 riders; updated to 26 per a reader.]

Safety features

All floats have fire extinguishers, which the driver, observer, and other personnel on the float can quickly grab. During technical tests, there are practice fire drills. Riders must be able to climb to the ground from the float in no more than 45 seconds. All floats have tow bars that slide into a compartment under the float.

Response from Tim Estes to The Rose Examiner

I contacted Estes via email on Wednesday with a few questions and requests for clarification. He quickly responded, tempering his comments with the caveat that the investigation is in its early stages and he does not want to speculate on unknowns. He wrote,

“Have done some preliminary investigation along with the Tournament of Roses mechanical inspectors, so do not have a full report to make until we get more time to check things out. This will occur when the Tournament of Roses Inspectors can be attending/participating in our joint investigation. We will focus on two items:
1. To the best of our joint effort, come to a joint conclusion on what occurred to the best of joint abilities.
2. Based on our joint conclusion, determine if any new procedures should occur to avoid a reoccurrence on any float that is in the Rose Parade.”

Addressing speculation

I asked him about some of the scuttlebutt I had heard. My queries (in regular type) and his responses (in bold) are lightly edited for clarity.

  • A white suiter told me the hydraulic line broke, so the float lost brakes and steering. No hydraulic line broke. The float never lost brakes or steering.
  • I also read it was a transmission fluid leak. The transmission itself did not leak and no transmission lines broke. It preliminarily appears that a mist of transmission fluid sprayed from a fitting on the external transmission cooler appeared to land on the exhaust pipe and created the smoke, but we will further check this out over the next few days.
  • There was a small fire, which I didn’t see, due to the smoke. Everyone got off the float safely. Yes that occurred and glad no one got hurt.
  • The tow truck couldn’t tow the float. The tow truck from Jan’s Towing towed the entire, intact float, to the post parade area to be on display along with all of the other floats.
  • The second part of the float was hinged to the first and did not have a separate tow bar. The second part of the float was connected to the first part of the float with a tow hitch, just like a truck towing a big RV trailer. Since the second part of the float was connected to the first part of the float with a tow hitch, it would not have a tow bar required.
  • The float building only began two weeks ago. This had zero impact on what occurred. The float was built on the float chassis that was inspected by the Tournament of Rose Mechanical inspectors on Oct. 13. They inspect numerous items which include the engine, transmission and brakes. There was nothing indicated on the inspection report of anything wrong with the engine, transmission or transmission oil cooler. As parts of the float got built, they were installed on the pre-inspected float chassis.
  • There were some problems getting it built. I had no problems building the float. I find it interesting that no one spoke to me or asked me any questions on the construction of the float. Instead it appears that people not in the know are making up comments or are speculating/guessing.

I also posed some questions of my own.

  • How much did this float weigh? When I was at Fiesta on Friday, it looked to me like it had a lot of heavy steel framing, but Fiesta has built floats for Joey Herrick that had to be much heavier. The float weighed approximately 45,000 pounds which is about the weight of an average float and the float had 12 wheels. The dog surfing float we did and will recall, weighed in at 142,000 pounds and had 26 wheels. Over my many years, I have built dozen of floats that have weighed more than 45,000 pounds.
  • How many tow trucks were needed? One tow truck towed the float to the Post Parade viewing area. It was from Jan’s Towing and I want to go on record that they did a great job and the driver (Steve) was great in his operation of his tow truck!

Getting underway

Usually, when a float breaks down, it is quickly towed to the side to allow other units to pass. The CAHF float was not as easy to move as a smaller, one-part float. The trailing half was jackknifed, perhaps to make more room. Once the area was cleared and it was safe to proceed, the units began coming through, though not in program order.

The first was, ironically, the Gold Rush Fire Brigade, which had been slotted in behind the CAHF entry. Next came the Lincoln-Way Marching Band, but by then, it was 9:48 a.m. The broadcast of the parade must end at precisely 10 a.m., so the Tournament gave the go-ahead to the Wells Fargo closing show. Wells Fargo is a long-time presenting sponsor of the Tournament of Roses.

Coming up behind, in order, were South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association “Three Little Birds,” DigAlert “Making It Safe for All,” and the Royal Swedish Cadet Band. These three entries did not make it into the national broadcast, but readers can see them on KTLA.com. There doesn’t seem to be footage of the CAHF float; if a reader has access to video, please email me at LauraBMonteros@theroseexaminer.com

Several readers asked if there will be a fine for Fiesta Parade Floats. The Tournament does levy fines for breakdowns, from $10,000 to $80,000. Estes addresses it in this article by Tracy Bloom of KTLA.

This article focusing on an unhappy incident cannot do justice to this beautiful float and the rich history it commemorates. The Rose Examiner will follow up with those details in a later article.

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