When the city of Davenport installed decorative planters down the middle of West River Drive, or U.S. 67, Mel Drucker's job as parade manager became more challenging.
For years, everybody who was marching in the parade lined up at the Modern Woodmen parking lot at River Drive and Gaines Street.
In addition, volunteers in charge of inflating the highly popular helium character balloons — the Macy's-like attraction of the parade — used the lot the night before to inflate them.
Parking was handy, and then on Saturday, parade participants could take their places and march down West River Drive.
But with the planters, the route had to be changed, and so did the staging and balloon-readiness areas.
Today, the staging has to be done on side streets, and participants must "funnel in" when their time comes, rather than starting out in proper order in the ballpark lot. In some cases, units are staged in areas where parade-watchers gather, so organizers have to "part the crowd" to get the units through, Drucker said.
Meanwhile, the people inflating balloons now use a parking lot provided by MidAmerican Energy, as well as 3rd Street, which has to be blocked off between LeClaire and Iowa streets, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
The new location involves a lot more coordination with the city, including the need for street-closure signs, said Drucker, who headed up his 10th parade this year. He is retired from what was the Army Materiel Readiness Command at the Rock Island Arsenal.
Another challenge of balloon inflation is the weather. The colder the temperature, the more brittle the balloons become, making them subject to tearing. And cold temps make it less likely volunteers will stick around.
"If you don't have something for them to do right away and it's cold, they start drifting away," Drucker said.
About 25 volunteers is the optimum number needed for inflation. "The more, the merrier, but then if you have too many, they trip over each other," Drucker said.
Inflation takes anywhere from two and a half to five hours.
In addition to filling the balloons with helium from a hose attached to a truck, volunteers have to tether them to sandbags — 700 to 800 of them — that are supplied by the city.
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Drucker recalls one especially windy year when he had to order more sandbags. One night, one of the balloons — a football about the size of a person — "just floated away," he said. To his knowledge, it never was found.
In one of the early years, a couple of the balloons developed holes. They were deflated, and employees from Starbound Entertainment, the Pennsylvania supplier, took them to a hotel and "spent all night" repairing them, Drucker said. Balloons are repaired with patches and glue, something like a bicycle tire, only much larger.
Another of Drucker's duties is to hire a private security firm to guard the balloons overnight, making sure there are no problems with wind or mischief-makers.
More than balloons
There is much more to organizing a parade than blowing up balloons, beginning with designating the route, coordinating closures and arranging for traffic control.
The parade committee is big, with a dozen major jobs under Drucker.
• Marshal: These volunteers line up the parade, arranging the order in which units will march and figuring out where each unit will stand on the side streets so they can "funnel in" without gaps.
• Route manager: This is the car that literally starts the parade and that stops when there are commercial breaks in the live KWQC telecast so that viewers watching on TV don't miss any of the units.
• Crowd control: Members of the Cornbelt Running Club station themselves along the route, particularly at intersections, to keep the parade path clear and orderly.
• Banners: Someone needs to make sure there are banners with the names of key sponsors and someone to carry them. Arconic was a new one this year, replacing the former Alcoa, a longtime sponsor.
• TV script: A reporter/writer needs to research and write a script so that KWQC broadcasters know what units are appearing in front of them, with background information.
• VIP seating: Bleacher seats for sponsors need to be put into place.
• Bands: Steve Schwaegler, fine arts curriculum specialist for the Davenport Community School District, contacts all area schools to coordinate the ever-popular marching band units.
• Clown Corps: These are individuals who pay $300 for the privilege of getting made up as a clown to bring good humor to the crowd.