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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Bruce Hayden: He Just Keeps “Floating” Along

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Saturday, October 01, 2005

Bruce Hayden is hard at work building a Berkshire Chamber of Commerce float for the Oct. 2 Fall Foliage Festival "Golden Jubilee" Parade.
North Adams – Selecting a builder for the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce Fall Foliage Festival 50th anniversary "Golden Jubilee" parade float was a no-brainer, said Chamber Vice-president Michael Supranowicz.

"When we decided to build a float, there was only one name on the list; Bruce Hayden," said Supranowicz during a Sept. 30 interview. "Over the years that I've been involved with the parade, Bruce has developed some of the most unique floats I've ever seen."

All in the Family

Hayden is a third-generation float builder, and a Hayden-built float has been included during 48 of the parade's 50 years. Francis H. Hayden, Bruce Hayden's grandfather, founded the former Hayden Oil Co. and launched the Hayden float tradition with parade floats that boasted the company name. Francis E. Hayden, Bruce Hayden's father, kept the floats rolling after he acquired the company. Francis E. Hayden was also the force behind the Fall Foliage Festival Queen floats during the years that the festival queen and her court traveled the route seated on floats.

Manpower

Speaking during a Sept. 30 interview, Bruce Hayden said he remembers helping build the floats as a youth, stuffing tissue into chicken-wire and as he grew older, tackling other tasks.

"One year, I can't remember which, they built a cake and put plastic rocking horses on it," Hayden said. "They wanted the horses to move, so they put me under the cake and I spent the parade moving the horses. I was the power source."

When the oil company was sold to O'Connell Fuel some years ago, Bruce Hayden kept building floats. He operated his own oil delivery business for several years and introduced floats for his firm as well as working with entities such as the Hoosac Bank, the Adams Cooperative Bank, the Turners Hall and several other groups. He eventually sold his business to the LaValley Oil Co., was hired as a company employee, and built LaValley-sponsored floats.

"When my father stopped building, I took over," said Hayden. "I enjoy doing it. People really like floats. My main thing is the kids; I love to see them at the parade, love to see the way they look when they see these floats. That is the thing for me."

Movin' Right Along

He is both mechanically talented and imaginative; when Hayden began designing floats, he focused on motorized components powered by sources such as 12-volt windshield wiper motors.

"I never stop thinking about the things to build and different things to do [with floats]," Hayden said. "I always have a starting point and we adapt as we go along. I'm mechanical and I really got into the motorizing. I've got imagination and I love to share ideas and help people with their floats."

Past parade floats include a "Herbie the Love Bug" float that Hayden rigged to do "wheelies" and boasted a trunk that opened and closed as it traveled the parade route. Another Hayden-built float involved a bi-plane, which was built using a bucket loader.

"I had a good guy driving [the loader], so the bi-plane went up and down," Hayden said. "Some of the floats have used air cylinders that move things around. It's a big thing to have floats animated. It's all about the unexpected; that's what excites people."

What Will He Think Of Next?

Hayden was working on the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce float during the interview. The float's highest point will be about 12 feet from the base, it is being erected in two garage stalls, it does have moving parts, and is expected to produce "smoke," Hayden said.

The float features a recognizable city landmark and should also produce some sound effects, he said. It will be carried along the route by a Toyota Tacoma truck that is expected to be completely shrouded by the float.

"That's one thing my mom and dad always said: ‘don't show the vehicle,'" Hayden said.


Hayden and float building volunteer Melanie Neyland review the work ahead.
Those who are curious about Hayden's latest creation may see the float during the Oct. 2 parade. The parade is scheduled for a 1p.m. kickoff from the Curran Highway Wal-mart and the route covers Curran Highway, State Street, Main Street and Ashland Street to the senior citizen high-rise apartment complex.

And here's one more hint: the float features an accessory known as a "cow-catcher."

Waste Not

Hayden is resourceful when it comes to float building. After each parade, floats are disassembled and parts and pieces are saved. Materials have changed over the years; tissue is still used but is often painted so that rain won't turn delicate decorations into sodden clumps. Hayden said he also uses a vinyl sheathing that can be purchased in 10-yard strips. The material can be rolled out and applied to a cardboard backing, he said.

"And there's garland and metallic fringe," he said. "A lot of the stuff is expensive, especially when you get into the metallics. Everything has gone up in price. I save the stuff from year to year, and I've done a lot with Kleenex and leaves."

Present-day prices mean that it can cost about $1,500 at minimum to build a float, he said. Construction can take up to four weeks, Hayden said, and added that his wife of "33 or 34 years" Lynn Hayden and his three adult children have always been supportive of his float endeavors.

"There's usually a month or so where this is it, it's all I talk about," he said. "My family has put up with it pretty good."

A crew of friends and family members are invaluable to the float construction, Hayden said, and stressed that his assistants are talented people who work tirelessly to get the job done.

"I have such a good crew," he said. "They basically read my mind. They know what I'm thinking and things get done."

Keep 'Em Coming

Floats were a very big part of the parade during its early decades but as time went on and costs went up, fewer groups built floats.

This year, 18 floats are expected to appear in the parade, and Hayden said he hopes the participation continues during subsequent parades.

"The floats make the parade," he said. "You can't guarantee that having a float will get you this many more customers, or this much of a [financial] return. But people, especially the kids, love to see the floats and it makes the parade so nice. And to me, that's the return; just doing something that adds to the community."

Olive Oyl and Ice Skaters

Hayden's creativity isn't limited to floats. One year, he dressed as Popeye's stick-thin amour Olive Oyl and marched along the route. He mingled with the crowd and sat on more than one lap, he said.

"People couldn't believe that I dressed up like that," he said. "I had so much fun and people really enjoyed it. It was great. There are people who still talk about that to me."

When champion ice skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Paul Wylie participated in the Bay State Games during the early 1990s, Hayden erected a photo booth for the athletes.

The booth was made from an old bathtub that came with a trio of smooth walls as a "tub surround." Hayden painted the walls with cabins, mountains, and other scenery, added real evergreen trees, attached clear plastic sheeting across the booth's front section and used a fan to create a falling snowflake effect with white packing peanuts.

And there was a glitch, he said.

"The peanuts started to get static electricity and started sticking to the plastic," he said. "So I threw in a ‘Bounce' [fabric softener sheet], and it worked."

When his children were younger, he built elaborate Halloween and Christmas displays outside the family home that made the property a "must-see" during those seasons.

In 2004, he donned a "Grinch" costume and participated during the city's holiday tree-lighting event.

"I love this stuff," he said. "I like to see the kids happy and I like to help people."

Putting smiles on faces is his purpose, he said.

"I was put here to make people laugh and have a good time," Hayden said.

"Mother Spoke...."

And while most people would consider Hayden a master at float construction, his work must still pass muster with his parents, he said.

Both parents recently visited the space where the Chamber float is being built, and his mother noticed some unpainted wood. Hayden said that he hadn't planned to paint the wood but his mother had other ideas.

"My mother said ‘you have to paint that, what if it shows through?'" Hayden said with a smile. "And I painted it. Mother spoke…and Bruce listened."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.


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