Hope floats at parade construction company

Betty Dillard bdillard@bizpress.net

In a small warehouse tucked within a quiet Grand Prairie neighborhood the design team at Lone Star Parade Float Co. skillfully attaches red, white and blue fringe from top to bottom on a float for the Veterans Day parade in Dallas, happening just days away. The staff barely has time to take a breath before festooning 15 floats with about 600,000 lights for the annual Chesapeake Energy Parade of Lights in Fort Worth, taking place the day after Thanksgiving. There are other floats to finish, too, for the Veterans Day parade in Houston, additional Thanksgiving Day parades, the University of Texas at Arlington’s homecoming parade on Nov. 15, and myriad Christmas parades across the Lone Star State. And once all the Christmas decorations are stored away, it’s time to gear up for Martin Luther King, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Juneteenth, Independence Day and a host of other annual parades. “It’s an assembly-line, mass production-type attitude here,” said Clyde Watts, head of the family-owned and -operated, full-service Lone Star Parade Float Co. “We’ve been working on these full time since September and October, in addition to other homecoming and fall festival floats. We’ll do 32 parades between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas, almost three or four a day. It’s a constant flow; we never slow down. There’s always the next parade to prep.” Watts, 62, has been in the float building industry his entire life except for four years he spent in the military. He learned the trade from his parents, who had a float business in North Carolina. “About 1979 I decided to move here and open my own company,” he said. “It took me a couple of years. Then we were contacted to build 10 floats for the city of Fort Worth. The business has grown since then to clients all over the country.” These days, Lone Star does more than 100 parades a year – and with a small staff. Watts runs the business with wife Debra, son Roby, who handles the construction, and daughter Crystal, who is in charge of decoration. Roby and Crystal represent the third generation of parade float builders. Along with a couple of other employees, the family is recognized for its expertise and experience in designing and building parade floats for any occasion and budget. “It’s a true family business,” Watts said. “My mother- and father-in-law also worked here until they passed away. The one thing I really love about this business is being around my family every day. The kids have never missed a parade since they were little. We get to work together and travel together. It’s a lot of fun.” Some of the fun the boutique builder has had in the past 30 years includes designing and crafting floats for parades at Six Flags Over Texas and the Cotton Bowl Classic, for the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Cowboys, for Fort Worth’s Pride Parade and the Battle of Flowers Parade in San Antonio, the second largest parade in the country. Five of the company’s custom floats appeared in Tom Cruise’s 1989 movie Born On The Fourth Of July, which was filmed locally in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood. “That was a learning experience,” Watts said. Ten years later, the company sold some custom-designed floats featured in the movie Hope Floats. Watts credits the longevity and success of his company to the detail put into every float. He and his team are hands-on in all areas of design, construction and decoration of each float. The company boasts a huge inventory of float chassis, rolling frames, custom props and decorative materials. The floats are built from the frame up and completely covered with floral sheeting, festooning and fringe. No surface is left undecorated. Glitter is used on surfaces that won’t accept floral sheeting. “Custom lettering of your corporate logo is designed to bring recognition to your sponsors and to complete a very professional look to each float,” Watts said. “For that reason we don’t use banners or painted signs.” Lone Star Parade Floats, which also sells its products online, can build, decorate, deliver and pick up a rental float in a price range from $1,000 to $30,000, depending on what a customer wants. “If you can dream it up, we can build it,” Watts said. This year’s Chesapeake Energy Parade of Lights on Nov. 29 marks the event’s 31st year. Lone Star has been the exclusive float builder for the event since its inception as Fort Worth’s kickoff event for the Christmas season. “[Watts’] team has been a major reason this parade has grown to become the top annual holiday light parade in Texas,” said Jay Downie, director of events for Downtown Fort Worth Initiatives Inc. “He’s always delivered incredible results, blending in innovative ideas, lighting and animation, on time and on budget. On top of everything else, he is wonderful to work with and we count on him to continually bring new ideas to the table. “Our patrons are looking for Broadway on the streets of Fort Worth during the Parade of Lights, and Clyde delivers the dazzle, flash and pizzazz that keep them coming back, year after year,” Downie said. Watts says designing and building dozens of large, intricate floats year round is easier than it looks. “It’s not as hard as you may think mainly because we’ve been doing this for so long. We have our own way of doing it,” he said. “Ninety percent of the people we talk to say they never imagine that somebody does this. And nobody realizes the amount of time and work that goes into a parade. “It’s a very fun business. I’m glad we can provide professional floats but parades need to keep the home-grown floats. They keep the personality in a parade and really draw a crowd.”