Originally Published: November 26, 2010 9:55 p.m.
PRESCOTT - The origin of the inspiration was less than pretty: For the employees of UniSource Energy, the idea for a sparkling holiday float grew from lowly heaps of scrap gas pipe.
But what has emerged is anything but ordinary. Each year, UniSource employees come up with an elaborately lit float that captures the whimsy of the holidays.
Using a large truck and trailer for the main float, UniSource crafts a Santa's workshop, complete with a multitude of lights and a glowing campfire.
But it is the appendages to the main float that capture the crowd's imagination. The entry regularly includes five separate quad floats that conjure up products from the workshop.
Traditional toys, ranging from a jack-in-the-box to a rocking horse to a teddy bear, zigzag in front of the workshop float.
The foundation for all of the creations: those lengths of cast-off gas pipe - bent, twisted, and melded together into the shapes of childhood fantasies.
"It was the leftovers from jobs - scrap pipe," Leslie Ward of UniSource said of the various lengths of polyethylene pipe that are the byproducts of the natural gas company's work. "From there, we started."
It has been several years now since the UniSource employees decided that they wanted to participate in Prescott's Holiday Light Parade, which takes place each year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
"We get an idea and then form the framework," said Michael Pitts, a specialist/trainer with UniSource, and one of the main engineers of the Christmas float. "We get the scrap - and we always have scrap - and we heat fuse it together."
Added Pitts: "It's just ugly old pipe, but we can bend it, wire it, tape it, and screw it together."
For the past two years, the efforts have been good enough to win grand prize honors in Prescott's Holiday Light Parade.
Every year, the entry includes a new toy. This year, it will be giant toy ship, complete with a lit mast and glowing cannons.
The entry takes 100 to 125 hours to craft, and Pitts and Ward say many employees and their family members pitch in to help.
One recent afternoon at the UniSource office, Scott Ward and Joe Branch joined Pitts and Leslie Ward to troubleshoot on the new entry.
They carefully checked all of the working parts and the myriad connections on the mini-float.
"We just don't want it to come apart," Pitts said, adding that the float creators have learned through the years what works and what does not.
On the parade route, Pitts and Leslie Ward usually walk out in front of the entry, and they say they frequently hear gasps when the children spot the giant toys.
And Pitts readily admits the float is fun for the adults as well as the children. "We're having a ball," he said.
The employees and their families provide most of the quads and the generators for the lights.
"We've never had much of a budget," Ward said. "We just use what we have."
This year, the float will have another new feature to complement the toy ship. Ward said 13-year-old Ben Buchard, the son of a UniSource employee, has built a train that will be pulled by a small motorcycle. The train will precede the quad toys and the workshop float.
The Holiday Light Parade takes place at 6 p.m. today in downtown Prescott.