- Associated Press - Saturday, May 2, 2015

WINCHESTER, Va. (AP) - It would be hard to find more pink, green and white in one place than in a cavernous room at the south end of the Noland building off Papermill Road.

When the big warehouse door opens, you see a carnival, some Winchester landmarks, a four-horse hitch pulling a covered wagon, a train and even a steamboat.

And more white and pink “apple blossom blooms” than you can shake a stick at.

That’s because this is the storage area for 13 whimsical and colorful floats owned and used by the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, the 88th edition of which is underway in Winchester. The event runs through Sunday.

“We also store the VFW’s float, the Elks’ float and a float owned by Richard Kibler,” said Tammy Symons, who heads the festival’s Float Committee.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars float is traditionally red, white and blue, Symons said, while the Elks’ float is a locomotive pulling three cars, and Kibler’s float, which is loaned to the festival for the Grand Feature Parade, is as pink as a float can be.

The Queen’s float, in contrast, is always white, Symons said, as are the two floats carrying the Queen’s court.

These three floats, the oldest of all owned by the Apple Blossom Festival, don’t change their look, but each year one of the three is recovered so they stay fresh.

Symons has a dedicated crew of about 20 people, most of whom have been working on the floats for a decade or more. Many, she said, are members of the Elks Club.

Each March, they begin their task, working weekends and evenings to get the floats ready.

As the festival draws closer, “sometimes we’re here all night,” Symons said.

Before Saturday’s Grand Feature Parade, every float is wiped down and inspected and any damage repaired.

The floats are basically covered in either foil or vinyl sheeting, already cut into petals. Streamers and fringe add color and movement.

“Colors fade” after a while, Symons said, so the crew always knows that some floats will have to be patched or have decorations replaced.

And rain is a deadly enemy, she added. While the floats can stand some dampness, when people walk on the wet vinyl, it gets mashed down or torn up.

The crew’s biggest project each spring is the Apple Blossom theme float.

“We build a new theme float every year,” Symons said.

Usually, one of the oldest floats is stripped down and the crew - Symons, John Rosenberger, Apple Blossom’s executive director, crew members Kenneth Slonaker, Tom Dowell and others - confer about the best way to carry out the theme.

This year’s theme float copies the design on the front of the souvenir program: Get Your Bloom On.

“A lot goes into it,” said Symons. “There has to be a lot of planning. You can’t just plan it as you go along.”

The floats begin life as hay wagons, she explained.

Then, the bed of the wagon is adapted to hold whatever “superstructure” will carry out the theme.

While the wagons are basically the same width, some are longer than others, Symons said, which makes a difference in just what can be built on top.

She said Dowell is her carpentry expert, while Courtney White, who has volunteered with the float committee for about 10 years, handles the welding chores.

Floats can also change slightly each year.

A week ago, Dowell was working on a giant tricycle and wagon, suitable for a troll-sized child, adding a caterpillar and apples and toadstools to the float.

Elks Club member Jim Venable, of Middletown, who has marked a decade with the Float Committee, started out pulling the up to 4,000-pound eye-catchers through the parade route.

Why do they keep coming back?

“We have fun,” said Symons, though Tom Dowell had a different reason.

“It’s my therapy,” he said, “You need that when you’ve hit 80.”

___

Information from: The Winchester Star, https://www.winchesterstar.com

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