By Regina Elling
While some parade floats can be built in a day, others take much longer.
Ramona saw one of the more intricate floats when the U.S. Submarine Veterans (SubVets) rode the recently completed replica of the USS Los Angeles in the town’s Home Sweet Home Main Street Parade. It was the float’s second run.
As a large, albeit miniaturized, black submarine, mounted high above a flatbed trailer, passes in front of thousands of parade goers in the months to come, Ramona will know it has a special connection to the float and what it stands for.
The float, designed by members of one of the three SubVet bases in San Diego, is a moving memorial to the many submarine veterans in the area and beyond.
It’s more than just a physical image for Ramona resident Wayne Spani, and everyone involved says it couldn’t have been built without him.
That’s partly because Spani, a U.S. Navy veteran, offered use of his airport hangar as a building location for two months. He designed the float and even created special tools to build it.
His three sons — Donald, Eric and Greg — assisted the five SubVets in the float’s construction.
Spani became involved because he builds models, and his son, Eric, passed his name on to a member of the Sub Float project.
“I volunteered to do the design and construction at my airport hangar if the San Diego Base would buy the materials and help provide labor,” said Spani.
“Our older float was deteriorating, it had many mechanical issues,” said David Kauppinen, a submarine veteran serving as chairman of the float committee.
“The San Diego Base submarine float is a 1/22 scale model of the USS Los Angeles (SSN-688), a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine, and the first of her class,” he said. “The float is 16 feet long and 18 inches in diameter.”
Construction of the float involved building a long tapered plywood box with internal support structures for the two external stanchions, the sail on top, and the propeller.
“Styrofoam was glued to the outside of the box, and the entire assembly was rotated while cutting to achieve the cylindrical shape with tapered ends,” said Kauppinen. “The submarine was then covered with two fiberglass coats and painted black.”
The float is unique in that it can be raised 36 inches by a hydraulic lift for parade viewing and then lowered for highway travel. The sail and propeller can be removed and stored for travel.
Up to 10 submarine veterans can be seated on the float, which includes a diving alarm and stereo for playing Navy music as they travel parade routes. Many of those veterans include members of the SubVets team, including Joel Eikam, Ray Ferbrache, Rocky Rockers and Mert Weltzien.
“It was rewarding for me to work with this group,” said Spani. “The model construction was a challenge and required some special techniques in the scale shaping of the hull, propeller, sail, rudders and planes.”
Parades in San Diego are held on a variety of holidays, and whether they are on Memorial Day or not, float committee members are eager to share their love and support for their fellow submariners.
“The submarine veterans are entitled to our support, as they proudly served in the security of our country,” said Kauppinen.
“The float is important to our organization of sub vets,” said Bob Bissonnette, base Commander from San Diego. “But it’s also important to San Diego and beyond. It’s our tradition and our heritage.”
“The float represents the service of the SubVets to our country, and is a memorial to all submariners,” said Spani. “The float allows the people of Ramona to see the ongoing dedication of these veterans. I know the float will be shown in many local parades for years to come.”