The Ottumwa Courier

January 2, 2014

Drafted at the Rose Bowl

Courier staff writer

---- — ELDON — If you caught the Tournament of Roses parade, then you probably saw some Wapello County handiwork: It happened by chance.

Pie maker and American Gothic House resident Beth Howard is visiting her parents in Southern California. She ran into Dave Pittman, originally from the Cedar Rapids area. He was in California because he designs floats for the Rose Bowl parade; he's done 100 so far.

"Dave invited me to help decorate the parade floats," Howard said. "I was posting pictures on Facebook, [and] Diana Harness of Eldon made a comment on one of my posts that she was in the area. So I invited her to the float decorating area ... across the street from the Rose Bowl for a ... tour from Dave the designer."

Harness, who works at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, her husband Don and her sister hurried from the coast south of Los Angeles to Pasadena.

"There were pretty large crowds," Don said. "We finally found a place to park, [but] when we found the [pavilion], there was a big line of people waiting to pay for a tour; they'd show you the outside of the [float] building. Beth saw us and talked to the security guard, who opened the gate for us, let us right in."

The bad news? "Dave was too busy to give them a tour," said Howard.

The good news? He gave them a rare opportunity instead.

"He put them to work," said Howard.

"Up to that point, we thought we were just going to look at some floats," Don said.

As the designer walked around the pavilion looking for a float that needed work (out of about 50 floats, he designed nine), the Wapello County folks got to see nearly all the floats they would have seen on television.

"We always watch the parade, but to see the floats up close was just beautiful," said Diana, who added she had dreamed of one day experiencing the parade. "And to work on them, that's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

"He took us to where they needed help," said Don. "It was five sections, so [they] put us to work on it. The theme was 'Keeping Dreams on Track,' and we were working on a train; I had worked 42 years for the railroad, which he didn't know. It was just another coincidence."

It was the parade sponsor's float, Honda. A news report Thursday stated that the float is the longest in the history of the Rose Parade.

"We took white carnations, cut the petals off and individually glued each petal to the float," Don said. "It was just one section of wheels, and it took the three of us four hours."

Howard was snapping pictures. She knows the Harness family; Diana occasionally helps out at the Gothic House "Pitchfork Pie Stand." And her family has a recipe (cinnamon pie) being published in Howard's newest cookbook, "Ms. American Pie."

"I loved the synchronicity of meeting up with fellow Eldon friends all the way out here," said Howard.

The Harnesses had gone to California on Amtrak. They were on their way home to Iowa Thursday on the Southwest Chief when the Courier reached them in Albuquerque.

So next year, what will they be thinking when they watch the Tournament of Roses parade?

"About what a wonderful time we had. It was just so spontaneous," Diana said. "It was a dream come true — just like the theme of the parade, dreams do come true."

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @CourierMark