Griffin Infiltrates Rose Parade

By Miles Bryan ’13 | September 1, 2012

The griffin is small and soft. Six inches high and stuffed with cotton, it sits atop a few worn books stacked on the cluttered desk of Mike Teskey, director of alumni & parent relations. For years this figurine—a plush model of the mythical half lion, half eagle—had fixed its glassy eye on Mike, and it must have made an impression, because when he met representatives of the Portland Rose Festival to discuss Reed’s float in the upcoming parade, Mike pointed to the griffin.

The last time Reed entered a float in the Grand Floral Parade was in 1936. From time to time, alumni would broach the dream of returning to the parade, but like a lot of great ideas, it never got past the broaching stage. Then, at a centennial apple-pressing party in the canyon orchard, Mike struck up a conversation with Jon-Paul Davis ’93 and mechanical wizard Rob Mack ’93. Rob was the natural choice to spearhead the project; during his Reed days he turned an old Nissan into the infamous Mobile Outdoor Plush Super Upholstered Den (MOSPUD), a mobile beverage-distribution system that graced several Renn Fayres. Rob signed on for the parade with just one demand: Reed would build the float.

Rob’s request may seem strange, but most floats are put together by SCi 3.2, the parade company that oversees the Grand Floral Parade. However, Rob was fully confident that Reedies could construct a float worthy of the ages. In April, Rob and his core team, Mike Teskey, Ben Lund ’93, Dan Schafer ’92, Martha Richards ’92, and Lars Fjelstad ’92, began to build in earnest. 

On a sunny June afternoon, Rob and his team were laboring in a dust-filled warehouse in northwest Portland, fighting through the heavy scent of peat and flowers to put the final touches on the float. The griffin stuck out of the sea of floats—all of which were receiving the Grand Floral Parade’s requisite botanical covering—like a pallid postthesis Reedie on the beach. Rob’s paint-spattered overalls and booming voice were in stark contrast to the quiet efficiency of the blue-and-white uniforms of the professional float builders as he haggled with administrators over the volume of his stereo.

Mechanically, the griffin is quite complex: mounted on the chassis of an old Ford Pinto, it was welded out of iron bars and boasts a system of motors in the wings and the head that allow each to rotate independently. There is also a speaker system, wired to play the Muppets’ song “Cluck You” on repeat. Covering the float in flowers was grueling work, but the mood in the warehouse was joyous. Like a senior editing a thesis after passing orals, the griffin team would only be done when continuing was no longer an option.

The sky was gray and ominous on the morning of the parade, but the mood was sunny among the Portlanders who thronged the sidewalks along the route. At one point, after the sudden failure of an engine coil, the Reed float suffered the ignominy of being towed by a golf cart. But when it crested the rise of the Burnside Bridge, its eyes bright and its outspread wings glowing in their fresh coat of flowers, the griffin looked positively regal—a stunning metamorphosis of dream to  reality. 

For more photos of the mighty Griffin, see

Tags: Alumni, Cool Projects, Reed History