CTR float-building dynasty ending￼
By Kyle Mooty
If they built it, people would come, sometimes early and certainly the day of the Chisholm Trail Roundup Parade to see what the Riggins had plotted for their latest one-of-a-kind float.
From Forrest Gump to Crocodile Dundee, Jaws and Harry Potter, there was no limitation to what theme Mark and Stephanie Riggin, along with their construction and creative crews, would come up with each year. It was the most anticipated float of the parade, yet it ends this year, the 49th production of the CTR as the Riggins are retiring from their longtime business, closing Wilson & Riggin Lumber later this month.
Stephanie Riggin said she saw her first parade when she was only 6 thanks to her late father Forrest “Jack” Wilson’s love for them. When the CTR began, it was only natural that Wilson, already a co-owner of the lumber business, began constructing floats.
When Mark and Stephanie married, she informed him that he would be a part of the float-building team. Originally from upstate New York, Mark didn’t hesitate, falling in love with the projects. This year, the Riggins will enjoy their 43rd anniversary.
The Flintstones, R2-D2, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, Peter Pan, Finding Nemo, Starship Enterprise, and even the movie “Twister” were among the float themes concocted and brought to life by the team.
And, while the floats may have been planned and discussed for months, they were usually built in two or three days.
The work on the float took place being the lumber company and didn’t start until Wednesday night, sometimes as late as Thursday, the week of the Saturday morning parade.
Special lighting would be put up so those working could stay until the early morning hours.
“We would stay all night,” Stephanie said. “You can see who can really hang with you building those things. Friday night, we went home in about 3 a.m. We finished the Crocodile Dundee float at 6 a.m., went home, changed clothes, and went to the parade.
“We just had so much fun doing it.”
Mark noted some of the biggest helpers on the floats were the Brewers brothers, Rick and Don of Lytton Springs. “They don’t live here anymore, but they worked for us in high school and were really helpful,” Mark said.
A core group of 14 to 15 people helped with the design and construction. They had some people work on the floats while in high school that have since had their own children who have helped work on the floats.
“That’s how long we’ve been doing this,” Stephanie said. “People would take their vacations and come back to build the float. We get together once a year and brainstorm ideas. We always try to think of funny sayings. Everybody that did this job loved doing it.”
Stephanie said some people would drive around the business trying to figure out what the theme would be for that year’s float. It became a top-secret project. Mark remembers people guessing at the store, but they would usually reply with something like, “You’re right,” even if they weren’t.
“People would sneak around to try to find out what we were going to be,” Stephanie said. “We took a vow of secrecy when we worked on it. When Facebook hit, we had to take a vow that we couldn’t post anything. It got to be really fun. People would guess all the time.”
Even Jack Wilson, before his passing at the age of 97 in 2019, would drive up to the construction site to see how the new float was coming along.
One of the more interesting floats was the Peter Pan theme with Stephanie playing Tinker Bell. She had a harness with a wire that allowed her to zip across the float spreading fairy dust.
“We never backed off doing anything, but I will admit that when they told me to jump with the harness, I was not high happy. I said, ‘You jump.’”
Mark said safety was always a top priority regardless of the float.
Some floats left more of an impression on the Riggins than did others.
Among Mark’s favorite was the R2D2 float. The Twister float had things moving around inside to look as though it was a tornado, all while Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” played in the background.
A Jeep pulled the crocodile float and its mouth opened and closed. The Starship Enterprise float had colored smoke emitting from it. During a practice run with the smoke behind the business, the fire department was called as someone who didn’t know what was going on.
There was a forklift on the Godzilla float and a skid loader on Shrek.
Then there was the patriotic float that had a flag waving to honor America, First Responders, and others.
“It was an honor to go down the parade route and see all of the men and women come to full attention and salute the flag,” Mark said. “That was pretty neat.”
They made the Godzilla float complete with a city skyline as a backdrop. There was also a float with a dinosaur.
The Forrest Gump float had a shrimp boat. Jaws was a 52-foot shark with a mouth that opened and closed. It was driven by a 1970 Ford Bronco.
“People are smiling and very warm,” Stephanie said. “It’s awe-inspiring. There are so many people that are happy that it makes you happy. Like anything you do as a group and you’re having fun doing it, it just works. It’s a Texas hometown event.”
Asked if she was going to miss making one this year, Stephanie said, “Yeah. We may just get in my 4×4, decorate it, and crash the parade.
“It is bittersweet, but I will say I’m not 40 anymore.”
The Chisholm Trail Roundup Parade begin Saturday at 10 a.m.