Volunteer celebrates 35th year coordinating Grand Floral Parade - KPTV - FOX 12

Volunteer celebrates 35th year coordinating Grand Floral Parade pace car

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Barry Carlson and his son Tary (KPTV) Barry Carlson and his son Tary (KPTV)
PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

The Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade is just ten days away, and for most Portlanders, it's all about the floats and marching bands. For one Portland family, it's all about precision, pace cars, and ham radios.

The Grand Floral Parade is definitely family fun, although for Barry Carlson and his son Tary, family fun at the parade is different than what you would think.

It all started in the early 1980s with Barry, who is 74. An amateur ham radio operator, Barry and others were asked to help coordinate parade communications.

Though slowed by Parkinson's, 2016 will be Barry's 35th consecutive year volunteering his time and expertise coordinating 20 ham radio operators and the parade's pace car.

Barry has a very important task during the parade: keep the parade moving and on time, from the east side to the west along roughly a 60 block area with very few gaps.

Tary drives the pace car, but it's Barry holed up in a command post who tells Tary when he needs to slow down or speed up.

"We try to hit that ideal pace," said Tary.

It's all a matter of timing. Bands get 90 seconds between stops while floats about a minute, but there are always unplanned starts and stops along the way.

"I know we've had horses get out of control, floats break down," said Tary.

This year, Barry will be tracking a total of 98 entries including 25 floats and mini-floats, and 14 marching bands.

"Yeah, I'm always nervous," said Barry.

Barry developed a computer program this year so he knows what's happening in real time. Ham radios aren't exactly high tech but Barry said they are the best way to communicate with a couple dozen people at once.

City permits allow the parade to last precisely four hours. Barry aims for that too but if he doesn't get that pin-point timing exactly right this year, he will try again next year.

In 1999, Barry was given the Volunteer of the Year award from the Portland Rose Festival, and now a third generation of Carlson's are volunteering their time with the parade.

The Grand Floral Parade will begin at 10 a.m. on June 11 and will air on FOX 12.

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