Introduction: Young Marines Parade Float

About: I work as a Environmental Health and Safety specialist for Clark Reliance. Most of the guys there don't think I would know how to use a hammer. Sometimes, people are more than what they appear. :)

This is a parade float I built for a Young Marines group near my home town. If it were real it would be called an Amtrak Water buffalo, or LTV4 water buffalo. They were a military vehicle built for the 1940s to haul troops, a jeep, and supplies. They floated on water and drove on land.

The question then becomes why.
The Young marines saw a float I built for a local church, it was a pirate ship. They asked me to build a military float for them. I figured the time it took to build the ship, added an extra 2 weeks and though ok, I can do this in about 1 month with nights and weekends. Well, then I got the picture of what they wanted built, and I knew that my timing was a little off. It took a bit longer, few months, to complete but here it is.

So now you are wondering how. I will try to explain.

Step 1:

This is the picture they gave me for what they wanted built. It is a picture of a model of the LTV 4...... oh boy.

Step 2: Supplies Needed

Ok where to start.

So you need a trailer and a good one at that. It has to support the weight of 15 people, so roughly 2500 pounds, plus the weight of the trailer (another 1500 pounds), plus building materials (another 2000 pounds). Add them all up and you get a trailer with a payload of 6000 or higher. We chose a 16 foot dual axel trailer that could haul 7000, giving us a 1000 pound safety factor.

Building supplies:

plywood - 1/2 inch and 3/8th inch
paint - green and black
black spray paint
sheet metal - tracks
giant wire wheels - the wood ones
water barrels - we will get to that
PVC pipe - rollers on track


paint ball guns - tippman customs
Metal to modify the guns
Remote coils
CO2 tanks
check valves
Auto triggers


Circular Saw
Miter Saw
Router to flush cut
HVLP paint gun - not needed but helps
Air Compressor
And so many other misc hand tools

PPE: also called Personal Protective Equipment

Face Shield
Safety Glasses
Closed toe shoes
Ear Plugs
dust mask

I am sure I missed many things on the list. It is not comprehensive but the best of what I can remember.

Step 3: Research

I took the project in September and knew the build was going to start in the spring. I had 3 pictures of that model to work from, and that was it. I spent alot of time trying to find a good picture of the Amtrak that would show angles the 3 pictures I had didn't. Sometime after I found exactly what I was looking for.

I played a game called Black Ops and we got thrown into the Crisis map. Starting out I ran across the map into the water area and just stopped and stared. There in water were 2 very detailed 3 dimensional Amtraks. Needless to say I got knifed in the back as I stared at the find. I backed out, went into a private match and spent an hour drawing out details of what I had missed. I now had a perfect model to work from and to create my own 3D float from. Thanks Treyarch.

Step 4: The Build

I began by figuring out the dimension of the real Amtrak and reducing them to what I had to work with. My trailer was 16 foot long and a real amtrak, is just a few feet longer. So to make it look proportioned when finished, I had to size the float accordingly with height and length and even width. The float angles up like the amtrak so that also had to be taken into consideration with a vehicle pulling and turning, the boards could not hit the tailgate.

After dimension planning took place, internal framing started to go together. Above are some pictures of that. The float sticks out 1 inch past the wheel wells on each side. The top framing has to match the track runs as well.

The wheels need to be accessed in order to change a tire so a removable plywood piece was put into place covering each set of tires. The track will also need to be removable here also.

The cog wheels are the center of a 42 inch wire wheel. They were cut down and the center boards of the wheel used later for tracks as they are already curved.

Step 5: Back Hatch

The Amtrak stands about 6 feet tall, not an easy step for anyone. So... I needed to create a way for the kids to get inside. Since I don't have mechanical assistance to raise and lower the entire back hatch of the Amtrack like a real one, I had to create a slightly smaller door but also keep the look of the finished Amtrak intact.

The pictures show basically what I did. I created a two piece door that slid in a track. It was held in place by friction and weight.

The bottom portion was attached to the float and hinged at the bottom. It was built with steps on the back to allow for easy access to the float. The top of it had a handle attached to pick it up with. I used two heavy duty door hinges to secure it.

The top section slid inside of a track built out of plywood. It slid up in the track to its stop plate, allowing the bottom section to hinge down, and then the top section slid all the way down and out of the track. It was removable from the float in order to get in.

When the two were locked together, the handles were on the outside. This way when closed, it was near impossible to open from the inside, thus protecting the kids from falling out.

Step 6: Tracks or Treads

The tracks or treads as they may be were a challenge. They needed to look real, with some slack in the tread, but also be firmly attached to the float. They also had to look completely functional but not weigh too much.

The orginal thought was to just cut down 2x4s and attach them but they would have looked square and bulky. Then a Eureka moment happened, what about all the boards I had left from the wire wheels. They were curved, about 6 inches wide and could be cut to whatever lenght. Thus my miter saw got a work out cutting hundreds of tread pieces.

I chose to use sheet metal to attach the treads to as it would bend nicely around the frame, hold each tread in place, and be light weight enough to work with. Plus I work with a sheet metal shop. Each tread was screwed into place with 2 sheet metal screws from the bottom side.

I had to keep in mind that the tires would need changed at some point and the tread couldn't go though the tires. As well, if the tread just stopped at the wheel well it would look off and odd at the same time. So I cut 2 inch long tread pieces, attached them to a thin piece of sheet metal and hung them in place in front of the tires. 2 screws to remove them to change a tire, and the track went all the way around now.

Step 7: Preparing to Paint

Because the whole float is sheeted in plywood, I wanted to skim coat it with something to keep it from looking like wood and make it look more like metal. I chose durabond. That was a mistake. Durabond is an indoor product and will re activiate when wet. It hardens like cement but does not stay that way, even when painted over.

My float looked all smooth. I primed it with kilz and then painted it with two coats of Duration - top of the line exterior Arcrylic latex from Sherwin Williams. 2 days later it rained. The entire float that I had skim coated bubbled and I could peel literal sheets of paint off by hand. Below are some of the pictures. I was sick to my stomach over this. I took the day off work after finding it in the morning and going in for a grand total of an hour and a half. Couldn't concentrate on anything else.

I then power washed the entire float to remove the remaining paint that had durabond under it. The float was then sanded completely to remove the raised grain of the wood from the power washer. It was re primed with exterior latex from Sherwin Williams, and then given 3 coats of green. You could tell it was plywood a little bit but I no longer cared and wasn't going to risk another skim coat of anything. I did fill in most of the cracks with latex paintable caulk. The edges then looked welded at least.

Step 8: The Turrets

Every Tank, military vehicle, Amtrak, etc. needs a gun or two. The Young Marines wanted guns up front that looked like a 50 cal. , made noise, but didn't shoot anyone. I went with paintball guns. The gun we used was called a Tippman and the model was a 98 custom, or the Army version called a Carver One. It is the same weapon, the army one was just cheaper with the electronic trigger. I had to tear the Army sticker off as this is a Marines float

Both front turrets were electronic triggered to full auto. The air line connection to the gun was quick connect mounted with a remote coil. Each gun was then run off a 10 and 15 pound tank respectively. That would give each gun an average of 10,000 plus shots, more than enough for a parade or two.

The guns were modified with copper tubing for the barrel, a custom shroud, Steel plate guards, etc. But we also wanted to ensure no one could put something in the barrel and fire it at the parade crowd close up. The copper barrel had holes drilled into it and nails put through it to shred a paintball if it was put in. I have access to rubber paintballs as well so one of those was put in the end of the barrel to see what pressure was left. It made it 25 feet. I can live with that. the loading port was then sealed with part of a valve I took off the remote coils and screwed into place so nothing could be loaded. If the float is sometime put into storage, the modifications of the guns could be taken off and they would function normally again.

The guns were then mounted onto the float with the metal brackets shown in the pictures. They could be removed by removing one zip tie and loosening the clamp on the bracket ( the clamp was part of a 9 inch guard for a metabo grinder)

They don't look like any gun in particular, but they look close enough to a machine gun that the effect definitely works. They also sound pretty wicked when in full auto.  I think they came out pretty well.

We also had another kind of gun on the float, a water gun. I built two metal shrouds (with the help of a few machines at work) for the back to put the guns through, and cut two 55 gallon drums down to put water in. We then used the stream machine water guns which you pull back the handle to suck water up, and push it back in to fire. You can get someone in the crowd wet from 30 feet out. Not bad for a little squirt gun.

Step 9: Devil in the Details.

Adding detail to the float is what makes it look like an amtrak vs a plywood box. The details came from the turrets, antennas, grab bars, handles, cog detail painting, tread paint, lights, etc. Below are some pictures of what I did.

The lights on the back of the trailer had to be rewired to be functional with the vehicle pulling.

The lights on the front were LED closet style lights we mounted to look a little better with a metal shroud surrounding.

1" wood dowel rods were used for the poles on the top

Fiberglass rods you put at the end of your drive in winter used for antennas

Paint can lid with handle attached for the fake hatch handle

Cog wheels surface painted to look like they are more than wood

Step 10: Finishing Up

That pretty much is the cliff notes version of how to build an amtrak. It was alot of trial and error. It wasn't easy by any means and took me months longer than planned. I had some help with some of the materials working in construction but everything could be bought and made just the same.

As much as I liked the finished product, I don't think I would build another one. It took way too much blood, sweat, and tears to complete this one. It did look sweet rolling down main street in the parade though.

Thanks for looking and hope you enjoyed the pictures.

Here is a video of the guns in action and a slide show of the build. The video was completed prior to all the paint peeling off. The repaint job and the final details are not in the video. The lady in red in the video was the Young Marine Chaplain who commissioned the project, and the blond haired lady laughing after firing the gun is my wife.

Enjoy the day and God Bless

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