Steamboat resident builds a fire-breather for Fourth parade

Steamboat man’s dragon car to meet the public at Fourth of July Parade

Scott Franz
Charlie Holthausen and Dean Ludwick attach a wing to a dragon car Sunday that will be featured in Steamboat's Fourth of July Parade.
Scott Franz

— His neck is lined with old metal trampoline legs, his wings are arched PVC pipes draped in silver netting, his scales are formed by rows of shiny donated CDs, and inside his belly is an old Nissan pickup that was spared a trip to the salvage yard.

And on Sunday, after they were painted and bound together during a two-month construction project, the dragon’s used parts were covered by a red fabric of flesh, and Charlie Holthausen said the 35-foot fire-breather sitting in his driveway had become something entirely new.

“It’s the talk of the neighborhood,” he said from the top of a ladder, where he made some final adjustments on Spike’s mouth, which will house a smoke machine. “We salvaged a lot of material and repurposed it to build something completely new. Ninety two percent of the stuff we used to build Spike was recycled.”

The mythical creature, whose spikes were being painted red and yellow by friends and neighborhood volunteers in Holthausen’s driveway in the Elk River Estates on Sunday, will be unveiled to the public on Lincoln Avenue today during Steamboat Springs’ Fourth of July Parade.

To get Spike road ready, Holthausen said he needed the army of hands and help from his neighbors to paint and tweak the dragon’s frame, which is adorned with a driver’s seat and a steering wheel and clutch system that allows the operator to maneuver the dragon from the float’s rooftop.

“Charlie is a master certified auto technician who didn’t like just working on cars,” said his wife, Gail. “He’s always been tinkering and making things, and it’s always exciting to see what new invention he comes up with.”

For months, the refrigerator door and the walls of Holthausen’s home were plastered with pictures and sketches of dragons of various shapes and sizes. In the garage, which was called the “dragon cave” during construction hours, buckets of red paint sat next to schematics for the dragon that showed its progression from a sketch to a drivable design.

“We constantly referred back to the drawings in the design phase of our project,” Charlie said gesturing to a computer monitor in his garage that had a picture of a green dragon taped over it. “We learned quickly there are several varieties of dragons, and it takes a lot of effort to make sure everything looks like it should.”

Some Steamboat parade-goers may remember the 40-foot-long iguana car Holthausen created in 2009 using a minivan, a trailer and other household items, which is now on display in an Oklahoma City museum. An auto mechanic and former owner of Black Diamond Automotive, Holthausen said each “mutant vehicle” he creates is a full-time project.

“It takes about a year to recover from each creation,” he said.

Using a spongebrush to give Spike’s spikes some yellow highlights Sunday, volunteer Madeline Cordier said the dragon had come a long way.

“Yesterday it was mainly chicken wire, and one side was done, but nothing was painted,” she said. “We’re all super excited for tomorrow. We hope the rest of the town loves it because we know that we love it and the work we put into it was well worth it.”

Neighbor Leslie Ryan said she has enjoyed being able to watch the dragon’s transition from an old pickup into a colorful float.

“Charlie’s always building something,” she said. “I think everyone at the parade will enjoy this dragon.”

Steamboat’s Fourth of July Parade begins at 10 a.m. on Lincoln Avenue.

Fourth of July events

❱❱ Yampa Fourth of July Festivities — Downtown Yampa, 7 a.m.

Fourth of July is no small ordeal in the South Routt County town of Yampa, where the annual celebration kicks off early in the morning with a pancake breakfast at the Ladies Aid Hall. The parade begins at 1 p.m. at River Park, and lineup is before noon. A barbecue lunch is after the parade at South Routt Elementary School and includes activities for all ages. The horse polo and horse race events begin at 4 p.m. on Moffat Avenue. For more information, call Tom Yackey at 970-734-4547. Colorado Highway 131, south of Oak Creek.

❱❱ Lion’s Club Pancake Breakfast — Little Toots Park, 7 to 10 a.m.

The Steamboat Springs Lions Club serves up the annual all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. The cost is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors older than 65 and youths younger than 10. Proceeds stay local and fund projects such as scholarships and optical care. Call Bob Rowe at 970-879-2396 for more information. Little Toots Park, 12th and Yampa streets.

❱❱ Fourth of July Parade — Lincoln Avenue, 10 a.m.

The theme for the annual Fourth of July Parade is “The Greatest Summer on Earth.”

❱❱ Art on the Mountain — Gondola Square, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. hosts the 10th annual Art on the Mountain. Local and visiting artisans bring a variety of work to display and sell in Gondola Square at Steamboat Ski Area. Call 970-871-5382. 2305 Mount Werner Circle.

❱❱ Pioneer Block Party — Tread of Pioneers Museum, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The annual celebration of local heritage includes live music by Steamboat Swings, “Routt” beer floats, free admission to the museum and children’s activities. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church provides free hot dogs. Free. Call 970-879-2214. Eighth and Oak streets.

❱❱ Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series — Brent Romick Rodeo Arena, 6:30 p.m.

Cowboys and cowgirls compete at classic rodeo events. Barbecue will be sold starting at 6 p.m., and local band Cabin Fever plays from about 6 to 7:15 p.m. Tickets are $15 at the gate for adults and $8 for children ages 7 to 15. Children 6 and younger are free. More information is at Brent Romick Rodeo Arena at Howelsen Parkway and Fifth Street.

❱❱ Fourth of July Fireworks — Howelsen Hill, about 9:30 p.m.

Good viewing sites can be found across downtown and in some elevated areas near Mount Werner. Residents are encouraged to watch the show from home, and those who travel to Howelsen Hill are encouraged to take Steamboat Springs Transit’s free buses or park at the Stock Bridge Transit Center and walk to Howelsen Hill on the Yampa River Core Trail. KBCR 96.9 FM will provide a live simulcast of music choreographed to the fireworks.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email

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