Best of the Boat: Best 4th of July float — Fire-breathing dragon |

Best of the Boat: Best 4th of July float — Fire-breathing dragon

Spike, the fire-breathing dragon.
John F. Russell

See the complete list of 2017 Best of the Boat winners here.

He’s baaaack…and better than ever.

While Gail and Charlie Holthausen sold Phoenix, their fire-breathing dragon, last winter, the return of their old fire-breathing friend, Spike, takes some of the pain away. So does their winning Best 4th of July Float.

The Holthausens sold Phoenix to the same person who bought their first dragon, Spike. In so doing, Charlie was able to get their original dragon back, which has now been further refurbished into town’s best parade float. “Who needs two dragons anyway?” Gail says.

Charlie, a retired auto mechanic, has since restored Spike to its original red color, replacing the original paper mache covering with more durable trampoline fabric. He also added new wings, nostril smoke and a tilting head when it spits fire. “We’ve learned a lot since creating the first one,” he says.

While they didn’t tour the new, improved Spike at this year’s Burning Man Festival in Nevada like they usually do, the 35-foot fire-breather still turned plenty of heads at this year’s 4th of July Parade. In all, the couple has more than 400 hours into the project, whose material is almost all recycled — from old metal trampoline legs and PVC pipes to donated CDs for scales. A special driver’s seat and steering allows the operator to maneuver the dragon from the float’s rooftop.

“Gail’s the artist, and I’m the mechanic,” Charlie says. “We salvaged and repurposed a lot of material to build it. We’ve had a lot of fun with it. And we love downtown Steamboat — we get a special reception here.”

When building the original version, for months their refrigerator door was plastered with pictures and sketches of dragons of various shapes and sizes. Their garage, affectionately called the “dragon cave,” hosted buckets of paint and various parts and schematics. “It takes a lot of effort to make sure everything looks like it should,” he says.

In 2009, he created a 40-foot-long iguana car using a minivan, a trailer and other household items. It’s now on display in an Oklahoma City museum.

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


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