Judging from the reaction from children and adults at Superior Street and Lake Avenue, the Duluth Owls Club unofficially won the Christmas City of the North Parade last year.

With giant, lighted eyes and a swiveling head, children screamed: “It’s looking at me!” And then you heard a “hoot, hoot” emerging from it. The children would run along with the float until a just-as-riveted parent beckoned their child back.

It was a glorious debut of the Owls float, inspiring its main creator, Bryan “Lefty” Johnson, to do it all over again this year but with an added flourish: flapping wings. The parade begins at 6:30 tonight down East Superior Street starting at 10th Avenue East.

And there he was this week in the unheated, cramped storage space underneath the club on Second Street. The space is so small, he figures most of his time is spent positioning the parts of the float to make room for the decorative work.

Johnson, who works nights as a bartender and musician, spends much of the time creating the float alone. Club members work during the day, he said, so he can’t expect a lot of help. Last year, he spent 36 hours putting the finishing touches on the owl in the last few days before the parade.

“Our budget is small,” he said Monday while tacking up feather-shaped burlap bags on the owl’s chicken wire body. It’s a more weatherproof coating compared to the plastered newspaper used last year. Johnson takes pride in the fact that the float is made from donated scraps and parts. There’s leftover lumber from a home building project. The burlap is from bags used at Alakef Coffee Roasters.

He jokes that the Owls float is no corporate creation done in the comforts of a heated and roomy space.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just ask Cirrus Aircraft. Dave Jensch, station manager for parade host KBJR-TV, said Cirrus will tout its newest jet on a trailer in the parade. It will be one of a handful of new entries, he said.

“They’ve been more creative,” he said of the entries. One of the “more elaborate” floats he can’t wait to see is Barkers Island Marina’s rendition of a 30-foot sailboat run by polar bears.

Spirit Mountain is planning a float with a snow scene that includes one of its ski hill snowmaking guns.

In that spirit of creativity, Johnson expected to spend much of the week engineering the articulated wings. A friend created a small model to go by.

The other new touch will be the “Lord and Lady Owl” wearing masks made by nearby artist Richard Rosvall.

“It’ll add to the mystique” of the club, Johnson said with an owl wink.

The Owls is simply a decades-old social club that continues to find new life with younger members joining its ranks. It’s one of the last bottle clubs in the region, meaning its members bring in their own liquor to store for set-up service in the bar area. Musical events and standing game nights are the most popular draws at the club that is open to anyone willing to pay the minimal dues.

The float is a good way to promote the club, but it’s obvious Johnson simply enjoys showing off the creation. He smiles as he shows how the lights are inserted into the eye sockets on the owl head.

“It’s like putting eyeballs in a robot,” he said.

Add a Santa hat and other holiday touches and it remains one impressive float for the annual parade that kicks off the holiday season in Duluth.

“It’ll be Christmassy, but in a different way,” he said.

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