Planning the Pancake. Professional PR Info Exchange. PRISA, 1992


The Brief

Despite accusations that the organizers and sponsors were on an ego trip and merely wished to see their names in print, the official attempt to bake the world’s largest pancake in Bloemfontein on 7 May 1992 was not about hype and razzmatazz. It was for the benefit of the needy children of our country.

When M-Net’s event coordinator for Red Nose Day ’92 briefed the five consultancies in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban, Bloemfontein and Cape Town in August 1991, he requested each of them to obtain the 1991 edition of the Guinness Book of Records and to attempt to set a new record. These attempts were to take place prior to red Nose Day – scheduled for 14 March 1992 – in an effort to create awareness for Red Nose Day and to motivate people to pledge money for the telethon on M-Net. Where does one begin with a project like this? Let’s try right at the beginning: the world’s largest pancake was baked by a couple of inventive Dutch pioneers. Dijkerhoek in the Netherlands was the venue, October 1990 the date. The result: a pancake 10.3m in diameter, 25mm thick, weighing 1.6 tons. “Not a problem”, we thought, “we’ll bake a pancake of 15m in diameter!” Brave thoughts… until Nicolas Heath-Brown, from Guinness Publishing, informed us that in order to qualify for the official world record, we not only had to bake a larger pancake, but that we had to flip it!

The Official Rules Were:

1. The record is for the diameter of the pancake, so it should be totally round. It should be measured just before it is flipped.
2. Although the weight does not constitute the record, it should also be given. The pancake should be at least 25mm thick.
3. The pancake must be flipped.
4. The finished product must be sampled and the judges must confirm that it is totally edible. They must also declare that it is safe for the public to eat.

In terms of the Guinness requirements, at least two judges had to preside over the proceedings to ensure that all the qualifying factors were met. These judges had to be people of some standing in the community and at least one of them a health inspector or someone suitably qualified in weights and measures. It was decided to invite four judges to preside over the Bloemfontein pancake: The OFS administrator, an appeal court judge, the surveyor-general and the senior health inspector.

The Sponsors

Our main concern was the cost involved in a project of this nature. Obviously, as little money as possible had to change hands in the process and we realized that we had to convince people to pledge their time, their knowledge and expertise, their goodwill, and, in some cases, materials.
At this point we approached Julie Kruger, managing director of Julies Home Confectionary and the 1990 Old Mutual & Sarie Businesswoman of the year. This is a perfect example of one of the benefits of using consultants, as two different clients in this case, M-Net and Julies – were involved in one project which benefited not only them, but also the cause. We knew that the idea of the world’s largest pancake would appeal to her since this enterprising lady started her successful frozen food operation with the manufacturing and supply of pancakes to various retail outlets. She has also been strongly involved in project for the benefit of children. Julie Kruger committed herself and her business to the pancake attempt immediately.

It was evident that an innovative engineering firm would play a vital role in determining exactly how something like this could be pulled off. Dr Coert du Toit, head of the Bloemfontein office of BKS Inc., consulting engineers, pledged his company’s commitment to the project without any hesitation. The company has a philosophy of social and community involvement and this, coupled with its vision “creative engineering for a better future”, and tied in perfectly with the aims of this project and of Red Nose Day in general.

The Plan

With the experts on board, the strategizing began. The Dutch fellows used a roll-up method to flip their pancake and we investigated this possibility thoroughly. Different grades of foil were scrutinized and special plans were drawn-up to accommodate this method, but we felt we wanted to flip the pancake in the traditional way.

After many hours of discussing, planning and evaluating the possible ways of flipping the pancake, a workable, practical solution was agreed upon. At this stage we also came to the conclusion that a slightly more modest 12.5m pancake would have to be baked rather than our initial idea of a 15m pancake.

The plan was as follows: An eleven ton, square steel base was to be built and was to be kept in place by a sand and brick layer. Decking pans would be clamped together to form the pan and a 30mm steel rim would be welded onto this steel base in a circular fashion to ensure that the pancake would be round as requested by Guinness. Another eleven ton square steel construction, with decking pans, was to be built and would serve as the “lid”.

The pancake would be baked on the based pan after which the lid would be secured onto the base pan by means of clamps and chains and this whole construction was to be hoisted into the air and flipped over with the support of hoisting towers and an axis around which it would rotate.

Theoretically a wonderful idea, but keeping in mind that all the steel had to be negotiated from suppliers free of charge and that a construction company had to supply manpower and their skills at no cost, this was a tall order! A number of alternative methods were investigated until the plans were streamlined and the hoisting towers scrapped and replaced by four cranes. We now had finalized the method in theory, but we had only just begun…
The construction company, Stocks & Stocks, was the next sponsor on board and was to take responsibility for the actual building of this massive steel monstrosity. While we were in the process of negotiating the steel from various companies across the country, as well as securing free transport for the steel to Bloemfontein, the dough specifications had to be investigated.

The ingredients for the dough were calculated as follows:

960kg flour, 480kg margarine, 7 680 eggs, 2 080 liters of milk, 80kg sugar, 40kg yeast and 6.4kg salt! We managed to obtain sponsors for all the ingredients.

At this point planning began in earnest and weekly meetings were scheduled with the relevant parties. Public safety and crowd-control measures were two of the main concerns and for weeks lengthy meetings with the Municipality’s Security Services, the Police, Fire Brigade and the Traffic Department were part of the process.

The experts from Hudson & Knight were called in to work in conjunction with Julie Kruger in order to develop dough with the right consistency to cope with the effect of inertia and gravity during the flipping process. Furthermore, the dough had to have the necessary elasticity, edibility and qualities to comply with the qualifying factors as specified by Guinness. Weeks and weeks of tests followed and eventually the perfect recipe was developed – or so we thought! For a number of reasons the dough had to be adapted again to cope with the structural problems which developed as the project unfolded.

The Problems

Initial tests had been carried out on standard pans but the decking pans which we had at our disposal, were pans used traditionally in the construction industry. On top of it all, the only pans we could get donated were second-hand ones which were not only buckled and bent, but also had rust and cement spots all over.

The pans, as a result, had to go through a number of preparation processes, including sand blasting and thorough scraping and cleaning. Furthermore, the pans did not spread heat evenly and thus we had to cope with a number of “hot spots” which caused the test pancakes to stick to the pan. Another problem we had to contend with was the fact that, when the pans were clamped together, there were still a number of chinks through which the oil and dough would seep. No only would this cause problems during the cooking process, but it would be hazardous situation if the oil seeped through at such a rate that it set alight. It became evident that the heating method and control over the heating process would be one of the key factors in the project.

Mobil Gas was approached and right from the start they called in their engineers and gas fundi’s to assist with the planning. A number of different methods were investigated with three main objectives – ensuring maximum safety, eliminating the “hot spot” problem and building in effective heat-control mechanisms. Initially, an enormous gas tanker was to be used to supply the gas and a piping network was tested which involved high-powered blow torches. Finally, after days and days of non-stop testing, it was decided to settle on a hot-rock effect which would work as follows: a sturdy sand base, as large as the pan, would be laid and it would be supported by brick walls. On top of this sand base a layer of stone would be placed and the piping network would be embedded in the stone. The gas feeder pipes would have to be buried under the ground for safety purposes and several clever tricks had to be pulled out of the hat to ensure that the gas pipes stayed behind when the whole contraption was hoisted into the air.

We then had to determine exactly how we were going to prepare the dough, transport it to the venue and most important of all, spread it onto the surface of the pan. After several tests it became evident that the oiling of the pan had to be done only once the pan was piping hot and that the dough had to be spread on as soon after the oiling as possible. There was no doubt that the Fire Brigade would have to be involved in this manoeuvre.

The dough was to be prepared in Julies’ factory, placed in buckets and poured into a concrete mixer with the help of a fork lift. A concrete mixer was selected as the most suitable way of transporting the dough to the venue. It was not quite as simple as that – this concrete mixer had to undergo a total ‘face-lift’. Two weeks of specialized “treatment” against rust and bacteria followed, under the watchful eyes of the local Health Inspectors. The result was a handsome-looking concrete mixer with would probably experience a major identity crisis after its involvement in this doughy affair!

A special extension arm was fitted onto the concrete mixer to enable the dough to be poured directly out of the mixer onto the surface, while it moved around the circumference of the pan. The initial plan had to be adapted to allow for this since the cranes had to be positioned as close to the pan as possible to allow for the tremendous weight that they had to cope with – this meant that the cranes had to be moved away and then brought forward again.

Provision was made for the attaching of an aluminium “arm” which would be connected to the centre of the pan and which could be swiveled around to spread the dough evenly. This would be removed after serving its purpose to allow for the lid to close onto the pan properly.

Having finalized the plans, it was important to publicize the event in order to achieve the aim of awareness.

Promoting the Pancake
A general Red Nose Day media conference was held approximately six weeks before Red Nose Day and mention was first made of the pancake at this event. A second media conference was held at the venue approximately 10 days prior to the event. The process was explained in detail and media releases were issued. In the following week media releases were issued nationally and a number of magazines were contacted to find out whether they were interested in sending representatives to Bloemfontein. A number of radio interviews were conducted in this period. There was considerable media interest in the pancake and a thick file of cuttings gives testimony to this.

The national organizers were planning a Comic Relief Book of Records and all the consultants were urged to stage a record for this purpose. We decided to manufacture the world’s largest red nose for inclusion in the book. The nose would be tied in with the pancake in order to have a visual reminder of the motivation for the pancake world record-breaking attempt. The red nose was built from fibre-glass according to a specification of 2.5m in diameter and was fitted onto a truck with banners sporting “We are on our way to the World’s Largest Pancake in Bloemfontein”. This ‘nose’ travelled from Pretoria through Johannesburg and the PWV-area on its way to Bloemfontein. A street procession, headed by the nose, was planned to arrive at the pancake venue at the point when it was expected that the record would be broken. Promotional towers were planned for the sponsors’ banners and other promotional materials. Provision was made for promotional areas for all the sponsors, a special logo was designed and T-shirts and peaks printed. An outside broadcasting unit and a tracking vehicle to accompany the concrete mixer on its way to the venue were also part of the plans, as were the Julies Choir – comprising the Julies’ factory workers who had been practicing their special pancake songs for weeks.

The Count-down
The Monday before the big day, we conducted the final soil tests and that was when we experienced our first major hitch. The initial soil tests had been conducted at the time when we were going to make use of hoisting towers, but the plans had been changed to use cranes. The engineers pointed out that if any rain fell during the week, we might run into serious problems as the construction was to be built on grass. We had to make a quick decision since the building on the site was scheduled to commence the following day. After hours of measuring and re-drawing the area layout, we found that we could fit the entire construction and layout onto the adjacent gravel parking area. Early on the Tuesday morning the trucks started unloading the bricks and the work force from Pro Pave, a local paving company, started positioning them. Shortly before they had completed their responsibilities, Sand du Plessis, a local sand contractor, arrived with the tons and tons of sand, required filling up the brick base – we were ahead of schedule.

The Mobil team was already off-loading their 74 gas bottles of 48kg each and their pipes and, the minute the sand was in position, they started with the burying of the pipes in the sand and stone base and digging the grooves for the feeder pipes.

Meanwhile, back at the Stock & Stocks yard, things were not running quite as smoothly. Somewhere, somehow, calculations had gone haywire and almost six tons of additional steel was required to complete the construction. Every steel company in this country was contacted to assist – faxes, phone calls and pleas on radio ensued and eventually, at the point of desperation, we obtained the steel and persuaded Unitrans to transport it to Bloemfontein from the reef.
This was not the only hiccup – three of the four cranes that we required to successfully pull off the flipping process, could no longer be brought from Secunda for the pancake project as promised, because of a sudden major shut-down at the Secunda plan. There were simply no cranes available in Bloemfontein which were big enough or which could cope with the major undertaking. Once again pleas and frantic calls for help went on the air and Anglo Crane came to the rescue only one day before the event!

A little behind schedule, but still full of enthusiasm, we pressed ahead. When, however, the 680 decking pans arrived from Johannesburg at the site, riddled with old cement and rust, we nearly gave up. With sand blasters, sandpaper and a team of factory workers from the Julies’ factory, we tackled the problem and after hours and hours the decking pans were good enough to be used.

On Friday we conducted all the dress rehearsals – starting with the Security Services and the Police, followed by the Traffic Department and moving onto the constructional elements. Things were finally falling into place, the cranes were arriving, the sponsors and their teams were arriving from all over the country and erecting their banners and point of sale material. Late that night the Fire Brigade used their high-powered hoses to help with cleaning of the pan and lid. When we left the site in the early hours of the morning, the realization hit home and this was all actually going to happen and that it was longer a dream!

The Big Day

Arriving at the site where history was literally about to be baked, a million and one things whizzed through our minds and it was evident that the planning of the last six months was about to become a reality!

The sun was barely up, but already the whole of Loch Logan was alive with activity, last-minute welding, clamping and securing of the enormous steel construction was taking place, the gas experts were ensuring that there were no leakages or blockages, and the crane drivers were moving their machinery into position.

At the Julies’ factory there was a flurry of activity and the dough preparation was on schedule – the concrete mixer arrived and all 2.6 tons of dough was poured into the mouth of the mixer.

Meanwhile, back at the site, the final test runs had commenced and already the people started pouring in through the gates. At approximately 10:00 the announcement came over the air – the concrete mixer was only kilometers away. The heating of the pan commenced and once the required heat of a 180° was reached, the sky-lift with Fire Brigade officials in protective clothing was hoisted over the sizzling pan to spread the oil onto the surface. The arrival of the concrete mixer heralded the pouring of the dough into the pan. The specially built extender arm of the concrete mixer worked perfectly, but we almost collapsed when the dough started running off the one side of the pan as a result of the construction being not 100% level. Desperate attempts were made by the members of the Fire Brigade and the working team to rescue as much dough as possible – and then what we feared most happened – we ran out of dough before the whole pan was covered! After a few hasty discussions it was decided to contact the Julies’ factory in order for them to start making some more dough, while the concrete mixer sped back to the factory to collect the dough. We had to slow down the cooking process to await the arrival of the additional dough and we were now about 1 hour behind schedule –but no-one had given up hope yet. Too much had gone into this project for it to fail at this point.

The concrete mixer arrived and the enthusiastic crowd cheered once again – the dough was spread onto the empty section of the pan and the cooking process could be resumed in all earnest. Once the pancake was cooked through, the four appointed officials measured the diameter and thickness of the pancake and verified that it was 12.55m in diameter and 30mm thick – according to the official rules the pancake had to be measured before being flipped. The “lid” was then positioned into the base pan by the cranes, and the clamping together of the two steel elements commenced – carefully controlled by the Fire Brigade. The cranes were re-positioned and prepared for the hoisting up of the enormous construction and pancake, 7 meters into the air for the flipping process.

Everyone held their breath in anticipation as the massive construction was hoisted seemingly effortlessly into the air by the powerful cranes. Once the construction was positioned at the 7m mark, the cables were switched and the flipping began. Only once the flipping process had been completed and the pan lowered to the ground, did the project meet all the requirements in order to qualify for the world record. When this happened, the champagne corks popped and the 9 000 strong crowd cheered.

The lid was then lifted and the pancake cut up into pieces and sold to the remaining crowd. The left-overs were transported to nearby squatter camps, the Salvation Army and the various other Children’s Homes. Great care was taken not to waste an ounce of the pancake.

The official judges then signed the certificate of authentication, having satisfied themselves that the record attempt had indeed been successful.

In Retrospect

The question now remains – would we have spent approximately 500 hours (excluding time spent on arranging other pre-events and Red Nose Day itself) over a period of six months and baked a pancake weighing a massive 2 649kg to generate awareness for Red Nose Day had we known then what we know now? Because, in addition to the negative local publicity, we did not make much out of the sales of the pancake, mainly because most of the crowd had disperse by the time the pancake was cooked. Fortunately, we had planned for this contingency and what remained of the pancake after sales was collected by representatives of the Salvation Army, the local Children’s Home and a nursery for needy children. What remained of the extra dough was taken to a nearby squatter camp. The answer is a resounding “yes”, because we believe that Bloemfontein and its pancake project contributed to national awareness of Red Nose Day ’92. Furthermore, the pancake project gave local companies in particular the opportunity to donate something other than money in these recessionary times – and the most rewarding aspect of the project was the way in which individuals and companies united to make this project a reality.

The Bloemfontein record will be published in the 1993 edition of the Guinness Book of Records, providing that another successful attempt does not take place from now until the publication date.

Zarine Roodt & Adele du Plessis

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