Pennsylvania (Cont'd)



Up ahead I could see a country road with houses and fields alongside it. My chase vehicle finally emerged into view from behind the trees, and promptly headed the wrong way down the road. I got them to turned around as I dropped down toward the treetops in preparation for landing. As luck would have it, after an hour of inching along, the wind had picked up a bit for my approach. I could see where I was going to cross the road now -- some powerlines before a grassy field, then the road, and large trees on the opposite side.



As soon as I cleared the power lines, I cut away a couple of balloons and threw my drop line -- the modern-day successor to the Thurstons' grappling hook, but without the grappling hook. It was probably overly cautious, but I didn't want to end up in the trees on the other side of the road.



And then I down was down in a nice grassy field, with Roland and the crew running up to meet me.



A large crowd of people from the neighborhood formed, and we let a number of people go up on tether. There were a number of Amish or Mennonite families -- whichever group drives minivans. The women wore long dresses and caps, and the men wore dark pants and shoes. One of their teenagers described my landing, saying with some relish that he thought that I would hit the powerlines and die. It wasn't clear whether he was scornful of this, or impressed by it.


We gave away the balloons to whoever wanted them, then finished packing up and headed back for Meadville.





The next day, the "Historic Spectacle" (me) garnered coverage worthy of one of the Thurstons in the Meadville Tribune -- even acing out "Titusville Woman Gets Life in Prison" for the headline.

The Tribune also ran a short video of the flight on their website. (Video courtesy of Eric Reinagel, Meadville Tribune).




I feel a sense of kinship with the early balloonists. After half a century, the modern sport of hot-air ballooning has become quite technologically advanced in terms of envelope fabrics, burner designs and avionics. The balloon comes from a factory, is type certified by the FAA and properly maintained, the reliability of the equipment can be largely taken for granted. Today the challenge of ballooning is found mostly in competitive events, in which pilots attempt to manuever among targets, tracked by GPS, governed by the wind and the arcana of the competition rulebook. Flying with my huge toy balloon bouquet is like flying in the days of the Thurstons, when balloonists made their own balloons, and just getting up into the air was a great show and adventure.

I am "old school". It's a nice thing, mostly.


To conclude his story, Alic Thurston was active as a balloonist for almost a quarter century. His last balloon flight, in 1913, was a night flight, at a time when Halley's comet blazed across the starry sky.

He lived for many years afterwards, running a successful dairy farm and distributing his own brand of mineral water. I do not know if he missed his balloon adventures, but he did not regret them. Asked later in life about his experiences as a balloonist, Thurston said: "You have no idea what a beautiful place you live in until you get a half mile or a mile up in the air -- just suspended in space."


Celebration XXXVII

Crew Chief: Roland Escher

Chase Crew: Dennis Raybuck, Jim Dillaman, Doug Robertson

Special Thanks to: Thurston Classic (Ted Watts, Morris Waid, Joyce Stevens)

Photography and videography: Marj Skidmore, Jim Stefanucci (courtesy of the Meadville Tribune), Eric Reinagel (courtesy of the Meadville Tribune), Lonnie Schnauffer, John Ninomiya, Roland Escher. Meadville Balloon photo courtesy of Elizabeth Macdonald.

Special thanks to specialty gas supplier to the Thurston Classic (Kim Shorts, Richard Skidmore)











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