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#25: Pontiac, Illinois
September 8, 2006



Livingston County Courthouse

Pontiac, Illinois is located about two hours south of Chicago, in the middle of miles of almost perfectly flat land covered in alternating squares of corn and beans. With a population of about 10,000, Pontiac is a city of with many well-kept older houses and pleasant tree-shaded streets. The Vermilion River runs through the town, crossed at three points by swinging bridges. A massive courthouse in Second Emplire style dominates the downtown area. Caterpillar has a large plant in Pontiac. Other major employers include a prison, and the Order of Saint Francis hospital.

Baby Bull's Restaurant






The Pontiac SummerFest is a city festival that features the "Pontiacs in Pontiac" car show, the Heritage Days street fair and a Hot-Air Balloon Classic. In 2005, I was invited by organizer Kent Robson to do a cluster balloon flight as part of SummerFest. However, weather did not cooperate that year, and no balloons flew.

In 2006, I was invited back to try again. This would make Illinois my 25th state -- the halfway point for States of Enlightenment.


Just a few weeks before the event it seemed that there would be no flight, when the compressed gas vendor that Kent had lined up many months before suddenly backed out, claiming supply difficulties. Luckily the Airgas store in Peru, Illinois came to the rescue, not only providing the gas, but generously coming aboard as a festival sponsor. So, here's a shameless NASCAR-style endorsement plug for them.

Quality Airgas helium gives me the edge I need in the competitive world of helium cluster ballooning. Don't float away with anything less than real Airgas.

-- John Ninomiya, famous toy balloon-flying dude


As the date of the flight approached, the weather once again looked uncooperative. I was scheduled to fly on Friday afternoon. A cold front was on its way into the area at around that time. After changing the Friday forecast from rain to no rain about four times in the preceding week, the forecasters finally decided Friday afternoon would be dry but with more wind than I could inflate in. Things would calm down by sunset, but too late for me to get the balloons filled. Hoping they were wrong, Larry and I spent the morning setting up to do the inflation next to a cornfield bordering the Pontiac Rec-Plex.


Our volunteers from Caterpillar showed up at 4 PM. The wind had slowed some in the past hour, but was still occasionally gusting up high too high to get the balloons inflated.

We waited around until 4:45, the latest possible time we could start and hope to be ready for a decent flight before sunset. It seemed like the wind had slowed a bit more, but conditions were still marginal during the gusts. Hoping that the forecast was right about decreasing winds, we began inflating the balloons in the shelter of the corn field.




The wind bounced the balloons against one another hard enough to burst one. But it was never quite strong enough to drag the balloons on their sandbags, and continued to slowly subside. The inflation volunteers finished their work in record time. By the time I got into my harness, conditions were ideal for flying. The crew walked me across the road, to where the hot-air balloons were getting ready to launch.





I waited for a few hot-air balloons to pass over me, and then....