I created an album of pictures I have taken during this week long event.
Here is a link to all of the albums I have posted since 2011, or you can go to the Photo Gallery tab on my website. There is a date for every album, to read the story related to an album, go to the archives for that particular date.
Sunday, July 19th, I arrived in Longview, Texas, where I will attend the Great Texas Balloon Race. This will be my first time at this hot air balloon event and in Longview. Before leaving home I tried to find RV parks near the event and didn’t find any too close. It seems that everyone meets at the Maud Cobb Convention Center on the weekdays for the competition and then the pilots and crew take off for destinations to launch from for the competition targets. Because I am not familiar with this event, other than reading the schedule on their website, I figured I would be driving every day to watch the balloons, and also for the times I have volunteered to help. I wasn’t looking forward to driving all over town every day because I would have to secure everything in the camper before moving it. I prayed and asked God to help me know where to stay and how it will work out. I didn’t make any RV reservations, except for the Friday night through Sunday of the event when I would be at the airport and they had a place for RV’s to dry camp without hookups. Everything Friday afternoon through Sunday was at the airport. The weekday competitions was when traveling was necessary,
I called a local RV store, the Longview Chamber of Commerce, the balloon event people, and stopped at the Texas welcome center, and finally someone that I spoke with suggested calling Maud Cobb Convention Center where the balloon pilots, crew, and Event Staff were meeting every weekday morning. I called and guess what? It’s a city owned facility and they have RV campsites at the Convention Center with either full hookups or ones with water and electricity. I made a reservation from Sunday through Friday so I could have electricity and air conditioning, and then on Friday afternoon through Sunday I will be dry camping at the airport where the rest of the balloon events will take place. I was so happy to find out about this campground and it means I will not have to drive all over town during the week. I usually stop at a grocery stores before going to campgrounds to stock up on food.
A few months ago I contacted the Balloon event coordinators and said I would volunteer to crew and I found out I have been assigned Friday through Sunday to the Puddy Cat balloon which is like Sylvester the cat from the cartoons. However, since I am already going to be in town, I am going to show up every weekday morning, health permitting, and if anyone needs a crew member for the regular shaped balloons, I will offer my services. It will be more fun than just watching. I think everyone is supposed to already have their crew but things can change at the last minute. Otherwise, I will just crew on Friday through Sunday. I am so thankful that the city has a RV park at the convention center, it will save me lots of driving time around the city which I am not familiar with. If all works out I will only have to find my way to the convention center and airport and then back to the interstate when I leave. I don’t know for sure, but I’m hoping once I park at the convention center that I can walk to where the balloons meet and also for the party they are having on Thursday evening.
After the balloon event is over, I am heading to visit with my friends in the Fort Worth area for several days, then on to Waco to visit other friends for a week or so, then on to visit other friends as I travel towards Albuquerque. I am going to try and spend a few days camping at beautiful Lake Whitney. It will bring back many memories, maybe even some tears. Many, many years ago, when Don was alive, we used to camp there often. It’s hard to believe he died about 15 years ago. In fact, it was the first place we camped when we bought our trailer. I remember we took our dogs on the trip and we were almost the only campers in the campground, it was a cold October weekend and unexpectedly a bad rainstorm with high winds made our first camping trip a memorable experience.
Tuesday, July 21st, I arrived on Sunday and helped the Event staff prepare pilot packets and I got to meet many of the people on the Board of Directors. Everyone I met was really friendly and they made me feel welcome. Al Nels from Ohio, was one of the pilots that came to register on Sunday afternoon. He needed another crew person so I was assigned to help him on his balloon called Time Flies. It’s a really beautiful balloon and the design tells things about Al and his family. The cards in the photos below tells the story of Al’s and Andrew’s balloons, click on them to enlarge. Al and his friend/crew mate Randy, and his entire crew and family made me feel very welcome and a part of their team.
I crewed on Monday and then met them on Tuesday morning, but due to the high winds, flights and competition were cancelled on Tuesday. I know everyone was disappointed, but it’s better to be safe than risk an accident to either people or the balloon. Safety is the main priority for balloonists.
Al and his son Andrew both fly balloons, and they mostly fly in competition. Al has won the National Championship title twice and also the World Championship title twice. after watching the balloon pilots navigating from miles from the target, to the designated target, I have a greater appreciation for those who have won championship titles. I can tell how seriously Al, Andrew, Randy and the others he flies with take competition. I have learned several things listening to them discuss the coordinates for the targets, where they need to be to take off from, and much more. They all keep in radio contact both on the drive to the take off site and while in the air. Everything is charted on maps and in various types of GPS systems. It’s really fascinating listening to the discussions. I even learned about true and magnetic poles.
After the balloon envelope was laid out after landing, Al took out what looked like a bent metal pipe and said it’s called Squeeze and instead of people milking the air out of the balloon envelope for packing it into the bag, this tool does the work so much quicker and more efficiently. It’s really easy to use, I was able to help use it so I know that for a fact. I’ve helped milk the air out of balloons in Albuquerque and I know how hard it is and the time it takes.
I created an album of pictures I have taken during this week long event.
Monday and Tuesday evenings there were parties for people to have fun and meet each other, sort of kickoff parties. As I am writing this post early Tuesday afternoon, Al called to say he and his family will come pick me up and take me to the party tonight since it’s off premises and he felt it would be better to go with them than me driving there. How very considerate, I thanked him. The party Tuesday night was held at Danville Farms about 20 minutes from the Maud Cobb Convention Center. This is a really nice ranch and there are some interesting pieces of old farm tools and equipment and also the room where the party was held is one of the most creative rooms I have ever seen. Each corner of the room was done differently and some corners were made to look like the outside of a building rather than indoors. There was also an old fashioned high back chair, and a very large light fixture made out of antlers. I put the pictures I took in the photo album, but I will include a few here.
Wednesday, July 22nd, the winds were favorable for flying today. So everyone drove to Kilgore for pilot’s briefing and receiving the location of the targets for competition. The winds were not as good as everyone would have liked, but everyone made the best of it since no one has control over the speed or direction of the winds. All the pilots could do was to try and find out what altitude had the direction they wanted to travel. We launched from someone’s front yard on a back country road and Al landed in a field at a high school. It was so nice to take off and land on grass, rather than fields with dirt, rocks, and stickers like usually happens when I crew in Albuquerque. Later that afternoon, we learned that one of the pilots had a really rough landing and had to go to the hospital. It turns out sadly that he broke a hip and foot. We are keeping him in our prayers.
Wednesday afternoon there was a baseball game of the police department vs the fire department, which included dinner with bar-b-que and soft drinks for the pilots, the crew, and their families. Once again, Al and his family picked me up and brought me to the event with them. As it got dark, there was a burner glow. When the baseball game began and it was the fire department team ahead by 9 runs in the first two innings, then all of a sudden, the police team began to get hits and they scored multiple runs and the score last we saw it before going to get ready for the burner glow was 20 to 9, police team winning. It was fun to watch the game and see how some players slid into a base or home plate.
What also made the game more fun to watch was that every inning it seemed they stopped the game to involve children in an activity. Sometimes it was who could run around the bases the fastest. Another was to see which of two children could get in full fire bunker gear the fastest. Then a small plastic pool appeared on the field and it was filled with water and as a relay, two teams had to take a fire boot and go fill it with water, then run back to their team and pour the water into a bucket. Whoever filled their bucket first won. There was also a dance off between five police officers and children and five firefighters and children. Some adults picked up the child to dance, others danced around each other. We got to experience creative dancing in various forms. It turned out to be a really fun evening with entertainment and fellowship.
As it began to get dark all of the balloon pilots and their crew went to their trucks and got ready for a burner blast. The pilots also gave out balloon cards to anyone coming by asking for one. Cards show the picture of the balloon on one side, and details about the pilot and balloon on the other side. You can see Al’s and Andrew’s balloon card higher up in this story. The heat from the burners is intense. Especially in 90 degree temperatures. Al has a remote control rigged to his burners, so he was able to be a further distance from his burner than other pilots. The people at the event were fascinated by the burner blast. It really was pretty spectacular.
Thursday morning, July 23rd, the winds were too high and therefore the balloons were not able to fly. I know everyone was once again disappointed, but it’s better to be safe. So, I went back to my camper and went back to sleep for a few hours. Then I came to the convention center and took a shower and worked on this story, updating it from yesterday.
I love Texas hospitality. I felt it the instant I moved to Texas in early 1980 and when I lived here for 19 years, and when I visit Texas, I still feel it. Here is an example, I asked the administrative staff of this convention center if they have any showers and I was told they have one in case of an emergency situation but Anne said she would ask if I could use it. A short time later one of the staff came and found me and said that I could use the shower, so I arranged it for late Thursday morning so I can still be outside at the baseball game tonight and also possibly crew in the morning and then come back and shower so I will be clean for the party Thursday night and be as fresh as I can for the weekend of dry camping with no hookups. It’s about 100 degrees outside and in the sun, inflating and packing the balloon, it feels much hotter and we get soaking wet.
On Monday a RV parked next to me in the campground, but I didn’t see the people in it until Wednesday afternoon. It turns out they are here for the Dog Show this coming weekend. There was a fenced in area around their camper and I figured they probably had a dog. It turns out they have quite a few dogs, Italian Greyhounds. There were 4 adorable 7 week old puppies. Every one had different markings. There were also 3 adult dogs, one was the mother. I was leaning down to get a better look at the puppies who were on the far side of the gated area. One of the pups came over to me and it was so soft to pet. I fell in love with one that has half of it’s face white, the other half fawn. But really, they were all cute.
Thursday night was another kickoff party. All of the pilots were introduced and I got to meet the special shape balloon pilot that I will be crewing for. His name is Rodney Williams from Branson, Missouri. If you are in Branson stop by Branson Balloons and see Rodney. I know you will enjoy a balloon ride, he’s a great pilot and a really nice man. Instead of crewing on the Puddy Cat balloon, our balloon was changed to the Tweety Bird balloon. It seems that Puddy Cat, Yellow Bird, the Purple People Eater, and Spunky the Skunk are all owned by a man named John. Rodney was assigned to Yellow Bird who looks sort of like Tweety Bird.
At the kickoff party I met Scott Vesely and David Jones. Scott is the pilot for the Annie the Lady Bug balloon, and David has a non-profit organization in Amarillo, Texas, called Up in the Air for Family Care. They have an annual hot air balloon event fundraiser in October the weekend after the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.
Friday morning, July 24th, we all met at Maud Cobb Convention Center. We located Rodney and he, Cindy his crew chief, and our crew drove to one of the local banks where we inflated the balloon in a field next to the bank so that their customers and people passing by were able to stop and see the balloon up close and those who wanted to took their pictures next to the balloon. It’s always great to see people’s reactions to the balloon, and also when the burners blast. The loud swooshing sound sometimes startles people because they are not expecting the sound. After we were inflated for quite while the winds picked up and we had to bring the balloon down because it was getting harder to manage it safely.
After returning from crewing, I drove my camper over to the airport and dry camped on one of the runways being used for the balloon event. I rested for a while, then at 3:30 p.m. I reported for my volunteer work at Gate 4. Then at 7:30 p.m. when my shift was over, I reported to Rodney for my crew assignment for Yellow Bird.
I was able to take a quick dinner break about 7:00 p.m. and when I was in the volunteer tent having dinner, I saw six men sitting at the table next to me wearing Cooter Graw t-shirts. I went over to them and asked if they were our performers tonight and they said they were. They were very kind, after I talked with them for a while I asked if I could take their picture for my website and they said I could. They began performing while we were getting ready to take the balloons down for the night. Even though I am not a big country music fan, and I am not familiar with this group, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them perform. Having had the opportunity to meet them casually and visit with them made it extra special for me. I asked where they are from, and they all live in various parts of Texas.
On Friday night, all of the balloons inflated and after dark there was a balloon glow. It was beautiful watching all of the balloons being set up and also glowing. I love the Old Lady in the Shoe balloon, it’s one of my favorite balloons. I have seen it flying every year I went to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. At this event, I got to see the balloon laid out waiting to be inflated, and I got to see it close up after being inflated. This balloon is 147 feet tall, weighs 1,300 pounds without passengers, and there are 12 children. There are many more photos in my album.
Saturday morning, July 25th, all the pilots and crew inflated the special shape balloons, while in the distance the competition pilots began their flight towards the airport field for their competition. The winners of the National Competition, in the first few winning positions, go on to the World Competitions in Japan. It takes so much skill, and a certain degree of luck because of the wind conditions, to navigate the wind currents, the sky, and all other factors to navigate the balloon to be over the targets on the field to score. Al Nels that I crewed for earlier in the week was in the competition and after he came over the field and aimed at the targets, he opened some turning vents on is balloon so it spun around as it traveled across the field. It was really cool to watch a professional balloon pilot doing what he loves, and I got some great photos of the different sides of his balloon. Notice how close to the ground he was to get his marker to the target. It’s evident when watching and talking with these balloon pilots that they love what they do and they take great care with the balloons, and the pride they have as a balloon pilot is evident.
After watching the other three special shaped balloons, also owned by John, several of us crew members assigned to help Rodney were glad he was assigned Yellow Bird which is a special shape balloon, but shaped more like a regular shape balloon, unlike the other three balloons, so it was easier to deflate and pack it. We helped to pack Puddy Cat twice because it takes more crew and we were finished packing our balloon. The other three balloons have much different shapes and parts to those balloons as you can tell from looking at them. It’s a bit more challenging to get the air out of the sections that are coming off of the main balloon. There were six of us assigned to crew for Rodney, I was the only one that had been on a balloon crew previously.
Here is our crew milking the air out of the balloon envelope. It’s not very easy to do, especially in special shaped balloons.
After the first time of setting up the balloon and packing it away, all six of the crew worked well as a team and everyone felt comfortable with what to do in order to get the balloon inflated and packed. By Sunday morning, which was our fifth time to inflate, collapse, and pack the balloon, everyone on our team was an experienced crew member. We had a picture taken of our balloon pilot and crew and Wayne and Carol printed pictures for everyone of us and we all signed the pictures so we could have a memento from the event. That was a really nice, thoughtful, and unexpected surprise.
As I was watching the competition this morning, and looking at the balloons as they were flying overhead, I noticed that one of the balloons had large holes in the lower edge of the balloon envelope. Look in the blue area above the red ring at the bottom. I’m pretty sure this is from the fabric of the balloon envelope being too close to the burners and the fabric melted. Since it was low down, it most probably didn’t affect how the balloon flew. I’m sure as soon as the pilot is able to they will have these holes repaired. It’s very sad to see this happen to someone’s balloon. I know it was an accident that it happened. This is one of the reasons that pilots don’t want to fly or inflate their balloon on windy days. The balloon envelope can shift position quickly when a gust of wind hits, and damage to the balloon can be a result of the wind change. I know when we raise the balloon when using the burners, and also when bringing the balloon envelope down we all try to be sure that the fabric doesn’t come in contact with the flame or hot metal of the burner.
Saturday evening, July 25th, it was the same as the previous evening. I got more pictures of the balloons, and there was a balloon glow and burner blast. As the balloons were being deflated, the performance Saturday night was the Oak Ridge Boys. They played several of their new songs, and also many of their old hits which I remember from when I was younger. They still sound great.
Sunday morning, July 26th, was the final day of the Great Texas Balloon Race. The special shape balloons inflated for the last time this weekend, and the competition pilots completed their final competition for their scores.
After we all said our farewells, and exchanged contact information, we all went our separate ways. Rodney told us about a balloon event he will be having in Granbury, Texas, the third weekend in October. It’s the weekend after the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. I might try and go to that event and crew for Rodney. Wayne and Carol said they might go too. I think Scott and David said their balloon event in Amarillo is that same weekend. October is a long way off at the moment. I will see how it’s going closer to that date and decide where my travels take me.
I want to express my appreciation and thanks to the Great Texas Balloon Race Board of Directors. They have been really friendly not only to me, but to everyone that I saw them in contact with. They made a special accommodation for me so that I could park my camper van close to the gate where I volunteered on Friday and Saturday. It really made it handy and I was parked on the pavement so my spot was level. I was able to get a ride in the golf cart when I needed to go get dinner at the volunteer tent so it saved me walking across the large field. They thanked me for my help during the week and on the weekend. God willing, I will try to come back and help again next year.
Near the tent where the pilots and crew eat dinner, there were street signs which I thought was a clever idea. Each of the signs on the poles were the names of Board of Director members.
I have been feeling pretty good so far on this trip. I take small doses of my medicine so it’s keeping my pain under control. I am taking on small amounts at a time during the day so it takes the edge off my pain, while not making me too sleepy. It’s also good because I haven’t had to drive anywhere. I’ve pretty much been parked at the location that each balloon event is being held and if there is somewhere off site I need to be at either a pilot or another crew member drives me. The tumor seems to not be changing much at the moment. But at times, it’s still giving me sharp stabbing pains, however, they pass quickly. The numbness in my foot and leg is not any worse and I can still get around fine. I’m trying to make sure that I’m drinking enough water so I don’t dehydrate, but it’s tough. It’s about 100 degrees here and it’s so hot. I am really glad I made the trip. I think being out and on a trip has been good for my spirit and it’s giving me something different to focus on, other than my health condition.
After I left the balloon event about noon on Sunday, July 26th, I stopped at the Wagon Train RV Park in Canton, Texas about an hour west of Longview. It’s exit 536 off of I-20. It’s a Passport America campground and it’s quite cozy looking and it’s kept clean. The owners just redid the camp spots and they are level and all of them have full hookups. It felt great to take a shower and get clean after being all hot and sweaty since Friday. I did not have access to a shower since Thursday, so I used washcloths and did the best I could to get clean. Everyone that was outside during the event stayed in a constant state of being wet from the heat and humidity. There was no way to avoid it. However, we still had fun and enjoyed ourselves.
Tomorrow morning I drive to spend a few days with my friend Sue west of Fort Worth, then I head to Waco to visit with other friends for a few weeks before heading west towards Albuquerque.