My children are grown adults now, but when they were small we attended Lodi Field and Fair Day every year. It was a tradition to get up early in the morning and head to Hutchins Street Square (HSS) to watch the balloons being set up, filled with gas, and lift slowly away. When I heard the HSS was planning Labor Day Lodi and were bringing back the hot air balloons I was thrilled that our community would be recapturing the excitement and that new families could share this great experience with their children.
A friend of mine (Janet Kniss) won the raffle tickets for a ride in the balloon and she wasn’t able to go. She gave the tickets to my daughter, Jaime Worthen and me. When we arrived at 6:30 AM we were told the pilot had already sent up two test balloons and both showed too much unpredictable winds and so our flight had to be cancelled. Jaime and I told the pilot we were okay with a bumpy ride, and happy to have a tuck and roll landing. The pilot laughed but his main concern was our safety and unfortunately that meant we would not be flying.
Many spectators had already gathered to watch and a HSS representative asked the pilot to set up the balloon anyway so the people could get a sense of the experience. Jaime and I helped lay the balloon out and hold the sides up as a huge fan filled the balloon with air. The basket and burner were then attached and as Jaime and I held the ropes aside the pilot began filling the neck of the balloon with flames and hot air. The balloon was tied off so it wouldn’t fly away, and within a few minutes it had lifted and was floating about 3 feet off the ground and straight up in the sky.
We didn’t know this, but while we were helping set the balloon up the staff was sending up additional test balloons. The pilot determined it would be safe to fly after all and WE WERE SO EXCITED! The crew used their weight to pull the basket to the ground and stabilize it while Jaime and I climbed on board. The pilot gave us safety and landing instructions and then the crew untied and released us and we lifted slowly and quietly away to the whoosh whoosh of the burner sending flames into the balloon.
We floated over the downtown area heading east, passing over the Police Department, City Hall, and the Lodi Arch on Pine Street. People were coming out of their homes to watch the balloon pass overhead. By the way, if anyone finds my favorite hat on their roof on East Oak Street please let me know.
As we headed out of town the pilot began looking for areas appropriate for landing. He was in radio contact with his ground crew who was driving the truck and trailer below. An open field was chosen as our landing site. We were told to hang on to the basket straps as the pilot brought the balloon to the ground at a slight angle. The crew was there to keep the basket upright and we didn’t need to use our tuck-and-roll skills at all. The experience was thrilling, powerful, and peaceful at the same time.
I am so happy HSS brought this event back to our Lodi community. And would like to send special thanks to my friend Janet who gave me the tickets because she knew how special this would be for me.
By Julie Ball – email@example.com
Additional note from: John Ledbetter
Chairman of Hutchins Street Square Foundation
Hutchins Street Square Foundation was excited to present Labor Day Lodi as part of a yearlong celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the original Lodi High School site, The Square. We were pleased with the attendance of over 1,500 Lodians and scores of volunteers. The crowd was made up of folks of all ages. Most encouraging was watching all the young families with children enjoying The Square.
The entertainment, from live music, to Pep squads, to children’s talent, to belly dancing, to scientific experiments, and to martial arts, all provided by the Lodi Community, was exceptional. The food and beverage court provided many options to meet everyone’s tastes and the wine and art show were an excellent example of what Lodi has to offer. The REMAX balloon launch brought back past memories of how The Square has evolved over the years to become the Crown Jewel of Lodi.
The Square belongs to the citizens of Greater Lodi and with your continued help it will be here for generations to come.