Waking up at 4:00 am might not sound appealing to everybody, but to Jim Fromm, it’s what comes after the early rising that makes it worth it. As a hot air balloon pilot, Fromm doesn’t have much of a choice to sleep in, but he and the hundreds of other ballooners around Iowa head out before the sun rises out of pure love for the sport.
“If it’s a morning flight, you get up and you’re sitting on the balloon field to watch the sunrise, that’s a special time,” Fromm said. “You’re grouped together, you’ve got your coffee and your donuts, and you can all share that moment together.”
The excitement of a hot air balloon flight begins long before the balloon reaches the sky. As soon as the crew gets together and the balloon is exposed, the magic begins.
“I keep my balloon in a trailer and when I open the doors, there’s a magic that comes out,” Tim Cloyd, chief pilot at Tecvisions Balloon Rides said.
As the balloon fills with hot air and prepares to paint the early morning sky, the magic that Fromm experienced on his first flight that left him immediately hooked prepares to start all over again.
When the flight begins, it’s easy to become distracted by the view, leaving many passengers unaware that they have even left the ground yet.
“Starting at launch, a lot of times people don’t realize you’re off the ground,” Cloyd said.
Ballooning started in the 18th Century when two French paper makers threw paper into a fire and watched it rise. They began experimenting with making paper balloons that would eventually evolve into the modern-day balloons that can be seen scattering the country skyline.
Today, ballooning serves as a hobby and sport to thousands of Americans just like Fromm and Cloyd who gather at events around the country to compete and share the love of ballooning.
Iowa’s largest ballooning competition, the National Balloon Classic, happens every summer in Indianola, from the last weekend in July through the first weekend in August.
Ballooning competitions, though called a race, are not so much about speed as they are accuracy and finesse.
“It is very competitive,” Staci Scheurenbrand, Executive Director of National Balloon Classic, said. “I think that is one of the best kept secrets of ballooning.”
Competitions include various tasks in which the pilots must drop a marker onto an X in the road or a field and get points depending on the distance they are to the center.
For Jeremy Rubin, the 2017 winner of the National Balloon Classic, the competitive aspect of ballooning is what fuels his love for the sport even more.
“I used to play a lot of sports in high school and out of high school and out of college you don’t really do those anymore, but you still have a competitive drive,” Rubin said. “I think ballooning is a nice combination…You get to be outside. You get to think through task sheets and you can try to use the tools you have and manage the variables at hand to try to achieve the best result.”
Ballooning differs from other sports in ways that give its athletes a special appreciation for it. Despite going up nearly weekly, many pilots experience the magic and awe-striking beauty that they saw on their first trip every single flight after that.
“[it’s not] like an amusement park ride,” Rubin said. “It’s more of an experience and just about everybody that flies… you just kind of take that moment to take it all in.”
Unlike racing in a car or playing other sports on the ground, ballooning gives pilots and passengers the opportunity to experience something truly unlike anything else as they float thousands of feet above the ground.
“It’s just the complete opposite of an airplane, you know, kind of crunched into a tiny spot,” Eric Martens, an Iowa pilot, said. “Everything feels like you’re walking on the cloud.”
At Tecvisions Balloon Rides in Runnells, Iowa, riders are welcome to add to a memory book after their flight, documenting their feelings and experience. Some of the commonly reoccurring words are: “peaceful”, “awesome”, “unique”, and “wow”.
The written word cannot do a balloon flight justice, however, as the experience is different for everyone.
“On regular flights, taking people up and even just having the balloon around, the experience that those people are getting that I don’t even know is fantastic,” Cloyd said. “We don’t know what joy we bring but we know there’s something there.”
From thousands of feet above the ground, riders and pilots are surrounded by the silent peacefulness of the sky.
On top of being peaceful, balloon rides offer a sense of freedom, with nobody there offering instructions or telling you what to do.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re going,” Cloyd said. “You’re just kind of going along and you’re going to land where you land”
During the flight, it is easy for a passenger to get caught up in the view.
“To be able to see the earth from a perspective like no other, we’re going around at 5 to 10 miles an hour, or slower sometimes, [it is] an incredible perspective of how God put the earth together,” Cloyd said.
Iowa’s landscape makes it a prime location for ballooners. With its lack of large cities and excess of farmland, Iowa offers ballooners a safe and expansive space to fly.
The convenient geography of Iowa has attracted many ballooners to the space, which is what makes it a perfect location for the National Balloon Museum.
The museum offers patrons a look into the history of ballooning, and immediately upon entering, you can feel the magic and excitement surrounding ballooning.
By navigating the museum’s collections of gondolas [baskets], envelopes [balloons] and historical displays, it is easy to become entranced by the glory of all that makes up ballooning.
The nonprofit opened its doors in its first year-round home in Simpson College in 1979, but archives more than 200 years of ballooning history, with some alternating exhibits throughout the years.
With informative historical displays walking you through the history of ballooning, it is difficult to leave the National Balloon Museum having learned nothing.
The museum walks you through the ever-evolving sport of ballooning, from when balloons first became a possibility when the Montgolfier brothers made paper balloons they filled with hot air on the ground and let fly, to when Ed Yost, known as “the father of the modern hot air balloon,” developed the propane based balloons we see today.
“It totally changed ballooning from just being a carnival stunt or going up and down to realizing things you can actually do with balloons,” Becky Wigeland, curator of the National Balloon Museum, said.
The museum includes artifacts such as Tracy Barnes’ Styrofoam basket and plastic hydrogen gas balloon that he used to reach a world record height of 38,650 feet above ground in 1964. Despite being nearly 60 years old, Barnes’ records remain unchallenged today.
Flights, while only lasting about an hour, are able to leave a lasting impression in the minds of the lucky individuals who had been granted the unique experience.
As the balloon gently descends back to earth, the sounds of life resume below the gondola.
A dog barks in the distance, a train horn makes its presence known and before you know it, the flight has ended.
As the parachute top opens and the balloon returns to stable ground, the words of Leonardo Da Vinci come to mind: “Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you long to return.”
Pulling to improve lives
The Monroe Times
Published July 10, 2018
Tractor pulls have been a part of the Hawthorn family for three generations, but they never expected the pastime to become such a large part.
Twelve years ago, Mark Hawthorn decided to put on a tractor pull at Albany Farm Technology Days with his family and drew a crowd of 3600 people. Since then, the pull has grown to bringing in over 5000 spectators each year, with a larger crowd expected this year.
Realizing that the pull generated a large profit, with over $18,000 made the first year, Hawthorn decided to create a nonprofit dedicated to serving Green County.
With the pull as its primary source of funding and over 100 local sponsors, the Green County Fall Nationals has helped hundreds of families in and around Green County, donating a total of over $400,000 to families and individuals in need.
The Green County Fall Nationals find individuals and families in need through word of mouth and recommendations, and works tirelessly ensure that their money and donations go to those who need it the most, and help in ways that typically would not be thought of.
“We’ve done so many things that you would never think are how you give,” Hawthorn said.
The Green County Fall Nationals has helped people in Green County in many ways, from donating money and gift cards to families struggling with health expenses or a death to helping a boy in Belleville get prosthetic legs and more recently paving a driveway for an injured firefighter in Albany.
The Fall Nationals like to keep their donations local by supporting their over 100 sponsors in their donations.
“They’re just such an amazing bunch of people and without them we couldn’t be doing what we’re doing,” Hawthorn said of their sponsors.
During the last calendar year from May to May, the Fall Nationals have donated over $50,000 to Green County families, making it a record year for them.
They Fall Nationals raise money by selling $15 tickets to their tractor pull. If the tickets are bought in advance, which go on sale July 23, they also go into a drawing where ticket holders can win prizes that total over $10,000, with a 42 inch zero turn mower as this year’s grand prize.
This year’s pull will take place from 12 a.m. until 7 p.m. Saturday Sep. 22 at the Green County Fairgrounds in the grand stands. After the pull, Madison County will put on an outdoor concert starting at 8 p.m.
The Hawthorn family continues to use the Green County Fall Nationals to give back to the community because the impact that they see helps them realize the importance of paying forward.
“It’s just neat to see that a sport that we have had passion for our whole life, that it’s the reason why we can help out,” Hawthorn said.
Anybody in need or who knows of a family or individual that could be helped by the Green County Fall Nationals can reach out to Jo Hawthorn at email@example.com.
Holiday pop-up open house gives shoppers one last shot at Christmas gifts
By SHANNON RABOTSKI
Marshalltown residents braved the wet weather and headed to 13th Street Friday evening, eager to get their last-minute Christmas shopping done at the second annual 13th Street District Holiday Pop-Up Open House.
The holiday pop-up open house is an event aimed at giving shoppers a chance to buy unique and often handmade gifts closer to the holiday.
While the holiday stroll acts as an opportunity to get an early start on Christmas shopping, the pop-up event is a perfect event for last-minute shoppers, said Heidi Draisey, 13th Street District event committee chair and board member.
“You can get your last-minute gifts, or in my case your first-minute gifts,” Draisey said.
Shops in the district opened their doors from 5-7:30 p.m. for community members to do some evening shopping at one of the many pop-up shops or guest vendors on the street.
The event provides the community with a chance to support local businesses, rather than shopping at a mall or online.
“It’s a great opportunity to support not only 13th Street District, but also commerce here in Marshalltown,” Draisey said.
While their parents shopped around, children could avoid the cold and meet Santa at West End Perk, expressing their Christmas wishes and explaining how good they’ve been this year.
All the while, shoppers could find drinks and snacks at nearly every stop along 13th Street
The event includes 13th Street businesses and vendors chosen by the business itself, each with unique gifts including decor, jewelry and homemade chocolates.
Even businesses without vendors participated, offering cookies and deals for the holiday shoppers.
Cynthia Ragland, owner of C Eye Care on 13th Street, did not have time to get a vendor for her optometry practice, but still wanted to participate in the evening’s event. She welcomed passerbys into her practice and offered them hot chocolate, cookies and wine.
“It always brings in a fun crowd and it’s just a fun neighborhood to be in,” Ragland said. “It just gets a variety of people out in one case and it really showcases all of the exciting new things that have happened on 13th Street.
Though last year’s event was complete with Hallmark-like snowflakes, Friday’s Pop-Up Open House brought shoppers holiday joy and welcomed the holiday spirit with new Christmas lights lining the street.
The lights were not the only new part of the event, however. New vendors made their way to 13th Street to participate in the fun.
Erin Woltjer of West Des Moines brought her pop-up boutique, Aesthete, to the open house for the first time.
“It brings people in and shopping within the community,” Woltjer said.