balloons

Cool morning temperatures and light breezes greeted Galt Balloon Festival guests this weekend at McFarland Living History Ranch.

Hosted by the Galt District Chamber of Commerce, the second annual event had its ups and downs, most of those planned.

A total of 12 balloons graced the grounds Saturday and Sunday morning, most to take flight and others to stay to provide tethered rides for eager festival guests.

“The highlight of the event was the special shaped balloon named “Off the Wall”, which was an upside down Humpty Dumpty,” said event organizer Toni Gerling

Interesting to note, Humpty Dumpty’s bowtie was 18 feet across. The upside down character is 68 feet tall, not counting his legs, and wears 2,149-inch waist pants with a 98-inch inseam. His shoe size is 56 EEEE!

Hundreds of early-bird guests gathered around the launch field, many setting up blankets and chairs in order to get the best view of all the balloons.

To the delight of the before-dawn guests, balloon pilots gave a “candlelight” show, sporting the massive burners, while synchronizing to the “Dueling Banjos” music provided by DJ Brian King.

As sunrise approached, ground crews started setting up to inflate the balloons that were to take flight each morning.

Dependent upon wind direction, Saturday’s balloons flew northeast from the ranch, where several balloons were seen over the Raley’s shopping center. Sunday proved to be different as balloons traveled both to the southeast and southwest, many flying over Meadowview Park and the cemetery.

Uninvited guests joined the balloons in the skies Sunday. Over five powered paragliders took to the air from an unknown location, adding to the skyline.

Like all events dependent upon weather, this year’s festival faced an unanticipated development. Just after unloading tether ride guests, an unexpected thermal, combined with a brisk wind, caught the now lighter tethering balloon in an updraft, snapping a lateral line.

According to a ground crew member, the pilot quickly commenced with emergency procedures. He pulled the emergency parachute vent, which releases large quantities of the gas that help the balloon to stay afloat. The immediate release of gas was intended to bring the balloon quickly back down to the ground; however, the wind continued to push the balloon further east and further into the air.

The pilot once again released a large quantity of air and crashed down in the cornfield just east of the launch field.

Alone in the gondola, the pilot was taken to a nearby hospital to be treated for minor injuries. He was released later that day.

“CSD paramedics arrived quickly and transported the pilot to the hospital where he was treated and released the same day,” Gerling said. “Safety is the number one priority for our spectators, volunteers, balloon crew and pilots.”

Despite the unexpected scare on Saturday, festival guests enjoyed the event.

“I have never been to something like this,” said Daniel Ventura, 11, who visited the festival with his family. “The whole thing was cool. I really liked seeing the fire [from the burners] when it was dark. It was so cool.”

Little Carlos Mejia, 4, was also impressed.

“I’m going to be a pilot like him,” Mejia said pointing at a balloon pilot trading card.

Many cameras were in attendance at the festival as well. Amateur to professional photographers could be seen trying to get the best shot of the colorful display.

“I’m just an amateur,” Bill Smith said. “My wife bought us tickets to come this year so I could pursue my ‘midlife crisis’ as she calls it. I love taking pictures of vibrant colors and I like doing daring things. This festival is the perfect fit. She even stood in line so we could ride in the balloon. I got lots of pictures from up there.”

The Galt Balloon festival takes months to organize. Gerling and a handful of volunteers met regularly to plan the event.

“Our event would not be possible without the generous support of our sponsors and volunteers,” Gerling said. “The balloon committee and the Galt Chamber of Commerce appreciate everyone for the support and hard work to make this event a success.”