One of my favorite kid inventing experiences, well looking back anyway, was the time I tried to make a hot air balloon.
it’s 1974, armed with an ad from the back of Boy’s Life Magazine, and a few grass cutting dollars I had saved I anxiously place my order for the Super Gigantic “Real Hot Air Balloon” ……“Over 8 feet tall!”
Wait, it’s a rather large envelope, but how could you fit a Super Gigantic Hot Air balloon in an envelope? Even a very large envelope?
Taking surprisingly little time to answer my own question, I open the envelope to find ten, eight-foot long sections of Blue and White crate paper. That, when glued together as show in the instructions, will result in what could only be described to an 8th grade inventor as pure inflatable “heaven”
Off we go, several of my like-minded young inventor friends and I, to our not so super secret hideaway of invention – my parent’s garage.
After a quick rummage through my dad’s tool bench we find the glue we need and start the argues task of constructing our paper balloon – all the while holding out hope against reason that this craft will in some way actually lift one of us off the ground.
Hours later, it’s done. Standing before us in all its glory, an alternating blue and white paneled hot air balloon – over 8 feet tall! – just like the ad said.
We have the balloon, now all we should need is some hot air. Well obviously you can’t just find hot air, you have to make hot air. For that we turn to one of the most trusted tools in a young inventor’s arsenal – My Dad’s blow torch!
There we are, in the driveway – although in our minds it may as well have been Cape Canaveral. The top of our balloon secured to the end of a long fishing rod, the metal ring installed in the opening, and torch at the ready.
Firing up the torch we start the process of “inflating” our craft for its madden voyage. Slowly It starts to inflate; it’s actually getting larger as the panels start to form that classic balloon shape. I have the torch, my buddy jack has the pole, and if memory serves me correctly my sister Susan is manning the ring at the bottom.
As I slowly inflate our balloon, the magnitude of the situation starts to sink in and my mind starts to drift a little. This is actually happening, we will be the first kids on our block to build and launch a real hot air balloon – this is huge!
And then it happens – distracted by my thoughts, I let the torch shift ever so slightly and the paper catches fire. It takes no time at all for our dream of flight to transform itself into a reenactment of those classic images of the Hindenburg. Now burning at an amazing rate, the balloon is reduced to ashes on the end of a fishing rod in 30 of the longest seconds I’ve ever experienced.
All that work, all that time waiting for the mailman, my life savings, gone. Our efforts rewarded with an aluminum ring in the center of a rather large burn mark on the driveway – and I’m going to be so grounded when my dad finds out I used his blow torch.
Oh well, such is the life of an inventor.
With the blind enthusiasm of a young boy, and in what would prove later to be a vain attempt, we make sure everyone is sworn to secrecy over the use of my dad’s blow torch – and head back to the basement to find another Boy’s Life magazine.