Linden Harding on the beginnings of modern ballooning in Michigan
"Hail Atlantis" was an integral part of the
introduction of ballooning to the State of Michigan.
Linden Harding introduced ballooning to the state of Michigan
(and an awful lot of balloonists). Here's how it all got started.
I'd had my "Hail Atlantis" / Linden Harding page up for several months when all of a sudden, within the space of a week, I received e-mails from two people familiar with Harding and his balloons. Both writers sent detailed information, and one of them, Jeff Kocher, mentioned that he wanted to get back in touch with Harding, after many years out of contact. A couple of weeks later, I did the classic double-take when an e-mail appeared in my Inbox, the "sender" field reading, "Linden Harding." Sure enough, it was *the* Linden Harding, and he'd written an entertaining, engaging account of the beginnings of his ballooning career, which happened also to be the beginnings of Michigan's (modern) ballooning career. I was delighted, and honored, and very grateful, particularly since Mr. Harding gave me permission to reprint some or all of his recollections. It is with great pleasure that I do so here:
You are even more inconspicuous than I am! I can't find your name
anywhere on your site! Maybe it's just my old age, and I couldn't see it! --Editor's note: Sorry about that - my name is Dave Wesner. Perhaps I ought to put that on the site somewhere...
Yes, he lives! I received a call from Jeff Kocher a few days ago after
years and years of lost contact. He casually mentioned that I should
check out your site. I shouldn't admit it, but I sat there with tears
running down my face, realizing that after 35 years, and billions of
people on this planet, someone actually "got it!" You seem to
understand how creativity, ingenuity, and lots of hot air could come
together to make something magical and elegant that could actually fly.
I could fill up volumes with stories, but for now, I am just going to
tell you one: the birth of hot air ballooning in Michigan.
It's all about "Bullwinkle" - that is, Bob "Bullwinkle" Paddison. No one
has ever heard of Bob. It started one warm spring evening in 1967. I
was in my mid 20s, and had a dream job as an exterior automotive
designer at the GM Tech Center. I rented a room in the posh suburb of
Birmingham Michigan, and in the evenings I liked to ride my bicycle
through the even posher neighborhood of Bloomfield Village. The streets
were wide, curved, and tree-lined, with palatial homes set back. It was
also very quiet. As I rounded a bend, I saw two boys messing with a toy
car in the middle of the street. They let the car go, and it raced right
toward the front tire of my bike, where an M80 promptly exploded! BAM!
That's how I met Bullwinkle. He and Dave Kanners were 16 at the time.
When Bob found out that I was a car designer, he would not leave me
alone. He came over almost every night with reams of drawings to show
me. He designed everything from intricate parts breakdowns of jet engines
to a set of flying airshoes. Most of the time I just brushed him off and
tried to get him to go home. This was also a 16 year old kid who had a
black BMW motorcycle with a black sidecar. . . .
He also had a Thompson submachine gun that he and his buddies
would go out in the woods and mow down trees with! . . .
I have met
several Presidents of both GM and Ford, met judges, doctors, famous
people in my life, but Bullwinkle was the closest thing to a true genius
that I ever met - maybe a slightly "mad genius!" His parents finally sent
him to the Royal Danish Academy in Denmark, just to get him out of the
country. That's where he started working on a one-wheeled gyroscopic
vehicle. The last time he came home he asked me if I was still flying
balloons, and when I said yes, he said you really don't need a balloon to
do that. Huh! By then he was into anti-gravitational levitation.
Anyway, I digress. Bob came over to my house one night in the early days
and told me we should make a balloon. I said go home - I have never seen
a balloon, I don't know anything about balloons, and I don't give a damn
about balloons, go home. I'm a car guy, I have "gasoline" in my blood,
not helium! He wouldn't leave me alone, said we could make the balloon
out of government surplus parachutes for about $35. He had been reading
about ballooning in the 1700s, and said we could make a "jumping"
balloon, one that would lift exactly your weight, so you could jump over
houses. That did catch my attention, but when he showed me his drawings,
my reaction was that the way it was designed, it would never work. We
got in a huge argument about it, and finally I said, you go home and make
a cardboard model of yours, and I will make a cardboard model just to
show how YOU should do it! Making the model is where I got hooked. The
design was eventually what became Charlie Brown and the basis for the
patent. That's where it all started, the first spark that lit the fire
that would eventually fill the skies over Michigan.
Unfortunately, Bullwinkle's model didn't work, but the next thing I knew
we were buying parachutes and cutting them in panels of two from the apex
to the hem, then intersecting 2 chutes to form a cylinder. The cylinder
was then sewn to the top cap, which was a 28' personnel chute. Since I
was in the Navy reserve, I stopped by the parachute loft and recruited
Tom Collins to sew them up for us. Bob did some research and found out
that there were balloonists in California, and wrote them to find out
what made them go up. We were so naive, and I was such a non-believer
that I had to witness a cleaner's bag lift off from a bunsen burner in the
back yard one night. The damn thing went up and over the house, and I
said yep, I guess hot air does lift!
We lost Bob along the way. He was a creative genius on paper, but didn't
know which end of a screwdriver to use! As for me, I could turn ideas
into reality, but just couldn't turn products into profit. All my life I
have been burdened with this plague of being able to invent great
creations, but once I see that I know how to make it work, and get it far
enough along to prove it, I lose interest, and go on to the next big
idea. I will probably die a poor, but very fulfilled person. The pages
of history are filled with people like that, some have made a lot of
people rich after their deaths!
Ok, I quit here. That is just the first inch of a mile in my ballooning
life. If I continued, it would bog down your site. . . .
Thanks again for making my day. If any of my 300 club members, 500 crew
members, dozens of pilots, and thousands of ride customers ever want to
say hello, you can give them my email address. Guess I've been hiding