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:

Hello, "Author":

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 long enough.

Best Wishes,

Linden Harding

Anyone who wants to contact Mr. Harding, just drop me a line, and I'll send his address. I'm not going to post it here, because spammers' robots harvest e-mail addresses from this site, and I don't want to make my honored "guest columnist" a target of extra spam.

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