It was one year
ago that Baum began his flight of fancy. He was nearing graduation from Denver
University. Looking through the classified ads in the Denver Post for a
post-commencement used car, he let his eyes drift to the adjoining column,
which happened to be Aviation. There, between the one-owner Cessnas, he
gold and blue Raven hot air, 2 gondolas, 1 racing and 1 two-man, only 18 hours.
Box 2443, Colo. Springs. 473-1038
clicked, but it didn't click completely," Baum remembers. "All the way
down to Colorado Springs to look at a balloon? I kept thinking, 'This is not
the practical way to buy a car.' "
owner turned out to be a 52-year-old man whose doctor (and possibly his wife)
forbade excitement of the sort brought on by ballooning. Baum later learned
that there were only 55 or 60 balloons in the United States at the time, and
this was one of the few ever to be offered for resale anywhere.
for a couple of wedding parties, Baum kept getting asked what he had been up to
recently. He kept answering, "I'm thinking of buying a balloon."
Everybody laughed and marked him down as a droll fellow. The more they laughed,
the more it agitated Baum. "If you want to do it," he thought, "why
can't you do it?" He went back to Colorado and bought the balloon. To do
it, he had to float loans from friends. (Here comes one of his friends.
"Hey, Ralph, I need some heavy bread." "Sure, Link. I can help out
a little." "Thanks." [Takes check.] "What are you using it
for?" "Oh, well, uh....")
Baum is a
self-taught balloonist. "My first gondola was a dustbin, like garbagemen
use," he says. "It was made of cardboard, and propane fuel tanks hung
all over it. No one was around to teach me to fly. I put the thing together
with bolts and wrenches and plastic glue. I practiced making burns [heating the
air in the balloon to gain lift] with the balloon tethered to the ground by
ropes and pulleys. I nearly jumped out of my skin the first time the burner
roared. It's a fantastic roar, four million BTUs per hour.
"One day I
just said, 'Here goes.' I cut loose and rose to about 2,300 feet. I could see
my shadow on the flatland, running along up to Pikes Peak. I was waving to my
shadow on the ground. I just can't express the feeling of being let loose, of
floating along with the wind and the clouds. It fills you emotionally. It's the
"All of a
sudden the burner went out. I couldn't get the thing relit, no matter how much
I used my spark gun. The balloon just fell out of the sky.
"When it hit
the ground, my head went right into the hot burners and my hair was singed off.
Since then I've had fairly short hair. But I was laughing. Laughing. I couldn't
stop laughing. I had thought I was going to plummet down like a rocket and go
smash. Instead, I bounced. It was like a crazy dream, floating instead of
falling. The land doesn't come up—wham—like it's been put on an elevator. It
doesn't rise up and hit you. It just gently opens up and cradles you. Then the
whole balloon, thousands of yards of it, comes right down over you, and you're
inside the balloon for a couple of moments. Suddenly it bounces, and you're a
hundred feet up in the air.
"Well, I got
the burner relit and I went up again. I never wanted to come down. I wanted to
stay up forever. After that, I couldn't ever be afraid of getting really hurt.
I flew as much as I could.