The Great Wellsville Balloon Rally
THE BEGINNING OF THE BALLOON RALLY
Before there was a balloon rally, the only aviation activity was an annual Fly-In Breakfast sponsored by the Wellsville Aviation Club. They would clear out one of the hangers at the airport, put up folding tables and chairs and prepare a great breakfast of pancakes, eggs, sausage, etc. Pilots from Western New York and Northwest Pennsylvania would fly in for the breakfast and have a great time eating and swapping stories with their fellow aviators.
Where did the name of the air show come from? At the time there was a popular movie, starring Robert Redford, called “The Great Waldo Pepper.” It was about a barn storming pilot which brought to mind the exciting days of early aviation. The organizers liked the name and decided to call the air show- The Great Wellsville Air Show.
Here is an ad.
A group of local volunteers became the very first balloon rally committee. The committee included Ray Stevens, Mr. and Mrs. Karney Cochran, Sue Purga, John Embser, Ralph & Bev Stockman, Bill Childs and many others. As you can guess, their like of “The Great Wellsville” was carried over to the rally and it became The Great Wellsville Balloon Rally. Ray Stevens served as Executive Director of the Rally for a couple of years and then passed it on to Bill Childs. Bill continues with the rally today as a Pilot flying Child’s Play.
The first rally was a small group of balloonists from a variety of backgrounds. They were very interesting and likeable folks. We had one of Malcolm Forbes balloons join us along with the official State of Connecticut Balloon. A balloon from Ireland. George T. Lewis met a balloonist who was visiting the US and had his balloon with him. He invited him to come to Wellsville and he agreed. Over the years, the balloon rally has had many balloons including The Wonder Bread Balloon, Tony The Tiger, The Energizer Bunny and most recently The Shamrock. One of Ray Stevens favorite balloons was the Great Pumpkin Balloon (a favorite of Charley Brown as well). A story about the Great Pumpkin Balloon. One of the mornings of the rally, with the fog thick in the valley, the pilot decided to take off through the fog and see just how thick it really was. As The Great Pumpkin Balloon was rising up through the fog, a pilot from the Wellsville Airport flying by was surprised to all of a sudden see this giant orange pumpkin, complete with black eyes and jagged mouth, coming up through the fog. If only we had a picture.
The first Balloon Meister was Bill Anderson. He had built and was flying, a “paper” balloon. The balloon’s envelope was made from Tyvek (the stuff you see wrapped around houses when they are building them). We believe the crown of the balloon was nylon. He wove the wicker basket and was using a weed burner as his balloon’s burner. The balloon carried one person and a single propane tank. Bill flew and won the ribbon-tie event. A note, Bill has gone on to become a well know balloonist throughout the world. He flies gas balloons as well and has written several ballooning books and is the editor of, “Balloon Life Magazine.”
That’s the history of the beginning of the rally. It has gone on to become the largest event held in Wellsville for the past 39 years.
Special thanks to Mary Rhodes of Thelma Rogers Genealogical and Historical Society. Without her guidance and support this page would not be possible.