Rally Week started Saturday with the annual Great Wellsville Balloon Rally parade.
When the Rally, what would become the Great Wellsville Balloon Rally, first started, circa 1975, I was already a grown woman, but that didn't stop me from having the childish glee I felt seeing those brightly colored orbs floating in the sky for the first time. That feeling has come back each year just as the balloons have come back.
The first time I saw them was not at the old site of the Wellsville Airport, no, I was flat on my back, in the twin bed I'd slept in for most of my life in my childhood room. That summer I was a camp counselor at Pinewood Girl Scout Camp above Arkport. As a riding specialist with no particular campers to care for when the horde arrived on opening day, I was assigned to luggage duty. Lifting some cherub's trunk, I strained my back and was sent home to heal.
Laying there in my bed, my head at the foot of the bed, so I would have the benefit of looking out the window, I heard a whish, then I heard another whish. I turned to look out the window and caught my breath just as a hot air balloon floated by.
As I said, at that time the Rally was held at the old Wellsville Airport on the Bolivar Road. Today the site is occupied by fast food restaurants, a farm store, dollar store and grocery store.
Back then the Rally was half hot air balloons and half ultra light aircraft. That is where I the realized why I was enamored with the balloons. As the balloons hung in the sky above, following the trademark mass launch, I was reminded of Christmas. I remembered that as a small child I had crawled under the Christmas tree and looked up through the branches laden with bulbs and lights. To me that is what it seems like under a sky laden with brilliantly colored hot air balloons. They just seem to hang in the air.
My first ride in a balloon was in Miss Amy, a pinkish purple balloon owned by a pilot from Canisteo. After the launch we floated over the village toward the East. I floated past my house, past the window where I'd looked out to see my first balloon, and then onward to the Trapping Brook Road where we landed in an empty field.
That is when I learned how peaceful it is to fly in a hot air balloon. It is just you and the sky, the landscape below and the whish of the propane burner heating the air. The world looks very flat and you can hear the people below you as clearly as if they were standing right next to you in the gondola. It is an unforgettable experience.
The second time I rode in a hot air balloon, it was packed with people. I was a reporter by that time and very aware that I was in the balloon as a journalist and not a paying passenger. I had a job to do.
Just as the balloon was about to touch down, only a foot or two from the earth, I jumped out to take photos. With the sudden weight loss, the balloon jerked back up into the sky, earning me a dirty look from the pilot.
A few years after the Balloon Rally moved to Island Park, my sister and I joined the Rally Committee. Of course I got stashed in media relations while my sister ended up working on the store sub committee. It was all great fun with a lot of great people.
I remember one year, the Rally chairman's wife and I climbed into my open-top Jeep Wrangler and headed for Buffalo and channel 7. We'd called to see if we could get on the 11 o'clock news with the weatherman to promote the Rally. They said if we could get there we would have a slot. We gathered up shirts, hats and posters and headed for Buffalo.
We made it to the station. We did our stick and headed for home.
The next night was Friday night of the Rally. A big night. I was working the store waiting on a woman who was just thrilled at the whole event. I asked where she was from and she replied, Buffalo. Then she added, "I was watching the news last night when these two women came on after the weather and talked about the Rally, so I decided to come down."
Of course we were thrilled that our late night ride to Buffalo had paid off.
The parade idea was hatched by then Rally Chairman Ken Lotter in 1994, who liked the idea that a Franklinville girl had just won the Miss USA crown. The parade highlighted balloons and Kimberly Pressler.
It turned out to be so much fun that it has become an annual event.
— Kathryn Ross is a longtime reporter and columnist at The Wellsville Daily Reporter and The Spectator.