by Mike Rose
The method you use to retrieve your equipment from a landowner's field can significantly affect landowner relations in your area. The easiest retrieval is when you are able to drive your chase vehicle into the field, load up and drive out. If that is not possible your alternative is to carry it out by hand. One quick note before I forget: We never drive into a field until the balloon is packed up, secured and ready to load into the van. The less time you spend in the field with the chase vehicle the better. These are some suggestions that we have used over the years that are least likely to upset a property owner.
First and foremost we never attempt to avoid talking to a landowner. If at all possible, talk to the landowner and ask permission to drive into the field to retrieve the balloon. You can be faced with any of the following situations:
1. The landowner who has given permission for the balloon to land in his field. You rarely have a problem retrieving the balloon if you had prior permission to land.
2. The landowner who is nearby and who gives permission to drive into the field to retrieve the balloon.
3. A situation where you cannot locate or identify the landowner and the field is not fenced.
4. The landowner who denies permission to drive into the field or you cannot locate the landowner and the field is fenced.
5. You could also encounter a landowner who refuses to even let you enter the field on foot to retrieve the balloon. This calls for an expert or experienced person to negotiate with the landowner. This person will almost always be the pilot.
I'll try to detail how we would handle each of these situations.
If permission to drive into the field is given I have found it best to ask the landowner where he or she would prefer you entered the field. I think you will find that most landowners will ask that you enter the field from a driveway or path next to the field that he uses for his farm equipment. We almost never enter a field directly from the main road. If you enter from the road and leave noticeable wheel tracks into the field you can be assured that the landowner will soon hear about the tracks from a neighbor or farmer friend at the coffee shop or feed store. Farmers are very proud and competitive people. They will often kid a neighboring farmer if his rows are not plowed straight, his crops are not planted in straight rows or if someone has driven into his field from the road. Save yourself some grief by entering the field from a location that is not noticeable from the main road.
After receiving permission to enter a field we enter the field and drive the fence line or field edge to a spot as close to the equipment as possible. At that point we drive straight to the balloon, load up and drive out using the same tracks. We use this same method when we cannot locate the landowner and we have an unfenced field or open gate. Out of necessity I once landed in a known red area that did not have a crop at the time. When we were ready to retrieve the equipment I drove my van as close to the fence line as possible. Since the balloon was close to the fence we simply carried it to the van parked next to the fence. The landowner was so impressed with the way we avoided driving across the middle of his field that he gave me permission to use the field any time there was no crop in the field.
If the farmer denies permission to drive into the field it is best not to argue with him. Just go in on foot and carry everything out. Some balloonists have made carry carts with large bicycle type tires to use when transporting their equipment over a distance. If your pilot has one of these fine, but if he does not there are different methods of carrying equipment out of the field. If the distance is not far you can simply put a crew person on each corner of the basket, lift it by the handles and walk it out. The same hold true for the envelope. If, however, the distance is much further it is sometimes best to take the propane tanks out of the basket to lighten the load. My crew and I once carried the entire balloon just over 3/4 mile through some pretty muddy fields. In that instance, not only did we take out the tanks but we drained them before carrying them out of the field.
NEVER CUT A FENCE. I have heard about fence cutting since I started flying but I have never actually seen anyone cut one. I'm sure there are other types of fence that I am not familiar with, but these are the best methods I know of when dealing with barbed wire. If no landowner is present and you have a fenced field with a locked gate it is best to just carry it out by hand. Not only do we not cut a fence, but we make every attempt to get past the fence without causing it to sag in the middle. Once again, a sagging fence can lead to comments from neighboring farmers and we're back to the pride factor. Also, some animals can get over a fence that sags to much. Usually we'll pass through the fence by lifting the second or third strand of barbed wire and sliding through the middle. Bringing the basket and envelope back across is another matter. Once we reach the fence with the retrieved equipment we never lean the equipment on a strand of wire. The envelope bag is usually passed over by hefting it up on the shoulders of 3-4 crew persons and just kind of heaving it over the fence. The basket is another matter. We get next to a fence post and lift the basket bottom up to the height of the fence post and place one corner of the basket on top of the post. While it rests on the post, held by one or two people, the rest of the crew passes through to the outside and lifts the basket off the post and down on the other side.
I once had a landowner refuse to allow us to retrieve the balloon from his field. He was standing there with a shotgun in one hand and demanding that we just get off his land and leave the balloon behind. He even denied my passenger permission to retrieve her purse that contained asthma medication that she needed. A quick call to the county sheriff brought help. The field was not planted, not fenced and not posted for trespassing. The sheriff's deputy determined that we intended no willful damage to the property and informed the landowner that he could not hold our equipment as ransom. We packed up, carried out and got out of there as quickly as possible.
Just a final note on retrieval. Try to avoid any kind of verbal or physical confrontation with a landowner. You cannot win this kind of argument. You are trespassing and regardless of the situation, if it gets to court you are probably going to lose. In order to avoid situations like this I do my best to avoid private land whenever possible. In the area where I fly there is plenty of public land and land set aside for new housing projects. I've never had a problem with local authorities on public land or developers of housing projects.
After retrieving the balloon we look for a good place to have our champagne celebration. If we are on private property and unless a landowner is present and chooses to join in the celebration we do not use his land for our celebration. We also avoid city parks since alcoholic beverages are banned. Since many of our landings are at sites where builders have put in roads but not started building houses yet we just pull to the side of a street and party right there.
The type of celebration I hold will vary based on whether or not I have paying passengers. The crew's job during the celebration is to help with the glasses or champagne if asked, or to just enjoy the moment. There is one type of celebration that I never use with paying passengers. This is the one where the passengers are placed on their knees with their hands behind their backs. When instructed to lean over and pick up the champagne glass with their mouth the pilot sprinkles champagne and a little dirt in their hair. Many years ago I saw a lady become irate when this happened as she had just spent $50 on a new hairdo. That was enough to convince me that I should avoid that kind of celebration.
We have a simple celebration where we pass out the filled champagne glasses and stand in a circle holding our glasses in the air to salute our passengers while I recite the Balloonist's Prayer.
The winds have welcomed you with softness,
The sun has blessed you with his warm hands.
You have flown so high and so well
That God has joined you in your laughter
And He has set you gently back again
Into the loving arms of mother earth.
Peter Naumburg informed me that they always add to the prayer the words "and your fine crew". This sounds like a good way to honor your crew during the champagne celebration. Other suggestions that I have received for the celebration follow:
In Tulsa, OK one year we couldn't fly because of high winds and I heard someone offer this prayer. Sorry I cannot remember who recited it.
The winds have not welcomed us with softness.
They have kept us on the ground.
So, lets open another bottle
and have another round.
Phil Brown, crew chief for Big Bird, a Plano balloon has the following Crew Prayer on cards:
The winds have welcomed you with fastness.
The sun has cursed you with its cold glare.
You have flown so far and so fast
Your crew will never find you,
And they wrecked your truck
and drank your beer.
Gene Funderburk suggested that when you tell your grandchildren about this or any balloon flight,
"Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story."
An anonymous person sent in this quote by Leonardo da Vinci:
Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you long to return.
Diane Teichman, a crew chief in the Houston area sent in the Crew Psalm; First Rite
Caffeine is my shepherd; I shall not doze.
It maketh me to crew in green pastures:
It leadeth me beyond the sleeping masses and off the map.
It restoreth my buzz:
It leadeth me in the paths of lighter than air consciousness .
Yea, though I chase through the valley of the shadow of addiction,
I will fear no Equal (tm): for thou art with me;
Thy cream and thy sugar they comfort me.
In the cold Albuquerque dawn thy warmth defrosts my fingers.
Thou preparest a thermos before me in the presence of Juan Valdez:
Thou loosen my tongue for symphonic radio contact
Thou de-glaze my eyes to see clearly into the heavens
Thou limber up my joints for carabiner and crown line finesse
Thou anointest my day with pep; my Fiesta mug runneth over.
Surely richness and tasteful stand-up landings shall follow me
All the days of my life: as
I will dwell in the fence-less House of Maxwell for ever.
Last but not least, a classified add for crew appearing in the June 1993 issue of the North Texas Ballooning Association newsletter, INFLATIONS.
Wanted: Attractive, liberal female, should be able to bench press 600 lbs. and have a strong back. Must have experience in backing trailers and driving vans loaded with raucous crew. Able to leap barbed wire fences with a single bound. Degree in microbiology preferred. Able to charm angry ranchers who may be carrying loaded firearms. Willing to share motel rooms with people who sleep odd hours and do even odder things after dark. Must be willing to get up at 4:30 AM and stand in front of 30 MPH fan blast in frigid weather or near large flame during the summer. Must bring own gloves and have transportation. Compensation: Will be carried thousands of feet into the air in a wicker basket with no parachute when the weather is too bad to carry paying passengers.
Coming next month, Crewing for a Tether. As always, please forward comments or suggestions for future topics to me at P. O. Box 1362, Allen, Texas 75013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.