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Issue 12 (Nov/Dec 1999): Weird Kite Tales

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#1 Al Hargus (RIP)

Al Hargus (RIP)


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Posted 01 December 1999 - 04:00 AM

It seems to me that whenever kitefliers gather they have stories to tell about their adventures in flying. This story telling occurs on the flying field and sometimes at a bar. Actually almost any place that people gather with a common interest. It's the same with any hobby or sport. Football fans tell football stories. Race car enthusiasts will talk about some strange or interesting tale of racing trivia.

I would like to relate to you one of my "Weird Kite Tales". A story that fits well into the direction I've taken in KITELIFE and the column called Tangents and Trivia, but it's a story that cannot be easily cataloged or dated in any kind of order. (This is actually a tangent away from TANGENTS AND TRIVIA - therefore WEIRD KITE TALES)


One of the best things about kiteflying is that you meet such "nice" people. (Insert Weird - here!) During the beginnings of kiteflying in Chicago for me was the time I spent with Elmer Wharton. For those of you that knew Elmer, Weird was not quite the right word to describe Elmer. Elmer was a showman, artist, actor and definitely an eccentric. Elmer was always thinking up ways to have a good time and trying things to make kitefliers astonished. (AND for kitefliers that's a difficult task.)

In 1984 the AKA hosted their National Convention in Columbus, Ohio (This was my first trip to my future home in Ohio) and my second National gathering. The event was held at the Metro Center on the North end of Columbus. The Stouffers hotel was a great place and the flying field was right across the parking lot from the Hotel. This was to be the "Best" convention site in many kiters eyes until the Chicago Convention of 1988. (Sorry Ohio fliers - there are twenty story buildings on that flying field today!)

By 1984 Elmer and I had already attended several major kite events in the Midwest and I knew Elmer was a real character. Anything could happen when you were on the flying field with Elmer. The Night fly in Columbus was the first one ever hosted at a Nationals and no one really knew what would happen or what to expect. The parking lot of the hotel was full and there were fliers and kites everywhere. As sunset approached I saw that we were all in for a really spectacular night show. I had flown kites before at night and was ready with my own kite and ideas for after dark. Elmer didn't have any kites out and was just walking about the crowd visiting with everyone. It seemed kind of strange to me that Mr. Eccentric, Elmer Wharton, had nothing prepared for the night skies. I had no idea what has up his sleeve yet!

As it got darker the skies filled with all kinds of light displays. I remembered Olan Turner had a part of a beautiful handmade kite train fitted with cyalumes. The wind was doing fine and many of the dual line fliers were on the far end of the field with light trails swooping and diving across the darkness. Bill Werme and the rest of the Chicago gang had a big stack of ten foot flexifoils with all manner of lights on them, counting the case of beer they were using as a "kite anchor" really had that end of the field brightly lit.

AND Elmer still was just walking around and talking. (Well not "just" talking and walking. For those of you that knew Elmer, he always seemed to produce that famous thermos of Chicago Margaritas at night flies.) But still no night kites from Elmer.

My plan for this night fly was to get a "big" delta (12 footer) up in the high winds and use it to lift my own lights. I had several strobes and a couple of colored filters for them. I had them up in a flash and then moved into the crowd. With all the kites in the air it was impossible to tell whose kite was whose, but it didn't matter. Everyone saw that your line went from the winder you held up into the night sky and that made you a part of the entire show.

I moved into the center of the Chicago crowd, Charlie Sotich had such a small kite in the air you couldn't have seen it even in daylight. Lee and Anita Hoover had a really beautiful pair of matched deltas flying with light sticks. BUT Elmer Wharton complete with required Thermos was still not flying anything?

Elmer strolls up to me and asks if my kite is flying OK. I point it out to him and say that it's doing great. Elmer offers me a sample of his thermos and then says that I should move toward his car and that he had something to show me. "No problem, Elmer, I'll meet you there!" and I started to weave my way toward the edge of the parking lot.

Elmer was there before me and I expected another Thermos, what I saw was Elmer's REAL entry in the night fly. Elmer had a three foot bamboo rod about an 1/8th of an inch around. To this stick he had tied a string of about 100 firecrackers and a delay fuse. Elmer then asked me if he could tie the stick to my line? "All you have to do Al, is let more line out after I light the fuse. The fuse will burn for about three minutes. That will give us enough time to get back into the crowd and pretend that nothings up at all."

I ,of course, instantly agreed. The Firecracker stick is tied and "zips" into the air as I let more line out. Elmer and I then strolled back to the thick of the fliers. Elmer starts into a great monologue with everyone about how night flies are way too quiet and he doesn't really like them. I can just barely keep a straight face during Elmer's "shtick".

When everyone least expects it the fuse burns to the firecracker string and all the sky erupts with explosions. BANG, BANG, BANG, Bang, bang............ WOW this is great - no one has a clue that the commotion is being caused by my kite or that Elmer and I are the culprits. Elmer is acting just as astonished as everyone else. He complains about the "Noisy troublemakers...." This is just cracking me up. The field is in an uproar over the noise. WHAT A GREAT IDEA!

The Columbus convention night fly got a "little" out of control after the firecracker incident. Some "joker" thought it was a really great idea too, but didn't have any string of firecrackers. So they went to their car and got out regular sulfur highway flares and tied them to the line of their kite. They launched and commenced to sprinkle molten sulfur all over the field from the air. One flier even tried to launch a kite with firecrackers and NO delay fuse. The noise on the ground was enormous AND the burn holes on the kite were "sort of" cool!

No amount of "noisy" good time goes long unnoticed and soon a Columbus Squad car pulls into the parking lot to see what the commotion and noise is all about. Corey Jensen, from the West Coast who has been hitting his own "Thermos" for more than just the night fly strolls up to a cop. Corey has his face painted with the goop from inside a cyalume. He keeps saying "Hey man, it's a California thing!" Corey finally gets the cop to turn on his lights and add to the light show. Anyone else would probably have gotten arrested, but the cop really didn't want a "Glowing" Corey Jensen in the back of his squad car.

SO... Don't try this WEIRD KITE TALE at home. Not unless you have Elmer Wharton and Corey Jensen (and that special thermos) along for the flight.

Have you got a weird kite story to tell? Has something strange happened to you on the flying field? That's what this little chunk of KITELIFE is all about - WEIRD KITE TALES !

Send your weirdest kite stories to Al Hargus care of KITELIFE and I will publish them , the weirder the better.

(Tall tales are acceptable, but don't get caught! The bigger the fish story the better)
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Al Hargus - RIP 12/10/06

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