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Tour of Missouri: The Great Pershing Balloon Derby

Any other weekend it looks just like a farmer's field accessed by a country road off an under-traveled state highway. It is no different than the other farmer's fields that surround it.

That all changes on Labor Day Weekend. That is when the farmer's field  transforms into a launching pad for a Hot Air Balloon Festival that has been occurring every Labor Day for the past thirty-eight years. The Great Pershing Balloon Derby occurs just west of Brookfield, Missouri every Labor Day weekend.

 The festivities need a small amount of luck; the weather conditions have to be perfect to fly a hot air balloon. So, if the rain stays at bay and the winds are low it is worth the drive to this north-central community to see the balloons.

The schedule is pretty much the same every year. There is a flight and night glow Friday night, Saturday and Sunday evenings of the festival. There is also morning flights on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday mornings. There are small town festival activities Saturday as well; a parade, free entertainment, baby contest, and a dance.

We decided to camp at Long Branch State Park the weekend of the Derby. It was a 40 minute drive to and from the state park to the launch site. We arrived at the field around 4:30 p.m. shortly after the gates opened. We easily found a place on the grass for our chairs and picnic basket right near the boundary flags separating the balloonist from the crowd.

Food and novelty vendors helped pass the time until the launch was scheduled. The weather was questionable and the balloonist took their time deciding if it was safe enough to launch. Luckily for us, they waited long enough and the conditions became favorable! Once a decision was made, the balloonist raced to a spot on the field and raced to launch.

We were so close to the action! The night we were there around 30 balloonist took the field and later the air. The crew carried out the baskets, dragged the giant balloons out and began the process of filling them with hot air. It seemed to take forever for them to fill and stand up tall but then next to no time before they we taking the sky.

Watching the balloonist leave the ground and watching the sky fill with the hot air balloons is just an amazing site! The Short Chic loved every second of it and immediately began asking if we could come back again next year.

Several of the balloonist lifted and sat right back down so they could return and do the night glow. In the night glow, the balloons are filled with hot air but they do not launch. Instead the propane burners light the hole balloon up against the fading night sky.  During this part the crowd is invited to duck under the boundary flags and walk up close to the balloonist. The Balloonist even have trading cards made up and hand them out to the crowd.

All day The Short Chic had begged to ride in a balloon. She had declared it one of her life's dreams (mind you at the age of 6)! She quickly changed her mind when we got up close to the balloon and she heard the loud noise of the propane burners. She could not get far enough away!


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