In the early hours of Labor Day morning, visitors young and old watched a large hot air balloon slowly inflate. A blue, white and red RE/MAX balloon was laid out in the center of the West Lawn at Hutchins Street Square. Volunteers stretched out what is known as the envelope — the part that fills with hot air — while a powerful fan pushed air inside. Pilot Dave Wakefield walked around inspecting each side and pulling the vinyl fabric outward until most of the envelope had expanded to the size of a small building. After sealing the parachute in the top to ensure that the air doesn’t escape, Wakefield hoisted the frame of the basket onto his shoulders and ignited the burner. Loud jet-like flames erupted, with a blast of hot air to all the curious adults and children standing 20 feet nearby. Gently the balloon lifted up, and Wakefield tipped the basket into its upright position. The hot air balloon first flight kicked off the return of Field and Fair Day to Hutchins Street Square on Labor Day with food and family activities such as the Kiwanis pancake breakfast, bounce houses, carnival games, and live entertainment.
On the field, two passengers climbed in with the pilot using footholds built into the side, and heard a safety briefing. The pilot turned on the burner while eight volunteers helped lift the basket to send the hot air balloon gently drifting into the air. It floated up over the trees and then East. “They’re totally at the mercy of the wind, they could end up in a cul-de-sac or a park, we’ll be out there chasing them to see where the end up,” said Joe Breton, a crew member of Team RE/MAX Ballooning. The crew took off in a truck, heading East to track the balloon in the sky. Field and Fair Day first began in 1980 as a part of fundraising efforts to create the Square on the site of the old, burned down Lodi Union High School. Field and Fair Day became a long-standing tradition in the community that ended with dwindling attendance by 1997.Now tradition is back, said Meghan Lange, board president of the Hutchins Street Square Foundation.
Organizers expected 1500 people to come to today’s event, and hope that in future years that number will grow. “Its been a lot of fun for two Lodi transplants. It’s been nice to revive people’s memories of Field and Fair Day,” said Suzanne Ledbetter, Administrative Assistant of the Hutchins Street Square Foundation. “We’re grateful to all the volunteers who helped in putting this all together.” Many enjoyed bringing their family and friends out to see the balloon take off, even though past years had seen several hot air balloons take off. “We thought it was great, but we also thought it wasn’t enough. We were here for a lot of Field and Fair days before and this whole field used to be filled with nothing but balloons,” said Eve Spradling, a Lodi resident. “There are a lot of trees here now, but maybe they need a bigger area to make it more successful.” Her friend Wendy Carne had come all the way from Angels Camp to see the hot air balloon, and said she remembered a time before when the sky was filled with balloons. However, children found plenty of happiness in seeing Monday’s hot air balloon. “I liked when they were blowing up the hot air balloon. I didn’t think it would be that big,” said Tanner Hunt, a 10-year old watching from sidelines. His littler brother Everett and friend, 11-year old Aidan O’Neill were also impressed with the size. “It’s bigger than I expected. It’s my first time that I’ve ever seen one and it’s my first time at Field and Fair Day,” O’Neill said. There were plenty of family things to do at Field and Fair day, with children getting faces painted and stamping finger-painted hands onto a large banner. Animals raised by local FFA students, such as two cows, two lambs and a large pig, were out for public viewing and petting. Lodi High School cheerleaders amazed with lifting stunts and dance routines. A K-9 unit demonstration, science experiments from World of Wonders Science Museum, and performances from Cutting Edge Martial Arts, vocalist Noelle Lenzi and guitarist Travis Vega were among the other great entertainment at the event. Lodians revelled in the return of the event. “We came out here because of tradition, I guess. When we were young, they had Field and Fair Day. It’s just a wonderful tradition of livable, lovable Lodi,” said Christina Welch, a Lodi resident. “It’s nice to have the community come together.”