By Norris Chambers

            You’ve probably been told to “Go fly a kite” after some smart-aleck statement or action.

You might not have done it for several reasons. You might not have had a kite handy or the wind might not have been present at that time. You definitely have to have a kite and a breeze to fly one. You can hold the string and run with a kite on the end and it will start to rise, but when you reach the end of the runway or have to stop on account of tiredness, it will come crashing to the ground.

            Our spring seasons were usually pretty windy and when that time of year arrived Clifton and I turned our blacksmithing activities to kite making. The usual kite size was about two feet long and eighteen inches wide at the widest point. I am sure they sold kites in the cities but in the back country where we lived everyone built their own. I have seen little tiny ones no larger than six inches long that were flown with a spool of sewing thread. Clifton and I also constructed one over six feet tall one time.

            A simple kite is constructed by building a cross out of light timber, installing a string around the outside of the frame and covering it with paper. A tail is added to the bottom to add weight and keep the kite in an upright position when in flight. The tail is usually made from old rags tied to form a long rope. A bridle, or towing attachment, is made by tying a string to the ends of each frame member and then bringing the strings together a few inches in front of the kite. The operating string is then connected here and the kite is ready to fly.

            We used dried cane stalks for the first experimental model of our large kite but soon found that this material  was not strong enough for a brisk wind. We finally used narrow willow branches for our structure and large paper bags glued together for the paper. The kite wasn’t a pretty thing but it was big. The tail was made by tying tow sacks together. When it was finished we tested it in a moderate breeze and found that we needed additional power to pull it and launch it.

            My Model-T strip-down was the ideal tool. We could apply whatever speed we needed to get it airborne. We used a handy spool of telephone wire for the string and with a little tail adjustment it flew beautifully and ascended high in the sky. After a little serious discussion we decided to hang a big torch on it and fly it at night. A long wire with a heavy bundle of rags on the end saturated with kerosene should do the trick. We grinned a little when we thought about all the people who would see it and wonder what it was.

            There was a two track trail from the south of our field to the north end. It was exactly a half mile, as most surveys in that part of the country were. That was a nice distance to provide a spectacular display on a dark night. On a dark Saturday night we began our performance.

            Clifton ignited the kerosene-filled rag ball at the end of the wire, held the kite in position and ran along for a few feet until it became airborne then jumped on the strip down with me. As  we picked up a little speed the spool of wire began turning and the kite began climbing. Soon the wire was off the ground and the flames lit up the area like a torch.

            The half mile trip progressed as planned and the kite and torch made a graceful landing.

            We had expected that the fireball would attract attention for several miles and that some of the people would wonder what it was. That is exactly what happened. There was a lot of talk about the strange light that traveled across the sky. One of the county newspapers had an article about it. If we had done this in recent times it would no doubt have been called a flying saucer or an unidentified flying object. Back then it was just a curiosity. We just grinned and didn’t say anything.

            Why did we do this? The only explanation I could offer would be this: “Everybody has to do something!” What we did we thought was FUN.