Ellis Hallman, 87, did not, in fact, journey around the earth in a rocket launched from the Lebanon Airport 50 years ago.
But it sure was a fun promotion for the 15th annual Lebanon Air Days in July 1961.
It was the idea of Don Wellman, KGAL announcer, Hallman said.
“He said, ‘For this fly-in, let’s create a rocket,’” he recalled.
Hallman created a rocket that was 20-feet tall and four-feet in diameter, painted it silver and put it on a flatbed truck.
“Don was announcing it on the radio,” he said. “People came all the way over from the freeway.”
When the rocket launched, smoke seemed to rush out, as if it was powered by a true engine.
The rocket was, in fact, filled with helium, Hallman said.
“We had a five-pound sack of flour tied to it, so when it took off, the flour went everywhere,” he said.
Hallman, playing the astronaut, crawled under the truck and into a car after the “launch.”
Using a walkie-talkie, Hallman kept in touch with those on the ground while on his way to the Albany airport.
“I’d tell them where I was at, what altitude I was at, updates on what’s going on,” he said.
An hour later, he flew into Lebanon from Albany, triumphant from his “trip around the earth.”
“It was just for fun,” Hallman said, “but people really believed it.”
The rocket drifted over Big Lake before finding itself in a tree.
“A fellow from Lacomb called and said, ‘I think your rocket is here in my tree out here,’” Hallman said. “And it was there.”
The 15th annual air days were crowded, Hallman said, with 120 aircraft and crowds of families.
“People brought their families out with blankets,” he said. “There was more going on than this.”
Freefall parachute jumps, aerobatics, forest fire fighting air drops, spot landings and a glider demonstration were just a few of the events.
“The flour bomb was a big contest,” Hallman said.
In the contest, pilots would fly over an outhouse — where the mayor sat — and attempt to bomb the building with bags of flour.
“I came close, but never did hit it,” Hallman recalled. “That’s hard to do, to judge your speed and the wind.”
Another contest involved flying up to 2,000 feet and tossing out a roll of toilet tissue. The tissue would unroll like a ribbon, Hallman said.
“We would count how many times we could fly through this thing, cutting the tissue,” he said.
Hallman served in World War II, where he first learned to work on aircraft. He came to Lebanon in 1950 from Moscow, Idaho, to work as an aircraft mechanic at the Lebanon airport.
“I arrived the day they had the fly-in,” he said. “It was July 30, 1950. One local pilot had gotten killed the day before in an aircraft.”
Hallman found it hard to make a living, so went into auto body work, eventually opening Ellis Body and Paint Shop.
Though he hasn’t flown in years, he is still active at the airport with his inspection authorization.
At the LebanAir Days last summer, he and other pilots gathered to swap stories about aircraft and experiences they’d had.
One story Hallman recalled involved a tragic accident in 1958.
“There was an airplane that went down on South Sister,” he said. “A year later, we went and recovered the engine for that.”
His friend had a horse to help with the recovery.
“A great big horse, must’ve weighed a ton,” Hallman said.
They used saplings to create a makeshift dray to hitch to the sides of the horse, where they put the engine.
On their way out of the mountains, the horse tipped over.
“The owner got him up, hooked him back up again, and got the engine out,” Hallman said. “We sold it four years later.”
The pilot died from the wreck.
The passenger must have been functioning afterward, Hallman said, because the pilot was wrapped in blanketing, but the passenger was never found.