A Dresden area farmer and his son encountered a strange visitor from space recently; a wizard, actually.
Steve Richardson and his son, Landen, 8, discovered a downed weather balloon in one of their fields, but soon learned it was much more than that.
Attached to the balloon was a capsule of sorts, a Styrofoam cooler that contained The Wealthy Wizard, as well as a GoPro camera, a GPS locator … and a phone number.
“We didn’t see it coming down. We were combining in the field and we had seen it from a distance,” Steve recalled in an interview with The Chatham Voice. “My son was with me. I told him to go and get it. A Styrofoam cooler was attached to it. It was pretty neat.”
Steve said coming across a weather balloon in a field is nothing new to him.
“We get a lot of weather balloons. I figured that was what it was. At first, I just wanted to get it out of the field so we could keep working. I figured we could send the data back to The Weather Network,” he said. “But later, we saw they’d cut a hole and that’s where the GoPro was sealed in there. This was something different.”
It also got Landen very interested in what was inside.
“He was pretty happy,” Steve said. “He’s always watching YouTube videos, and was happy to figure out what was on this camera.”
Once they had opened the cooler, Steve said he realized the equipment inside was worth hundreds of dollars. After finding the phone number, he said he called it a short time later and left a message, which was quickly returned by Brian Stek of Grand Rapids, Mich.
Brian’s daughter, Britt, who is also a Grade 3 student, launched the balloon as a fun project from Grand Rapids, about 400 kilometres away,
Britt and her dad took video of the preparation work for the project and the launch. They trusted the GoPro to do the heavy story telling as the balloon rose higher and higher into the atmosphere.
At first, the balloon headed south, towards Ohio, but as it gained altitude, air currents took it northeast.
A weather balloon can get as high as nearly 40 kilometres into the atmosphere, well up into the stratosphere. Britt’s balloon can be seen in the video soaring high into the atmosphere, to the point it climbs to where it was too cold for the balloon. It lost lift and sent everything tumbling back towards earth.
But where a typical weather balloon gets perhaps 120 km from its launch site, Britt’s travelled 400 km to the point it landed in Steve’s field.
After Steve and Brian chatted over the phone, Steve and Landen decided to recreate the discovery of the balloon, and film it for the Steks so they could add it to their story.
Landen then took The Wealthy Wizard, named after Britt’s school – Wealthy Elementary School – to his own school, Dresden Area Central School.
“His class took the wizard around and took pictures at different spots in the school and sent the photos back to Britt in Michigan,” Steve said. “Now she’s got a little background on Dresden Area Central School.”
The class wrote Britt a letter as well.
“Dear Britt and Grade 3 Friends: Our friend Landen’s dad found your package (space shuttle) in his field while he was working! Landen brought your wizard to our school for the day to see what our Grade 3 day was like,” it began.
The letter included photos of the class. Students also sent personal cards to Britt. Some discussed their likes and dreams.
Steve said the wizard’s trip drew the interest of his entire family as well.
“It’s kind of a simple story, but I’ve got four kids and all are really excited about it,” he said. “It’s been a learning experience, for sure.”
The wizard is home in Grand Rapids, according to Britt’s video. He’s “studying up for his next trip. Who knows where he will go this time?”
To view the video, visit https://youtu.be/4vY3g_ys_74