Nowadays not many people have seen a weather balloon. However, in the late 1950s the army surplus stores often stocked them. And one could purchase (for not much money) these large latex globes with long necks. This is the story of a weather balloon used for something other than its original purpose.
My father Jack was a scholarship student at a Midwestern College and worked in the cafeteria during breakfast, lunch and dinner to help pay his tuition. Jack’s roommate, Mike, was on the rowing team. Both Jack and Mike had to wake early to start their day. However, in their dorm (in fact directly above their room) lived a rich young man named Dale. Dale did not have to work his way through college. In fact, he liked to party late into the night. Dale would invite his friends over for music and revelry several weekday nights a week. Jack and Mike complained to Dale about the noise but he only laughed and said that if they were awake anyhow they were welcome to join in the fun.
Their dormitory was a large old red brick building from the 1880s. The dorm had a wood shingle mansard roof and a central portico and front entrance door. Stepping inside the front door was a large dark entry way and a central stairway leading to the second floor. Behind the central stair was Jack and Mike’s dorm room and upstairs at the top of the landing was Dale’s room. All of the rooms had high ceilings with wooden doors and rectangular transom windows above the doorways.
One weekend Dale decided to go out of town for the weekend. He announced one Saturday morning that he would not return to the dorm until late Sunday evening. Suddenly Jack and Mike had an idea. One of them had seen a very large war surplus weather balloon for sale and thought they might be able to play a joke on Dale. Being a student of physics, Jack carefully calculated the equations needed and decided that their plan would work. They acquired the weather balloon and on Sunday morning they went upstairs and picked the lock to Dale’s room. Jack and Mike removed all of the furniture from the room and rolled up the rug. They placed all of Dale’s furniture into a store room on the second floor and then shut all of Dale’s windows.
As it happens the volume of the weather balloon they bought was slightly larger than the volume of Dale’s room. Jack and Mike pushed the enormous weather balloon into Dale’s dorm room, tucking the edges into the far corners of the room. They then took the neck of the balloon and raised it up above the doorway and secured the edges of the mouth of the weather balloon to the rim of the transom using WWII surplus duct tape. Using a conveniently located canvas firehose with a brass nozzle, Jack closed the door and then fed the nozzle of the firehose through the open transom window. Then Mike turned the water on.
Water from the firehose flowed into the weather balloon now filling the inside of Dale’s dorm room. Time passed. The weather balloon
filled with water. At some point the weight of the water inside the balloon was so heavy that
it began to cause the ceiling in Jack and Mike’s dorm room to bulge. So then they shut off the firehose and stood back to examine their work. It was now late on Sunday afternoon. It seemed the weather balloon leaked a little bit so when water dribbled out of the keyhole in Dale’s door they had to stop up the key hole with a bit of wax. Then Jack and Mike waited for Dale’s return.
All of this activity had not escaped the notice of the other young men living in the dormitory. When the plan was explained by Jack and Mike they had enthusiastic offers of help from their dorm mates and so the original plan increased in complexity. The young college men grinned to themselves and prepared for Dale’s return.
Late Sunday night just before curfew around 11 o’clock, Dale returned. With a cheerful whistle Dale strolled up the walkway entered the building and took the stairs at a run. At
the top of the landing he hesitated while he searched for his room key in his pockets. Dale located the key and turned it in the lock. He was startled to find the palm of his hand was now wet and stepped back in surprise to look at his hand by the light of the staircase. This was extremely fortunate because the door, finally freed from the lock, then sprung open with great force and slammed against the wall. A wall of water immediately flowed out of Dale’s room and washed him head over heels back down the staircase behind him. Dale ended up in a soaking wet heap at the bottom of the stairs. Dale struggled to rise to his feet as the water continued to flow down the stairs for a while.
Being in on the joke, some very sympathetic young men appeared at the bottom of the stairs to help Dale. Dale was almost incoherent. Dale could not understand what had happened to him but his new friends were anxious to assure him that the best thing to do was to
go and report the matter to the college dean. Therefore a group of young men began escorting one soaking wet young man across the rural campus in the dark to locate the dean’s house. This took some time.
Meanwhile, Jack and Mike and some other dorm mates were hard at work. They mopped up the water on the stairs and in the entry way and second floor hallway. Working together Jack and Mike mopped up the remaining water inside of Dale’s room and began moving back the furniture. The young men put the bed and dresser and bookcase and desk back in place exactly the way that it had been and finally rolled out the rug. Then they quietly closed the door to Dale’s dorm room and crept downstairs and back to their own rooms to watch and wait.
The college dean was not a happy man as he had been awakened by a group of young men and Dale all with a preposterous story of a tidal wave inside of a dorm room. Yet the dean was persuaded to return back across the darkened campus to see for himself. Naturally, the dean needed to get dressed and find his shoes and overcoat. Then with the dean grumbling to himself all the way, the small group made its way back to the dormitory. The old brick building looked stately and serene as they approached the steps. All was quiet. They entered the darkened entryway and climbed the staircase. Dale was now babbling again that there had been water everywhere and he himself washed off of his feet. Dale reached for the doorknob to show his room to the dean but when he opened the door all was exactly as it should have been. The room was clean and dry. The dean was not amused. The dean called Dale an idiot or a liar and said he ought to be expelled for such a ridiculous story.
Dale never did recover the goodwill of the dean and at the end of the semester Dale transferred to another college. And Jack and Mike lived happily and peacefully ever
About the author: Amanda Duisman
My name is Amanda Duisman. I was born in Berkeley, California in 1962. My father was from Petaluma, California and my mother from Wichita, Kansas. I’ve lived and worked all over the world in my life but came home to Berkeley 25 years ago.