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Murray Man Becomes Balloonist After Fifty

People gathered in Eden, Utah recently to enjoy music, art, and the main attraction, hot air balloons.

“I like seeing when the balloons go off and when they light up," said Rebecca Spinelli - an attendee at the Ogden Valley Balloon & Artist Festival. "​It makes me feel really cool. I want to ride in one but it’s kind of scary.”

Angela Varaotsady, another attendee, said, “I never would have thought to own a hot air balloon – so yeah, I was curious how they got into it. I think it’s a unique experience that you don’t see it very often so, something you can say that you’ve seen. ”

Both were patiently waiting for the winds to die down so that the balloonists could set up and fly over the valley.

Don Stockley is a balloon pilot who didn’t take his first ride until he was 50 years old. 

“To me it’s a release," Stockley said. "I own a trucking company and I work hard and am under a lot of stress and when I’m here I’m a whole different person, and I just, oh, it’s so peaceful and just so calm.”

Becoming a balloon pilot isn’t for everyone. It is a lengthy process with a lot of training and not everyone makes it through. But for Stockley, it was love at first flight.

“You know, I found it easy because I wanted to," Stockley said. "And we’ve seen students come into our group that have the drive and it’s easy for them. If they don’t have the drive, you can tell on the second day, they may as well go home.”

He said they fly at about 24 events each year in the U.S. alone but people from around the world recognize his balloon christened, Moonshine.

“We named it after this Valley because this was called the Harvest Moon Balloon Event," Stockley said. "It’s recognized all over the world. ‘People send us pictures from all over the world, 'We saw you flying,' or 'We flew over you at a balloon event and thought we'd send this picture to you.’”

On the trailer that houses Moonshine is a painting of the balloon with two passengers by the mountains in Park City.

“That’s my wife and I and it was cold, it was 20 below zero,” Stockley said.

Stockley likes to share his passion for ballooning and has a special tradition with his first time passengers.

“We have a little ceremony tell them about when ballooning started back in the 1700’s and it’s a funny story,” he said.

“It started in the 1700’s?”

“1786. Montgolfier brothers, they owned a paper factory in France and they discovered that paper would float up from their fire, so they decided to build a similar type thing to hold, and they got over the fire and let the thing go and it started from there.”

Stockley said it’s not uncommon for marriage proposals to take place in flight. I asked him, “What’s the craziest thing people have done?”

“Oh we can’t talk about that on the radio,” Stockley said.