While recently rambling along the short, pretty forest trail that circumnavigates Parkgate Park at the bottom of Seymour Mountain, an unusual picture artfully decorating a large metal electrical box caught our eye: a sepia photograph of what looked like a dirigible, hovering over the stumps and felled trees of a swatch of logged forest.We were instantly intrigued. Had such a delightful invention as logging by dirigible really once been employed on our local mountains? A visit to the archives, along with some research, confirmed it: balloon logging on the steep, difficult-to-reach slopes of the Seymour Watershed had once been an experiment conducted in the 1960’s by the Balloon Transport Company, after hurricane Freda extensively damaged the Lynn Ridge area. Deemed at that time the worst storm on record in the Pacific Northwest, the typhoon caused today’s equivalent of more than $600 million in damages, seven storm-related deaths, and felled over 3000 trees in Stanley Park alone.
Convinced that a state-of-the-art, aerial load-lifting apparatus would revolutionize the lumber industry,a gentleman by the name of Chester R. Matheson filed patent US3221897 on July 10, 1962 and introduced balloon logging to forest-rich British Columbia in 1963.
His helium balloon measured 137 feet long and 52 feet wide and could lift up to 8.5 tons of logs. After only three days of operation, however, the $100,000 balloon tore loose and drifted west to Grouse Mountain, where a cedar tree eventually snagged and split it. With the balloon ruined, the Balloon Transport Company was forced to suspend its logging operations.
The setback didn’t deflate the intrepid Balloon Transport Company, however; it gamely resumed its salvage operation once more in October 1967, with much cinematic fanfare, with a balloon one third the original size. Click here to watch a wonderful original old clip of: 1967 Film of revolutionary balloon logging device!
The balloon portion of the aerial load-lifting apparatus was manufactured by Airborne Industries, a privately owned British company that originally manufactured and produced barrage balloons during World War II under the name Leabridge Engineering.
Leabridge Engineering reformed in the 1960’s as Airborne Industries Ltd. Based in Southend-On-Sea in England, the company still designs, develops and manufactures a unique range of products, such as parachute training balloons and target-practice inflatable, life-size army tanks, a product it has been my very great loss to not know even existed, hitherto this moment.
Alas, despite Mr. Matheson’s enthusiastic and optimistic predictions, balloon logging was never widely adopted in British Columbia. Apparently hikers in the Lynn Ridge/Seymour Watershed area can still spot the old fire access road and the remains of this experimental logging operation; if anyone knows where it’s to be found, I’d love to know!