The other day when Chrissy and I went to the fair we saw a booth for bounce houses and other cool inflatables. So, I naturally picked up a brochure of their products and services. There were all kinds of inflatables– obstacle courses, Velcro walls, jousting, and themed bounce houses. They had tons to choose from!
If you’re around me for any prolonged length of time you will figure out that I love inflatables. Somewhere deep in me I have the makings of a carnival worker, or at least someone who works or performs in a circus. If I’m getting raw and real here, I will let you in on a secret. Don’t tell anyone though. I think perhaps I should have ran off with the circus when I was 5.
I remember my dad getting me up super early when the circus would come to Williamsport. He would take me down to where the circus would set up. It was right next to the railroad tracks. The circus train would come in, stop, and unload right there. When we would arrive, often the fog would be just lifting and you could hear the men calling out to one another, laying out the huge tent that soon would become the “Big Top” of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.
Thinking back forty plus years ago, I remember sitting on the dike next to the Lycoming Creek with dad, my sleepy eyes trying to focus on what was happening in the field. Once the tent was spread out and laced, a line of big men would hoist up a humongous pole to their shoulders and make their way in under the tent to place the main support beams.
Then, my favorite part was coming. My dad grabbed my small hand and led me down the incline of the dike into the green, grassy field. We slowly walked trough the field closer to the action, to have a better viewing spot for what would take place next.
With my eyes wide and my mouth wide open, an exciting electricity flowed though my entire being that my small 5-year old body could hardly contain. My dad hoisted me up on his strong, wide shoulders and sat me there, so I wouldn’t miss anything that was happening.
Just then, I heard the trumpeting and felt the ground shake a bit. Out of the fog came the huge white-tusked elephants. Their enormous ears flapping back and forth, and their trunks swinging from side to side, they majestically walked alongside their trainers.
I remember seeing one of the beasts lay its trunk on the shoulder of its trainers as if to say, “Hi, I’m with you.” The man reached across his body and gently patted the elephant’s trunk, looking over his shoulder into its eyes and seemed to speak kindly to it.
I recall each one having a special harness on as they moved past me. Their fire hose like trunks would swing to and fro, grabbing grass along the way as they moved into place. When the trainer told them to stop, they obeyed immediately. The huge pachyderms knelt down instinctively knowing what they were there to do. Each handler hooked up a large ropey strap to an elephant, all the while lovingly encouraging and gently praising the animal.
Then it was time for the magic. With one loud shout from the head man, the elephants all stood up and with their trainers at their side started to methodically walk effortlessly forward, They moved in sync slowly, and as they did, the tent rose to the top of the poles, kissing the sky. I have always loved the circus from that day forward.
The sad part is that if I did steal away with the circus that day, I now would be out of a job with the recent closing of the Greatest Show on Earth. That does make me sad to think about. This show brought wonder, excitement, and even a bit of magic to town. It always made me feel like a kid again, no matter my age.
So the family story I have may not seem too surprising, but then again, we are the Hunter Clan– nothing is ever too easy or dull.
Over the years, I have rented these inflatables for various events, and I have always thought it would be great to own one. I never really did anything with it. Then one year I was working on an annual church event called Trunk or Treat. This is a Halloween trick or treating alternative, where kids get to safely trick or treat out of trunks of cars that are hosted and decorated by a group or organization. At my Trunk or Treats, I always like to have a little more for those attending to do than just walking around asking for treats. So, sometimes I have been known to have games or food for those attending.
One year we did a superhero theme, and I had seen a huge, inflatable slide obstacle course that looked like Superman. The front of it was Superman standing in his classic superhero pose, then alongside of him was this huge slide– it was something like 16 feet. So this thing was big; unfortunately, so was the price tag to rent it. I’m pretty sure it was close to $700.00. These things were not cheap.
After renting that one, I got to thinking… I wonder how much it would be to buy a used unit like this? So, I started to do some research on the web to see if there were used units out there that I could buy. Well, it just so happens that there are inflatables out there, and incidentally they only cost a bit more to buy then what you rent them for.
So, I thought ‘tis maybe an option someday. Just imagine if I owed my own inflatable. That would just be so cool! I started to do the math. How many rentals would I have to have to do to break even on this? 4 or 5 maybe?
Like most great ideas that I have, but I don’t have the finances for, I put it on the backburner. Then, I had another event that I needed to have an inflatable at something like camp or VBS. That is when it really hit me that I could be saving my ministry amazing amounts of money that could be used in other ways to reach kids for Jesus. So, I when back to my computer and started the search process again. I remember looking on eBay and finding a nice variety of inflatables. Then I saw this one that was simply put– Awesome! It was a huge slide shaped like a parrot. I called Chrissy over, and said, “You have to check this out! She came over and as she usually does when she knows I’m onto some crazy idea she looked at it and said, “That’s nice. What would you do with that?”
That’s all I needed. I told her all my great ideas and uses for this inflatable. I told her how we could use it for ministry and to bring in a little extra cash at times. Then she asked how much is it? I said, “Look it’s only $1200.00! Then she said, “What’s wrong with it?” I said, “Nothing!” I knew at this point I almost had her. I was on the verge of my dream becoming a reality. I was so close that I could smell the popcorn and cotton candy of the carnival.
“How big is it?” she asked.
I said, “25 feet tall! It’s giant!”
Well, she said, “That is big! How big is that?”
She’s not always that good at judging how big things are when you say it in feet. So, I told her it was bigger than our house! We lived in a ranch style house at the time.
“How much do you think we could rent it for?” She asked. I said, “I don’t know. The one slide I rented was $700.00, but I would not want to charge that much, especially to churches!
She said, “Well, let’s see what we have in savings.”
So, we looked and thought we could do it. I went a ahead and bought it. Now one thing you should always do if you are shopping on eBay is look at the shipping price before you bid. Now, this was not my first rodeo with eBay, but we were so excited that we forgot to look at the shipping costs. We just made sure this was not a pick-up only kind of thing.
We were so very ecstatic that we were going to get this amazing parrot inflatable and all we were going to be able to do with it. This was a dream come true!
Then the seller messaged us, and asked how we would be shipping. What? The seller takes care of shipping, not the buyer! Then I dug into the post a little closer, and I saw that the buyer would be responsible for arranging shipping for the inflatable. I looked at Chrissy and said, “Awwww… no problem we will just use UPS, and have them ship it.
So I started make inquiries about shipping our parrot, only to come to find out that an 800 pound heavy duty vinyl inflatable would be very expensive to ship. So, I told the seller that it would take us a bit to figure out the shipping, but we would take care of it.
You may have seen the show Shipping Wars? Well, that was what I discovered online way before the reality tv show was a thought. I put my item up, and potential shippers started to bid on handling my package.
I was still not happy with the results. In the end, our shipping cost was almost the same as what we paid for the inflatable. It was the best price we had gotten though. After talking it through, we still thought it was worth it so, we moved forward with shipping it.
The next bump was that the shipper needed it to be on a skid and shrink-wrapped. The buyer didn’t even want to help with finding a skid. I did pay a little extra for a lift gate on both ends of the shipping. I thought that would help a bit. From what the seller said, the driver was not happy about any of it. But, if you watch the shipping wars show, the drivers never are happy about any of the jobs.
I somewhat understood a bit when it finally reached our house from California. The seller had this thing rolled up in the most inefficient way. It came looking like a wrestling mat. It was about 12 feet long and about 2 ½ feet high. The truck that it came on for some reason didn’t have the lift gate, so the driver went back and changed the load to a lift gate truck but failed to bring a lift jack to take it off the truck and gate. So, I was told I needed to come to the depot and pick it up.
So, Chrissy, the kids and I borrowed a trailer, hooked it up to our full-size conversion van and went to ABF to get our parrot. We got there and they finally found our package– it was really hard to miss. They used a forklift to load it on the trailer. I signed for it, and we were headed home.
We got home and all of us worked together to get it off the trailer. Then we unrolled it in the driveway and called a few of our friends to come over and try out our new slide. As soon as I started to inflate it in the driveway, we attracted the attention of neighborhood kids we didn’t even know existed on our street. They stood at the end of the driveway to see this spectacle, hoping for an invite to slide down our mammoth bird. This was the biggest bird I had ever seen, let alone the largest inflatable. We set up lights in the driveway and played on this thing far into the night. Everyone loved it and had a blast!
The next day, we needed to figure out how to fold it and roll it into a smaller, more compact manner than it came in. After a few tries, we finally achieved a roll that looked like a red and blue super-sized burrito. It sat about 3 foot wide and 4 foot long. It was heavy! This is when we discovered the amazing uses of ratchet straps.
Side Note: It didn’t take too long for us to figure out we needed heavy duty straps to hold it all together. We used a furniture dollie to make it easy to move in and out of the garage.
Last thing we needed to get our big bird ready to rent was a trailer, and Chrissy found one off of…Guess where? Yup, you guessed it, eBay! This time we made sure to check the shipping. Actually we just traveled a little ways to pick this up.
Chrissy was very smart on picking a trailer for our bird. It was a tip trailer, and it had hand crank winch. We would hook the parrot up and crack away pulling the inflatable up on the tilted trailer. When it reached the tipping point, the trailer would come down flat, and we would strap her on.
We have had our share of adventures with this huge bird. We even rented it to a famous rapping celebrity who lived close to us. He wanted his kids to play on it one afternoon, so he rented it from us. I had to sign a disclosure, so I can’t tell you who he was. I can tell you that I didn’t get his name quite right when I told Chrissy who he was. I asked her if she had ever heard of a guy named Art Kelly. She hadn’t.
Even though we had a bit of a rough start in the beginning, the parrot paid for itself and even help fund a mission trip or two.
Never give up on the dreams that God plants deep in you. If you truly believe He can bring it about, it may just happen sometime in the strangest of ways. Some of those dreams are even passed on and come to being in our kids’ lives. For example think about David and Solomon with the temple. Keep dreaming and believing in the impossible, and wait to see what happens.