By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE August 13, 2002 Cliff Ballagh knows what its like to have the wind whipping through your hair at 65 miles an hour.
At 86, the Jeffersonville resident is known to slip onto his summer sled, a contraption of his own making, and fly down Shandelee hill, his pants whipping in the breeze.
After 40 years of riding the hills of Sullivan County on top of a plywood board with wheels affixed to the bottom and cushy foam rubber on top, Ballagh said he hasnt even scratched a finger. And he thinks you should try it.
Ballagh developed his own sport 40 years ago. His grandson, who lived in San Francisco, Calif., didnt have any snow to romp around in during the winter months. But Ballagh didnt think climate should be any reason to miss out on one of the joys of childhood.
So he went out behind his house and began tinkering in the shed. A garden tractor salesman, Ballagh had all sorts of pieces and parts lying around and plenty of ideas running through his head.
What he eventually developed was what he calls the skydiver, a long board with wheels that you can ride down the hills in the warmer climes to get the thrill of downhill flying.
Its like a Flexible Flyer on wheels, he explained.
He wanted to market the idea to the public, but with little interest in the sport at the time, it was hard to find a company willing to market the invention.
Ballagh was loathe to undertake the process himself, he said, because he was afraid of insurance concerns.
Its like the people who fall off a horse and sue the stables instead of suing themselves for falling, he noted. If someone hurt themselves, they might try to sue me.
Not that his machine is dangerous, mind you. The structure is so low to the ground that its virtually impossible to tip over, he said, even when making sharp turns on a road where a motor vehicle would be sure to flip.
His newest contraption was made with an Ingersoll-Rand golf cart rear axle and brakes, 3/4-inch plywood, and the padding used at a loading dock to protect the building from a trucks back end. There are real automotive brakes for stopping, he said, and a big red flag snitched from an ATV to make sure cars will notice his lithe frame coasting by on the hills.
Theres a piece of Plexiglas at the front, not so much for the wind, Ballagh continued, but for the bugs.
And theres a mirror off to the side to check out the traffic behind the skydiver.
Since skeleton hit the Olympics earlier this year and riding downhill on a small board has become all the rage, Ballaghs attempts to market the project have resurfaced.
Hes been in contact with Jimmy Shea, the Olympic gold medalist in the event, and the athlete passed him along to Don Hass, the man who makes the instruments for the Olympians.
Ballagh has plans to go see Hass in Lake Placid sometime soon, and he hopes that he can get the project off the ground. With Hass connections, Ballagh hopes to contact a company that will mass produce the skydiver and place it on store shelves.
I hope it will get into production now with a company to take care of the insurance coverage, he said. Thats the only thing standing in the way if word gets out, this thing is going to come to fruition.
Ballagh is sure the contraption will fly off shelves. He and his grandson, Cliff Bambach, love coasting down Shandelee hill or riding over the bumps on Miller Road in front of his Jeffersonville home.
Ballagh even has rigged up ways to teach beginners how to ride they lie down on the invention and get pulled uphill by a truck first to get used to the idea. Then he lets them loose on a beginners hill, he said, like Villa Roma Road.
Hes even checked with the Department of Motor Vehicles in several states to make sure he doesnt need a special license to ride the roads. But, because theres no motor on the 120-pound machine, hes been told its an all-age vehicle.
Ballagh would love to get the word out about his machine and take people for rides.
For more information, call him at 482-6061.