The art of crafting a kite

Ed Rood

With February down the pike, it’s time to start concentrating on what lies ahead: March.

For many Iowans, the month of March is the light at the end of a tunnel. Winter officially ends and spring begins (calendar-wise). What a bunch of baloney (or blarney if you would prefer).

March is also known as the “windy month.” Folks who have lived in Iowa very long know any month can be called the windy month as the wind rarely ever rests. When it does it’s simply catching its breath.

Because of this distinction, however, it’s not that unusual to see several kites in the air during March. Those kites can vary in size and shape from simple to exotic. A simple kite might cost $10 while an exotic one can run $100 or more. 

Back when I was a kid there were two kinds of kites – the diamond-shaped and the box-shaped. The diamond-shaped were for the novices while the box-shaped were for the pros. 

Google kites today and be prepared to see anything but diamond- and box-shaped “tethered aircraft.” Dragons, birds of prey, spaceships, jet planes and even WWI tri-planes are available. It makes you wonder what migrating waterfowl must think. They probably wonder if it’s what happens to birds that spend the winter in Iowa.

Truthfully, I wonder if they fly any better than the ones we made back when we were taking up space in the sky. 

First of all, kites weren’t exactly cheap back then. Heck, you could spend all of a dime on one ... and that was before you bought any string. The string cost at least another dime and often more depending on how high you planned on flying your kite.

The kite to own back then was the High Flyer. You’d go to the hardware or grocery store, plop down a dime and, upon close examination, choose the right color. Along with color another important part of the selection process was to closely examine the wooden “skeleton” – two thin wooden sticks (struts) to which the paper attached. A weak point in either of the two struts could mean a disastrous ending for the kite and its pilot.

Once the selection was made the pilot would run home to begin the assembly process. The most important part of the assembly was to bow the shorter wooden strut without breaking it. An overly enthusiastic pilot could put a little too much pressure on the strut and POP – chalk off one kite.

After the kite was assembled another important step in assuring the best possible performance was to construct and attach a tail. Actually, the tail could mean the difference between getting your kite off the ground or not. One of the best materials for a good tail were thin strips of cloth cut from one of mom’s dish towels. That, too, could get you trouble if improperly obtained.

Another important step was to pick a good open area to fly the kite. The best location was a ball diamond. As there was only one ball diamond available in our town it was also a popular spot for fellow kite flyers.

The pecking order at the diamond was pretty much like everything else – the bigger, older boys took the center section while we smaller, younger kids got stuck closer to the edges. Of course, that was also where the trees and power lines were located.

Ed Rood

One particular March everything seem to jive for me. I was the first to pick a kite, the assembly process went without a hitch and I managed to have the ball diamond to myself. My kite soared into the air thanks to a strong rushing wind out of the southwest. 

The higher it climbed the quicker the line spooled off the stick I had wrapped it around. I held the stick in both hands and just let it spin. Suddenly the string came to its end and the stick shot out of my hands. As I stood there helpless the kite disappeared. 

Well, there was always next March.

Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.