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The Balloon Block

Jul 12, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

The $500 treasure hunt object is a throwback to old-style printing

Riverton welcomes back the two-week schedule of Riverton events for the 32nd year, and we're looking forward to another fun time with the Rendezvous Balloon Block Treasure Hunt.

Beginning today, newspaper readers will be guided closer and closer to the hiding place of the unusual object we call the Balloon Block through a series of seven published clues -- eight if you're a paying subscriber to dailyranger.com.

Earlier this year The Ranger installed some new printing technology that further removes us from the days when the components of the balloon block were in everyday use.

Once upon a time, newspapers were printed using so-called "moveable type," meaning the letters and numbers were printed in a manner similar to a rubber stamp used by a librarian or a scrapbooker. Individual letters, made of either metal or wood, were assembled to form lines of type for news stories, headlines, photo captions and advertisements. Some of this could be done by machine -- the Linotype was the most famous device for doing this, and Riverton Museum curator Loren Jost has one of the Ranger's old Linotypes up and running at the museum -- but the larger letters had to be set by hand, one letter at a time.

The Balloon Block is made of seven such wooden letters, purchased perhaps 85 years ago from a type supplier called a foundry.

Each letter spelling "BALLOON' is about two inches tall and nearly an inch thick. They are rather like the blocks a child might have as toys, with the letters raised from the flat surface of the supporting word.

Years ago a Ranger pressman took the seven block letters, which look like they are from the Futura type font, and fused them into a single block using wood screws. The Balloon Block was born. It's been part of Riverton Rendezvous since 1991.

It still can be inked and impressions can be made from it on a piece of paper. You can see the newest version of what that looks like in today's first of a possible seven Balloon Block pages. The imprint is a little ragged now because the letters of the Balloon Block have been weathered somewhat through 20 years of hiding outdoors in the elements.

Find it and win $500, plus a ride in a hot-air balloon at next weekend's Riverton Rendezvous balloon rally,

The Balloon Block is out there somewhere. Happy hunting -- and if you do find it, please know that you're holding history in your hands.

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