SANTA CRUZ -- A lighthearted video project that sent a 4-year-old Aptos boy's toy train into the stratosphere captured the hearts of YouTube viewers this past week.
"A Toy Train in Space" has been viewed nearly 100,000 times since it was posted Thursday evening, much to the delight of its producer and doting father, Ron Fugelseth, of Aptos.
Fugelseth is co-owner and creative director of Santa Cruz-based Oxygen Productions Inc., a motion graphics and film production studio. He said he was inspired by watching a high schooler's video of a Lego man sent high above the Earth with a weather balloon.
He had made a short clip about his son Jayden and his attachment to Stanley the toy train. So he decided to take Stanley to the next level -- 18 miles above Earth.
"I figured if two high school kids can send a Lego man to space, then I, as a grown man, can make Stanley to space," Fugelseth said Friday.
"I'm not a genius who came up with it, I just pieced it together" from others' projects, he said.
He found a weather balloon and rigged a Flip camera to a pole with Stanley on the end of it.
Then he made a box of foam and filled it with an old Boost Mobile phone that could relay GPS coordinates to another cellphone to track it. He added pocket warmers on the electronics' batteries so they wouldn't freeze up in the colder altitudes.
The plan was to have the balloon pop once it reached its zenith, then continue to film Stanley's trip back to Earth with a parachute.
Fugelseth scouted an agricultural area in Tracy for its wind, flat topography and cellphone coverage. He said he didn't want to be climbing through backyards to retrieve it.
As he tracked weather forecasts waiting for the perfect wind velocity, he said, Jayden was enthusiastic about the project.
But a few days before launch day in early September, Jayden had second thoughts. What if Stanley never returned from his mission to space?
"He said, 'You're going to lose Stanley!'" Fugelseth said Jayden told him.
Fugelseth said he wasn't too worried because Jayden already had lost Stanley a few times and it was in something like its ninth incarnation. The project was worth the risk, so they set off to Tracy.
Just as his storyboard had scripted, Fugelseth captured footage of Stanley rising above the land with the balloon. From land, he caught Jayden's liftoff reaction.
Then the balloon disappeared.
"The phone stopped working from the moment I let it go for four hours," said Fugelseth. "I thought, 'Oh, it's gone.' Then it magically started working again."
He tracked it to a corn field about 27 miles from the launch site. It was dark and trying to find it was like "deep sea diving," he said.
So they returned two days later with Jayden still asleep in the car. Fugelseth trudged through the field again and found the orange box.
He had marked it "Harmless Weather Balloon Project" with black letters -- so he knew it was the right one.
He didn't touch it, then he woke up Jayden and let him find it on his own.
For the first time in Fugelseth's filmmaking career, he said, the storyboard version actually came to life as he'd envisioned.
He caught the excitement in Jayden and his 2-year-old sister Izzy when the train launched and their joy when they recovered it.
"They were bursting with emotion with all of those points," Fugelseth said. Jayden even said, "I wish I could be a train so I could go in space," which pretty much melted Fugelseth.
Fugelseth said making the video was a creative outlet because he didn't have a client telling him what to do. He gave Stanley a face with expressions with some motion graphics finesse in the editing room.
Since Fugelseth posted the video, he said he'd been flooded with people's reactions and links to other videos.
Friday, The Huffington Post posted the video with the title "Awesome dad sends his 4-year-old's toy train soaring in space."
"It's been hard to get work done," Fugelseth said Friday. "It's kind of overwhelming. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for sure."