Thrills aplenty, and a few injuries along the way, too
Jennifer Schneider had a new experience at the Buena Vista County Fair last week.
The entertainer who has been known as the Cannonlady has shot out of the apparatus designed by her father for some 16 years, but one thing she has never had the opportunity to do is fly over a combine at a county fair - until now.
Thanks to Alta Implement, who provided a 2005 New Holland CR960, pretty and petite Jennifer had the chance to soar 110' high above the hulking machine, into her safety net.
She has traveled in every state except Hawaii and Alaska and in many countries, including Sweden, Finland, Japan and Mexico, amazing audiences of all kinds with her act.
Just how does someone become involved in an act this unusual? She was born into it, actually.
Her father has been at this form of entertainment for many years. He holds the world record for flying 210' after being blown out of a cannon. Of his eight children, several have gone on to become entertainers. He actually designed five self-contained cannons attached to pickup trucks for those who followed in his flying footsteps.
"I remember as a child I used to watch my dad fly through the air and as I grew up, I had more of an interest. It was through my dad's faith in his equipment and his kids that I'm doing this," said Jennifer.
She began going out on her own at the age of 16.
"It's so thrilling, but it is frightening, too," she admitted. "I enjoy the traveling more than the cannon itself. It is very stressful."
Jennifer amazed audiences two to three times each day at the fair and prior to each show, she made some important checks on the direction of and speed of the wind, the tightness or looseness of the safety net she lands in and making sure the cannon, combine and net were perfectly lined up.
The mechanics of the cannon, she said, "is a closely guarded family secret." That's all that she would reveal about the operation of the device.
As the show begins, husband Rob climbs inside the back side of the cannon. Jennifer climbs onto the truck and makes her way to the front of the cannon at which time her husband raises the barrel, to about a 45 degree angle - sometimes lower according to the wind speed.
She then climbs inside the barrel. Viewers are alarmed first at the large boom of the cannon and then at seeing Jennifer flying out at a speed of 45 miles per hour. And within only a few seconds, the jump is over and she has landed, hopefully, safely in the net.
"People's reactions are all different. A lot of them will say, 'Wow! I didn't think that you'd go that fast and that high.' And I like seeing the kids' reactions when it is all over. They'll come up and say, 'Aren't you scared?' Honestly, I am nervous every time but it is so thrilling."
Husband Rob said he is also nervous for his wife; especially the first jump at a new place.
Jennifer added that she used to travel with one of her sisters and the two would take turns being shot out of the cannon and operating the mechanics.
"I'd much rather be the one flying. Being inside operating the equipment is high stress. And this way," she smiled, "I get all the glory!"
She has been at events where her father or siblings have been performing. "I don't like watching them, not that I don't have faith in their abilities but it is stressful to see them so I just don't."
Jennifer has jumped over such things as monster trucks, a row of cars and even a stage filled with people. In all her jumps, she has never been seriously hurt. She's broken an ankle a couple of times, and at the performance prior to coming to Alta, she broke a finger- all these injuries coming on her landings in the net. Those minor things won't stop her from doing what she loves.
She feels fortunate, she said, to be able to travel, meet people and have her family with her. The couple has two children, Amber, 7, whom is home schooled during the regular school year, and Brody, 10 months. They are on the road a good portion of the year but the couple has a permanent address and home in Missouri that they get to as often as they can.
Jennifer's children watch most of her jumps. She has mixed feelings about getting them involved in the entertainment world, making it a third-generation operation.
"I don't know if my heart could take it but I can't deny them the opportunity if they want it."