Do you appreciate how devastating this news is?
Yep, the cancellation of the World Championship Punkin’ Chunkin’ is a huge bummer. Probably more than 25,000 people would have attended the event in Delaware next weekend. Over 100 teams coming from all over the country with their homemade pumpkin hurlers would have competed over three days. There is no prize money, just a wooden trophy. The reason for the cancellation is unclear, but it has been rescheduled for November of 2015.
How do I know about this? Well, I did a little research after attending the Punkin’ Chunkin’ in Estancia, New Mexico, last weekend. Sister Kate lives about 12 miles from Estancia, population about 1,600 people, and this is an important annual event. It includes a parade as well as the competition outside of town. There were amusement rides on the field, and folks were selling all sorts of crafts and food. I think there were 10 devices of a wide range of sizes competing. When we left, it looked like El Launcho Grande was going to win after firing a pumpkin about 2,400 feet.
This competition is the brain child of men who like making fun equipment with the materials at hand. It started back in Delaware in 1986 when a blacksmith, an electrician, a plumber, and a well digger gathered to have a little contest flinging pumpkins with devices they had created. They couldn’t use explosives, and the pumpkin couldn’t explode in the air, creating what is known as a “pumpkin pie”. A Jeep-mounted catapult won, hurling a pumpkin about 126 feet.
Funny how things catch on. At the competition this year, there would have been many categories of devices including air cannon, centrifugal, catapult, trebuchet, and “theatrical”. (A trebuchet is a medieval catapult.) Devices in the theatrical category can win only by fan vote.
Every entry has a name, and the two top national competitors are American Chunker and Big 10 Inch. In the Adult Air category, there are some fun names: Great Emancipator, Hooter Shooter, Not in My Driveway, and Pumpkin Slayer among others. In the Youth Category, the most creative were Snot Rocket and Stomach Virus.
The national competition escalated rapidly when a guy named Brian Labrie saw a TV show on it in New Hampshire in 2009 and became fascinated. He thinks big–or should I say long. According to an article by Jeff Harder in The Boston Globe, he has organized a team of experts in ballistics, engineering, meteorology, horticulture, and other disciplines. He has a landscape business, and the American Chunker was assembled on one of his trailers. A compressed air cannon that looks like El Launcho Grande but is bigger and red, the American Chunker won the championship in 2013 by shooting a pumpkin 4,694 feet. Combining labor hours and materials, Labrie values the Chunker at $180,000.
This competition is more complicated than one might imagine, and Labrie needed the meteorologist to help figure all the wind and weather angles. The horticulturist advised on the ideal pumpkin to chunk. Of the 48 varieties approved for competition, La Estrella was identified as the best missile due to density, center of gravity, rind thickness, etc. Labrie was going to have a participating farmer pack and send the best six of a certain size to him for the competition in Delaware.
Labrie’s blood was really up for this competition. He was hoping not only to win but to squash the record of the Big 10-Inch, the air cannon that had shot a pumpkin over a mile in Moab, Utah, several years ago and gotten into the Guinness Book of Records. The two teams were probably ready to square off like knights in a tournament, the Big 10 Inch with a barrel like a lance 100 feet long. Now they have to wait until November of 2015. Can you imagine their frustration?
The date seems a long time away, but since I now know about the big drama pending in Delaware, I’ll be on the alert. I wonder if El Launcho Grande will be back in Estancia next year. We’ll see.