They love to see pumpkins fly, and they love to wear orange
By Lynn R. Parks
Orange was the color of the day. Even though some of the pumpkins that were flying through the air, propelled by machines as long as 100 feet, were white, many of the tens of thousands of people attending the Punkin Chunkin were sporting the more traditional pumpkin color. Orange hats. Orange shirts. Orange boas. Orange flags, balloons and punching balls. Even, in the case of at least one visitor, bright orange hair. "I'm just here for the party," said Tom Granger, 43, Pocomoke, Md., whose real hair was covered with a neon orange afro wig. "I come back every year to see the band and just enjoy hanging out with everybody." The 23rd annual Punkin Chunkin was held Friday, Saturday and Sunday on a large soybean field east of Bridgeville, owned by Wheatley Farms. More than 100 machines competed in 15 classes, including catapult, trebuchet and human power. By the end of the weekend, three world records had been set, including a 4,483-foot chunk by the air-powered Young Glory III, operated by Jake Burton, 21, of Lewes. This was the second year that the world championship event was held in Bridgeville. After 21 years on the east side of the county, the event was moved to a spot that could accommodate the competition, which features pumpkins hurling through the air at distances of nearly a mile. Granger and his friend, Wayne Tindle, 47, Pocomoke, who was wearing a fuzzy orange hat, were watching the operator of Mack Daddy, a compressed air punkin chunker, load and fire his machine. The operator, instead of going for distance, was going for accuracy. He was trying to hit a large stuffed animal off the top of a paneled truck that was parked in the field. Pumpkins flew by the target, wide right one time, wide left another time. Finally, in frustration, the operator loaded a trio of pumpkins into the long cannon and with a big whoosh of air, fired all three at once. One gourd flew by the target on one side, another flew by on the other side. The third went under the truck. The crowd watching the target practice sighed in frustration. Both Granger and Tindle think about someday having a punkin chunkin machine. "I would love to have one of those," said Granger, gazing fondly at the Mack Daddy. "I have just dreamed about it," added Tindle. "If I ever have a machine, it will be compressed air." Nick Hopkins, 27, of West Ocean City, Md., had the answer for anyone who wanted to compete but who did not have a machine. "This is for everybody who forgot his catapult today," he said, calling people to his booth where they could try to throw pumpkins into metal bins. "$2 a shot, three for $5, and if you get one in you can pick out any prize from the tent." Hopkins, who was wearing an orange hat much like Tindle's, was one of several people operating the small pumpkin throw booth for the Punkin Chunkin Association. They had started Saturday with about 400 pumpkins, most of which, by late Saturday afternoon, were lying in the pumpkin graveyard that had grown around the four metal bins. "There have been quite a large number of people who paid their money just to come in and smash a pumpkin," Hopkins said. "They were not interested in winning a prize." Others, he said, just wanted to get their picture taken amidst the pumpkin carnage. Proceeds from the booth, as well as from all the association activities during the competition, go toward scholarships that the association hands out every year. The association also supports the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and other organizations including the American Cancer Society, Easter Seals, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Boys and Girls Clubs. John Ziegenhein, 25, and Lucinda VanValkenburg, 59, both of Lincoln, are regular visitors to Punkin Chunkin. This year, they brought with them Chris Wildberger, 30, Georgetown, who had never attended the event before. As evening fell, the three were gathered around a small fire, over which they were cooking fat sausages, onions and green peppers. "This is a good time and good food," said Ziegenhein. "Even though probably 80 percent of the people here aren't from Delaware, this is a Delaware kind of thing." Wildberger said that he had enjoyed his first visit to the competition. "It was really neat to go behind the air cannons and see them fire off and the pumpkin go flying out," he said. But even on a day when there were just the fewest skiffs of clouds in the sky, it was hard to follow the pumpkin's flight through until its end. "They should spray paint all the pumpkins black," Ziegenhein said. "Then we could see them better." Scott and Cecilia Chatterton, Clarksville, were standing behind the row of large air cannons with their sons, Keith, 10, and Andrew, 9. They were watching the machine called Fire and Ice intently, anxious to catch a glimpse of the pumpkin as it emerged from the long cannon.
Suddenly, with the sound of a jet plane taking off, the pumpkin flew out of the cannon, accompanied by a puff of white smoke, made when the compressed air pushing the pumpkin met the atmosphere. "This is just wild," said Cecilia. "It is really a hoot seeing all of this." Andrew said that Fire and Ice was firing off every 10 minutes or so. He was enjoying the show but added that as a fan of pumpkin pie, he thought that using pumpkins in such a way was a waste. His brother disagreed. He doesn't like pumpkin pie, he said.
Top Punkin Chunkin hurlers When the sun set on the 2008 World Championship Punkin Chunkin Sunday, Nov. 2, a Lewes team was holding the traveling trophy and a new world record. Young Glory III, captained by Jake Burton, sent a gourd flying 4,483.51 feet in the Air Cannon category. The previous record was also set by an air cannon when Second Amendment of Michigan set the record in 2003 with a 4,434.28-foot throw. Emancipator, captained by John Buchele of Virginia, took second place in the Air Cannon category with 4,084.62 feet. Chunk'n-ology, captained by Rick Garloff of Delaware, won third place at 4,042.24 feet.
Other winners and the distances by feet are as follows:
Ladies Air Cannon First, Let's Bounce, captained by Connie Payton of Delaware, 3,998.83; second, Dragon Lady, captained by Gina McConnell of Maryland, 3,189.63; and third, Bad Hair Day, captained by Stephanie Coulbourne of Delaware, 2,349.93.
Centrifugal First, Bad to the Bone, captained by Donny Jefferson of Delaware, 2,459.42; second, United Flingdom II, captained by Jeff Wheatley of Delaware, 1,632.58; and third, J.D. Lazarus, 238.10.
Catapult First, Sir Chunk-A-Lot, captained by Alexander Andrew of New Jersey, 1,747.34; second, Fibonacci, captained by Dana Drew of Massachusetts, 1,693.97; and third, Stand Back, captained by Jon Hauge of New Jersey, 1,384.96.
Trebuchet First, Yankee Seige, captained by Steven Segars of New Hampshire, 1,897.47; second, Pumpkin Hammer, captained by Rich Foley of Delaware, 1,700.24; and third, Merlin, captained by Chris Gerow of Virginia, 1,664.91.
Human Power First, Gene's Machine, captained by Jim Durnan of Delaware, 1,193.92; second, Destrier, captained by Bill Gress of Pennsylvania, 940.88; and third, Pumpkin Upchunkin, captained by Mike Pomeroy of Vermont, 709.39.
Torsion First, Chucky II, captained by Dan Collins of New Jersey, 3,091.78; second, Roman Revenge II, captained by Kim J. Moore, 2,215.79; and third, Onager, captained by Bob Carbo of South Carolina.
Theatrical First place in the Theatrical category went to Punkin Trap, captained by Dave Hodges of New Jersey. Distances are not tracked in this category, because the object is to look good and give good performances. Those in this category are forbidden from pitching a pumpkin more than 100 feet.
Youth Air Cannon First, Little Blaster, captained by Brice Short of Delaware, 3,386.07; second, Snot Rocket, captained by Conner Toomey of Maryland, 2,956.14; and third, Red Neck Dream, captained by Kyle Johnson of Delaware, 2,677.03.
Catapult First, Punkin Pitcher, captained by Jesse Taylor of Delaware, 888.48; second, The Plague, captained by Cooper Schorzman of New Jersey, 800.92; and third, Gourd Sword, captained by Brielle Hohne of New Jersey, 689.71.
Trebuchet First, Troop 6 Shooter, captained by Connor Biggs of New Jersey, 760.77; second, Sanford Slinger, 694.06; and third, The Seige of Gondor, captained by Maxwell Smith of Pennsylvania.
Human Power First, The Ground Hog Trap, captained by Kyle Gress of Pennsylvania, 684.36; second, Sauron's Sling Shot, captained by Ken Boerman of Pennsylvania, 168.93; and third, Rockville, captained by Jamie Byers, 94.22.
Ages 10 & under
Catpult First, Jersey Devil, captained by Larry Lundervoid of New Jersery, 562.10; second, Curcurbita Peop Pitcher, captained by Shannon Holloway of New Jersey, 293.54; and third, Hatra Ballista, captained by Trevor Ludlam of Massachusets, 269.02.
Congratulations to all the winners.
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