Punkin Chunkin Puts Down Roots
Punkin Chunkin will remain in Delaware this year, to the relief of its home state supporters, and to fans everywhere of thrown pumpkins.
Delaware, the first American colony to declare Independence, was also the first to have a Punkin Chunkin. It started in 1986 when a couple of locals decided that they could hurl a pumpkin further than anyone else. That first year's competition resulted in a then-record throw of 128 feet. Now there are close to 50 copycat Punkin Chunkins in other parts if the country, although none match the scope or power of the original.
The housing bubble nearly ended it. Delaware farmland was being gobbled up so fast that it became impossible to find an undeveloped field in big enough to contain the hurls. "We were literally two weeks away from moving to Maryland," Punkin Chunkin Association President Frank Shade told us. "At the last minute, this piece of land popped up." The new field is only a few miles west of last year's site, and is thousands of feet longer, which means that it can contain even the most vigorous hurls, and will eliminate the frustrating condition know as "pie," when a hurled pumpkin flew into the trees and couldn't be found.
To be honest, the idea of hurling pumpkins a few days a year shouldn't meet our criteria for a tourist attraction -- but the Delaware Punkin Chunkin is special. Its competitors build massive machines and drag them here -- huge catapults and trebuchets, and terrifying air cannon that dwarf anything ever fielded in battle. Even Big Ernie, the huge gun in Yooperland, is humbled by these vegetable howitzers. According to Shade, the average Delaware Punkin Chunkin cannon has a tank that holds up to 3,000 gallons of compressed air and a barrel stretching from 60 to 140 feet. For comparison, the world's largest atomic cannon is only 42 feet long.
It took ten years -- until 1996 -- for a pumpkin to be hurled 1,000 feet. Since the arrival of the first air cannon in 1997, that distance has more than quadrupled, to just under 4,500 feet. "Everybody wants to build the first machine to break the mythical mile," Shade told us, and with the new field, and ever-improving artillery, he expects it to happen soon.
Even more promising, the son of the new landowner has built a machine and will enter it this year. "All indications are," Shade said, "this is gonna be our home for a while."[10/21/2007]